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Reagan Image-Maker Deaver Dies at 69

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Mike Deaver, the former White House aide and image guru to Ronald Reagan, died today of pancreatic cancer. He was 69.

Deaver was nicknamed Magic Mike for his uncanny ability to select backdrops for the president's memorable lines, but he was modest about his role in creating President Reagan's image.

Mr. MICHAEL DEAVER (Former Deputy Chief of Staff, Reagan Administration): We didn't make him; he made us. The only thing I really ever did for Ronald Reagan was to light him well. He really did the rest and I filled up all that space around his head on the TV screen.

ELLIOTT: But, in fact, Deaver choreographed the president's most famous photo ops - from his visit to the Berlin Wall to his trip to Normandy on the anniversary of D-Day. When Reagan died, it was Deaver who arranged for the former president to be laid to rest under the setting sun at his presidential library in Simi Valley, California.

Here's Reagan biographer Lou Cannon.

Mr. LOU CANNON (President Ronald Reagan's Biographer): He was kind of the impresario of the Reagan administration. You know, he did the backdrops. He staged the productions. He helped present Reagan.

ELLIOTT: For the actor turned president, Mike Deaver was the perfect director, with an eye for the visual drama of politics. In the early 1960s, Deaver became executive director of the Santa Clara County Republican Central Committee where he came to the attention of Ronald Reagan during his run for governor of California.

Deaver joined Reagan's staff in Sacramento, helped him win the White House in 1980 and went on to serve the administration as deputy chief of staff. Together with aides James Baker and Ed Meese, Mike Deaver formed the troika that ran the Reagan White House. Mike Deaver was close to Nancy Reagan and served as a liaison to the first lady. Biographer Lou Cannon says he was a real asset.

Mr. CANNON: Beaver was one of the few people that I think, you know, would talk truth to power and I think that every president needs that. But Deaver was a guy who after the Iran-Contra affair, for instance, he insisted very bluntly to Reagan that he had to apologize to the American people.

ELLIOTT: Mike Deaver left the White House after President Reagan's first term to work as a political consultant. But the master image-maker proved insensitive to the impression he, himself, would make with the Time magazine cover. It showed him in the back of a limousine with a phone pressed to his ear and the Capitol Dome outside the window. Mike Deaver became the poster child for Time's story on influence peddling.

He was later convicted on three counts of perjury for testimony about his lobbying activities. He blamed the troubles on alcoholism, paid the fine and was sentenced to probation and community service.

In a 1988 interview, Mike Deaver told the Los Angeles Times: My obit will probably say close Reagan aide dies. That doesn't bother me a bit. That's my life. That's probably my greatest achievement. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
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