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Amid the mourning over Nancy Reagan’s death, friends are recalling – with wistful smiles and laughter, even – the former first lady’s sharp-witted and playful side.
“She was a heck of a lady,” her longtime friend and talk show host Larry King tells PEOPLE. “A good word for her would be formidable.”
King pays tribute to Reagan in a video shared exclusively with PEOPLE, saying, “She confided in me, she took me into her thinking about many things, and I always enjoyed every moment with her. Nancy Reagan will be sorely missed. She was, and is, class.”
King says his friendship with Reagan was instant, easy and never political. “I was this Jewish kid from Brooklyn, she was this lady from Queens so there was a lot of New York in both of us,” he says. King shared many a “get together” with Nancy and President Reagan and recalls a particular event in 1990 very fondly.
“We had a couple of interesting social events,” says King. “I went with the former president and first lady to the Bel-Air Hotel to have lunch. When we got there, there was a wedding in progress. As we were walking in, they were putting the wedding together.” King reveals with a chuckle that he, the first lady and president suddenly became part of the wedding party.
Stars Pay Tribute to Former First Lady Nancy Reagan
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“What got really interesting was, the president walked the bride down the aisle. I walked down with the father and Nancy was like the flower lady,” he says. “It was really funny. Then we had lunch. I’m sure that will be a memory those people will never forget.”
One of the former first lady’s guilty pleasures was gossip – about anything and everything.
“She loved to gossip,” says King. “She wanted to know all the dirt about who’s with who and what’s with them, I didn’t know all this ‘in’ stuff but my wife did so they talked a lot. Nancy loved to hear all the latest, dish the dirt.”
Longtime pal and TV news anchor Judy Woodruff recalls dishy meals with Nancy at one of the Beverly Hills restaurants she had enjoyed with her husband. “She loved to hear the latest stories about what was going on in Washington, in politics. And she never shied from expressing her own thoughts.”
Even opinionated, Nancy was easy to talk to said, says another friend, Nancy Kissinger. “She was very much at ease with people so she could talk to anyone and she did and that’s a great gift. She was charming and funny and interested in everything – literally,” says Kissinger.
And the former first lady kept a close eye on the Republican party, dismayed by the direction it has taken in recent years.
“She remained as sharp as ever and was aware of just about everything going on in Washington and in politics, but always was interested in knowing more,” says Woodruff. “I’ll never forget the time we spoke in 2008 just after the Republican nominee for president, Senator John McCain, had chosen Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. I spoke with Mrs. Reagan on the phone, and her first comment was, ‘What in the world was he thinking in picking that woman?‘ ”
King adds that Reagan was not at all pleased with the current crop of Republican candidates.
“She was very disappointed in the [current] Republican nominees,” he says. “She said she was embarrassed by what she was seeing.”
• With reporting by JESSICA FECTEAU and KC BAKER