Nancy Reagan: Controversial Moments During Her Life in the Public Eye

Politics, women's issues and even a go-to astrologer!

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Nancy Reagan is best remembered as a wife who was devoted to her husband and his legacy – but that’s not all.

From the war on drugs to her penchant for astrology, we have highlighted a few of the moments that kept people talking throughout the former first lady’s life in the spotlight.

The War on Drugs
Nancy Reagan’s most lasting legacy was her role in the war on drugs through the “Just Say No” campaign, which she famously discussed on CNN in 1986. “Drugs steal away so much,” she said. “They take and take until finally, every time a drug goes into a child, something else is forced out, like, love and hope, trust and confidence.” She had spent many years before said address traveling the country to meet with those affected by drug use – and even guest-starred on an episode of Diff’rent Strokes to spread the message. Though well-intentioned, the program led to a tough-on-crime attitude in the United States as well as ballooning prison populations – even today, half of all federal prisoners are serving time for crimes related to drugs.

The Call From Rock Hudson
In 1985, movie star Rock Hudson arrived in Paris, seeking treatment for AIDS – a disease that was increasingly gaining attention at home, but that only a select few knew that he had. Set to see Dr. Dominique Dormant in Paris, Hudson could only be treated at a military hospital, but he could not be admitted because he was not French. His publicist, Dale Olson, sent a telegram to the White House, hoping a request from them would sway the French hospital. Only one hospital in the world can offer necessary medical treatment to save life of Rock Hudson or at least alleviate his illness, he wrote. “Dr. Dormant in Paris believes a request from the White House or a high American official would change his mind.” Nancy elected not to get involved, instead sending the matter to the U.S. Embassy in France. An aide said that Nancy “did not feel this was something the White House should get into.” President Reagan did call Hudson to check in on him and let him know he and his wife were thinking of him.

The Unauthorized Biography
Three years after the Reagans left the White House, author Kitty Kelley published a less-than-glowing portrait of Nancy in her book, Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Autobiography. In it, the former first lady was portrayed as “petty, greedy, compassionless, a social climber and manipulator,” a 1991 PEOPLE article wrote. However, many claimed the book was filled with testimonies from unreliable sources.

Stars Pay Tribute to Former First Lady Nancy Reagan

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The Views on Women’s Issues
Nancy’s view on women’s issues, like abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment, may have won her points with conservatives – she was pro-life, against the ERA, and opposed more modern lifestyle choices such as premarital sex and live-in relationships, a 1980 PEOPLE article wrote. “She lives in the ’50s, when it was a man’s world and women were there to be perfect wives,” a woman from the Reagan team told PEOPLE. “She lacks compassion for the issues of the day because they have never been in her sphere of life.”

The Astrology
Towards the end of the Reagan years in the White House, it was revealed that Ronald and Nancy were avid fans of astrology – they even had a go-to astrologer, Joan Quigley, who worked with them throughout the campaign and then into Ronald’s presidency. As former aide Donald Regan once said: “Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise.”

The Support of Stem Cell Research
Ronald Reagan spent the last decade of his life living with Alzheimer’s, and Nancy spent those years caring for her ailing husband. After watching him deteriorate from the disease, she became outspoken in her support of embryonic stem-cell research, which doctors believed would held lead to a cure, despite backlash from the pro-life conservatives who were once her devoted supporters. “It’s not the same issue as abortion,” she told Vogue. “This is about giving life.”

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