LOS ANGELES—Ronald Wilson Reagan, who grew up a shoe salesman's son in northern Illinois, became a movie star in the golden days of Hollywood and emerged as a conservative icon and a two-term president who helped end the Cold War, died Saturday after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for a decade. He was 93.
The oldest man elected to the presidency at age 69, he governed America through most of the 1980s and created a legacy that influences, if not dominates, American conservative politics.
President Bush, in Paris as part of the 60th anniversary celebration of D-Day, called Reagan's death "a sad hour in the life of America." Flags across the country were lowered to half-staff, and crowds observed moments of silence at baseball stadiums and the Belmont Stakes in New York.
A black hearse carried a flag-draped coffin from the Reagan home Saturday afternoon to a Santa Monica mortuary. Initial plans call for Reagan's remains to lie for a day at his presidential library in Simi Valley, then travel by Air Force One to Washington, where he will lie in state in the Capitol rotunda. The funeral is expected at midweek, probably Wednesday.
As president, Reagan presided over the nation with a Midwestern, folksy style, belying his years in Hollywood and his two terms as governor of California.
His political rise reflected an America eager to set aside the national trauma and recriminations that followed the Vietnam War and the crisis of American hostages held in Iran. He encouraged the country to look to the future with unbounded optimism.
Reagan also capitalized on the nation's weariness over domestic social programs that consumed a large share of the federal budget but were perceived by conservatives as failures. Reagan railed against big government and pushed for tax cuts to stimulate the economy. Those views profoundly influenced the Republican Party and are reflected in the policies of President Bush two decades later.
As president, Reagan promoted a free-market economy, worked to scale down welfare and other social programs and oversaw the largest defense buildup in peacetime history.
Reflecting years spent in a close circle of successful and wealthy friends, he believed deeply in a capitalism that benefits business first and then is supposed to expand the economy, create jobs and let prosperity "trickle down" to the poorest members of society.
That approach, often dubbed "Reaganomics," harked back to an aphorism from President John F. Kennedy that "a rising tide lifts all boats." His critics, including George H.W. Bush, a political rival who later became Reagan's vice president and successor in the White House, called it "voodoo economics."
When Bush's son became president in 2001, he pressed for the same "Reaganomics" policies of tax cuts as a means of creating jobs.
In his first inaugural address, Reagan challenged the view that such problems as inflation, energy shortages and international terrorism were beyond solution, and he vowed to help restore America as the land of liberty and plenty.
"We have every right to dream heroic dreams," he said. "Those who say we are in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look."
Energetic despite his age and health problems, including a bullet wound suffered during an assassination attempt just 70 days after he took office, Reagan led the country through a period of economic growth and withstood a recession in his first term.
But late in his second term, concern over the nation's foreign trade and budget deficits led to panic on Wall Street. On Oct. 19, 1987, the Dow Jones industrial average fell a then-record 508 points.
There also was serious political turbulence. The president became embroiled in what came to be known as the Iran-contra scandal when aides were accused of trading guns and missiles to Iran in exchange for help in gaining the release of several Americans held hostage in Lebanon. The proceeds of those sales were diverted illegally to aid the rebels known as contras, who were fighting Nicaragua's leftist government.
As president Reagan embodied a spirit of conservatism that emerged following the 1970s. While Reagan was a symbol of that conservatism, much to the annoyance of liberal critics, he was also a practical man, willing to compromise on domestic and foreign policy issues, often to the annoyance of his core conservative constituency.
His legacy is long and sometimes contradictory, not unlike aspects of his life. He often promoted "family values," but his own family was not particularly close.