Reagan Image-Maker Deaver Dies at 69

Michael K. Deaver, a former deputy chief of staff for President Reagan, was seen as an expert political image-maker. But his own image was damaged when he was convicted of perjury for statements he made about his lobbying activities. Deaver died of pancreatic cancer.

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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.

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Reagan Image-Maker, Michael Deaver, Dead at 69

Former Deputy Chief of staff for President Reagan Michael Deaver. i i

Former Deputy Chief of staff for President Reagan Michael Deaver speaks during a taping of 'Meet the Press' at the NBC Studios on May 20, 2007. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Wong/Getty Images
Former Deputy Chief of staff for President Reagan Michael Deaver.

Former Deputy Chief of staff for President Reagan Michael Deaver speaks during a taping of 'Meet the Press' at the NBC Studios on May 20, 2007.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Michael K. Deaver, a close adviser to Ronald Reagan who directed the president's picturesque and symbolic public appearances, died Saturday. He was 69.

Deaver, who had pancreatic cancer, died at his home in Bethesda, Md., according to a statement from the Deaver family that was issued by Edelman, the public relations firm he served as vice chairman.

Deaver was celebrated and scorned as an expert at media manipulation for focusing on how the president looked as much as what the president said. Reagan's chief choreographer for public events, Deaver protected the commander in chief's image and enhanced it with a flair for choosing just the right settings, poses and camera angles.

"I've always said the only thing I did is light him well," Deaver told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. "My job was filling up

the space around the head. I didn't make Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan made me."

Deaver's own image suffered a setback in 1987. He was convicted on three of five counts of perjury stemming from statements to a congressional subcommittee and a federal grand jury investigating his lobbying activities with administration officials.

Deaver blamed alcoholism for lapses in memory and judgment. Hewas sentenced to three years' probation and fined $100,000 as well as ordered to perform 1,500 hours of public service.

When the subject of a pardon surfaced in Reagan's final days in office in 1989, the president noted that Deaver had indicated he would not accept one, according to Reagan's diary.

Deaver's family said in the statement Saturday that he fought his cancer "with the courage, grace and good spirit that he carried throughout his life. ... In the end, he stood as the model of a man who not only loved life, but lived life right, one day at a time."

Former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a statement that Deaver "was the closest of friends to both Ronnie and me in many ways, and he was like a son to Ronnie." She added, "We met great challenges together. ... I will miss Mike terribly."

Deaver brought a public relations background and a long association with Reagan to his work as White House deputy chief of staff from 1981-1985. He and top Reagan advisers Edwin Meese III and James A. Baker III were known as "the troika" that, in effect, managed the presidency.

Deaver, however, was concerned more with Reagan's image than his policies. He also was responsible for the president's schedule and security and served as a liaison for any family matters.

To exert as much control as possible, Deaver steered the president away from reporters when he could, instead arranging Reagan in poses and settings that conveyed visually the message of the moment. Presidential news conferences were a rarity, which suited an actor-turned-politician who was at his best when using a script.

From The Associated Press

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