The year was 1981. Just two months into his presidency, Ronald Reagan was shot after leaving a speaking engagement in Washington, D. C. The quick action of the Secret Service and medical professionals saved the president's life. Mere days after his near-death experience, Reagan's personal strength propelled him back into his presidential duties.
Adapted from Bill O'Reilly's historical thriller Killing Reagan, with characteristically gripping storytelling, this story explores the events of the day Reagan was shot. From the scene of the shooting and the dramatic action of the Secret Service, to the FBI's interrogation of the shooter, the life-saving measures of the medical professionals and the president's extraordinary recovery, this is a page-turning account of an attempted assassination and its aftermath.
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About the Author
Bill O'Reilly's success in broadcasting and publishing is unmatched. The iconic anchor of The O'Reilly Factor led the program to the status of the highest rated cable news broadcast in the nation for sixteen consecutive years. His website BillOReilly.com is followed by millions all over the world.
In addition, he has authored an astonishing 12 number one ranked non-fiction books including the historical "Killing" series. Mr. O'Reilly currently has 17 million books in print.
Bill O'Reilly has been a broadcaster for 42 years. He has been awarded three Emmy's and a number of other journalism accolades. He was a national correspondent for CBS News and ABC News as well as a reporter-anchor for WCBS-TV in New York City among other high profile jobs.
Mr. O'Reilly received two other Emmy nominations for the movies "Killing Kennedy" and "Killing Jesus."
He holds a history degree from Marist College, a masters degree in Broadcast Journalism from Boston University, and another masters degree from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Bill O'Reilly lives on Long Island where he was raised. His philanthropic enterprises have raised tens of millions for people in need and wounded American veterans.
Bill O'Reilly is a trailblazing TV journalist who has experienced unprecedented success on cable news and in writing thirteen national number-one bestselling nonfiction books. There are currently more than 17 million books in the Killing series in print. He lives in Long Island.
Read an Excerpt
The Day the President was Shot
The Secret Service, the FBI, a Would-Be Killer, and the Attempted Assassination of Ronald Reagan
By Bill O'Reilly
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2016 Bill O'Reilly
All rights reserved.
CONVENTION CENTER MUSIC HALL
CLEVELAND, OHIO * OCTOBER 28, 1980 * 9:30 P.M.
Five months before the attempted assassination, Ronald Reagan strides to his lectern for the 1980 presidential debate. The former movie star and two-term governor of California is hoping to become president of the United States at the relatively advanced age of sixty-nine. His hair is black and his high cheekbones are noticeably rosy. At six feet one, 190 pounds, Reagan stands tall and straight, but his appearance does not intimidate: rather, he looks to be approachable and kind. With more than fifty movies and many television shows to his credit, Ronald Reagan is a familiar face to most Americans.
The governor's opponent is incumbent president Jimmy Carter. At five feet nine and 155 pounds, the slender Carter has the build of a man who ran cross-country in college. In fact, the president still makes time for four miles a day. Carter is a political junkie, immersing himself in every last nuance of a campaign. He has made a huge surge in the polls over the last month. Carter knows that with one week until the election, the race is dead even. The winner of this debate will most likely win the presidency.
As both Reagan and Carter well know, the 1970s have been a brutal time for America. In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned under suspicion of criminal activity in the Watergate affair. The unchecked growth of the Soviet Union's war machine and the American failure to win the Vietnam War have tilted the global balance of power. At home, inflation, interest rates, and unemployment rates are sky-high. Gasoline shortages have led to mile-long lines at the pumps. And worst of all is the ongoing humiliation of fifty-two hostages still held in Iran after radicals stormed the American embassy in Tehran in 1979. A rescue attempt six months later failed miserably, resulting in the deaths of eight American servicemen. One week from today, when U.S. citizens go to the polls to pick a president, those fifty-two hostages will have spent exactly one year in captivity.
The United States of America is still very much a superpower, but an air of defeat, not hope, now defines its national outlook. The American public — Democrat and Republican alike — is in a patriotic mood. People long for a return to simple, straightforward American values.
The small theater in which the debate will unfold was built shortly after World War I, at a time when America had flexed its muscle on the world stage and first assumed global prominence. But tonight, there is a single question on the minds of many of the three thousand people in the auditorium and the 80.6 million watching on television:
Can America be fixed, or are the best days of the United States in the past?CHAPTER 2
OCTOBER 28, 1980
Thirteen hundred miles west of Ohio, in the city of Evergreen, Colorado, a twenty-five-year-old loner pays little attention to the debate. Instead, John Hinckley Jr. fixates on schemes to impress Jodie Foster, a young actress who starred opposite Robert De Niro in the movie Taxi Driver — a film Hinckley has seen more than fifteen times. Even though he has never met her, Hinckley considers Foster to be the love of his life and is determined to win her hand.
Hinckley's obsession with the seventeen-year-old actress is so complete that last month he temporarily moved to New Haven, Connecticut, to stalk her at Yale. Hinckley is a college dropout, unable to focus on his own studies, yet he had little problem attending a writing class. He slid poems and love notes into her dorm room, found her phone number, and, in a brazen move, called and asked Foster out to dinner. Shocked, she refused. So stunned was Foster by Hinckley's actions that she will not speak of the experience for years to come.
Now, nearly penniless and back with his parents, John Hinckley puzzles over how to make Jodie Foster change her mind. His plans are grandiose and bizarre. Hinckley has thought about killing himself right in front of her, or perhaps getting her attention by hijacking an airliner or assassinating someone famous.
The pudgy Hinckley, who wears his shaggy hair in bangs, has yet to see a psychiatrist for the schizophrenia that is slowly taking control of his brain. That appointment is in the future. But no amount of therapy will ever stop him from thinking about Jodie Foster — and the lengths he must go to to earn her love. Now, sitting in a small basement bedroom, Hinckley again considers suicide.
Bottles of prescription pills cover his nightstand. It will take a few more days to summon his courage, but Hinckley will soon reach for the container labeled VALIUM and gobble a deadly dosage.
But, true to form, John Hinckley will fail. He will wake up nauseated but alive, vowing to find some new way to impress Jodie Foster.
If killing himself is not going to work, then he will try to kill someone else.CHAPTER 3
CONVENTION CENTER MUSIC HALL
CLEVELAND, OHIO * OCTOBER 28, 1980
The debate does not go well for President Jimmy Carter. His quiet, intellectual answers are overshadowed by Reagan's charm. Reagan can deliver a good line. His career in Hollywood has taught him poise under fire. He can convincingly express outrage, condescension, and certainty. He has memorized answers to the expected questions, of course. Both men have. But Reagan's polish tips the scale.
Watching from the side of the stage that night is Ronald Reagan's wife, Nancy. She can see that her husband is gaining confidence with every question. This gives her comfort, for Nancy was so afraid that her Ronnie would say something foolish that she initially opposed the debate. Nancy's opinion matters more to Reagan than any of his advisers'. They have been married twenty-eight years, and she has been a driving force behind his run for the presidency.
Reagan finishes the debate with a flourish. "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" he says earnestly into the television camera. "Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we're as strong as we were four years ago? And if you answer all of those questions yes, why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to who you'll vote for. If you don't agree, if you don't think that this course that we've been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have."
On Election Day, Ronald Reagan receives 50.7 percent of the popular vote and 489 electoral votes. Jimmy Carter receives 41.0 percent of the popular vote and just forty-nine electoral votes.
On January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan is sworn in as the fortieth president of the United States.
John Hinckley Jr. now has a target.CHAPTER 4
THE WHITE HOUSE
WASHINGTON, D.C. * JANUARY 20, 1981
From the moment of his swearing-in, Ronald Reagan becomes the charge of the men in the Presidential Protective Division of the Secret Service. The group of crack agents is headed by Jerry Parr. And it seems amazing that the man who inspired Parr to become an agent is now the president of the United States. When Parr was nine, he went with his father to see the movie Code of the Secret Service, starring Ronald Reagan. Since joining the service, Parr has protected four vice presidents, many visiting heads of state, President Jimmy Carter, and now Ronald Reagan. Jerry Parr's job is to protect the president at all costs, including stepping into the path of an assassin's bullet.CHAPTER 5
STUDIO CITY, CALIFORNIA
MARCH 4, 1952 5 P.M.
"I pronounce you man and wife," says the reverend. Nancy Davis has succeeded in wooing her Ronnie.
This is his second marriage, and he brings two children with him. In 1938, when Reagan was making Brother Rat, he fell hard for his costar Jane Wyman. For a time they were Hollywood's golden couple. Their daughter, Maureen, was born in 1941, and in 1945 they adopted a baby boy they named Michael. But the marriage turned rocky after the death of a baby girl and the rise in Wyman's fame, and in 1948 they divorced.
Today, Ronald Reagan is dressed in a black wedding suit with a matching tie. Davis, who clutches a bouquet of white tulips, does not wear a wedding gown. Instead, she has chosen a gray wool suit with a single strand of pearls draped around her neck.
Nancy Reagan was born in New York City on July 6, 1921, as Anne Frances Robbins. Her mother was an actress, her father a traveling salesman. After they split up when she was just six, Nancy was sent to live with family in Maryland. A year later, her mother married a Chicago neurosurgeon named Loyal Davis, who adopted Nancy and gave her his name. Nancy studied dramatic arts at Smith College. In 1949, she traveled to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was given a contract by MGM. Between 1949 and 1958, she made eleven feature films and went on to star in several TV shows.
In Ronald Reagan, Nancy sees a greatness that thus far has eluded him. She will dedicate her life to bringing this forth. Nancy Reagan possesses inner steel that her husband lacks. This quality will make her opinions indispensable to her husband. She will become his sounding board, tactician, and adviser, prodding and cajoling him to become the man only she believes he can be.
The power in their marriage will slowly shift until Nancy clearly has the upper hand.
Great marriages are sometimes made of this balance of temperament and strength.CHAPTER 6
MAY 29, 1955 * 6 A.M.
Three years later, a twenty-eight-year-old mother of two is about to give birth to her third child. She and her husband are hoping that it will be a boy. They are affluent people, with a strong belief in the American dream.
If their child is indeed a boy, he will be named after his father, a deeply religious and highly successful oilman. There will one day be whispers that he is connected to the Central Intelligence Agency — whispers that will be scrutinized very closely.
But all of that is in the future as the hoped-for baby boy enters the world.
Two miles across the Oklahoma town, the modern Memorial Hospital is opening to the public. The baby could very well have been the first child delivered in this state-of-the-art facility. That would be a mark of distinction, if only in Ardmore. But Jo Ann, the mother, will deliver at Hardy Sanitarium, which will make the birth unique in another way. The opening of the new hospital means that Hardy, a two-story brick building that has been a vital part of Ardmore's fabric for fifty-four years, will close for good tomorrow. So, rather than being the first baby born in the new hospital, Jo Ann's baby will be the last born at Hardy.
So it is that John Warnock Hinckley Jr. is born in a small, obsolete hospital.CHAPTER 7
STATE CAPITOL BUILDING
ROTUNDA * SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA * JANUARY 2, 1967 * 12:11 A.M.
Fifteen years after their marriage, Nancy's faith and determination have led to this moment. Despite making more than fifty films, Ronald Reagan has never known a moment of drama quite like the one he is experiencing right now. Dressed in a black suit with a narrow dark tie, he stands, head held high and feet planted twelve inches apart, like a conquering hero from the western movies he loves so much. His left hand rests on a Bible. A large bald man stands in front of him. A glance to his left shows Nancy Reagan prim and straight at his elbow, beaming. Television studio lamps light Reagan's face. "America the Beautiful" echoes in his head, thanks to a choir from the University of Southern California that serenaded him at the stroke of midnight.
This is Ronald Reagan's greatest moment, a time when at long last he gets to play the leading man. Just a year ago he was hosting yet another television show. Now he is the governor-elect of California. There's not a writer in Hollywood who could have scripted this any better.
Reagan raises his right hand and the swearing-in begins. One hundred fifty guests are closely watching him, waiting for the trademark smile and nod of the head that he has used to such populist effect while campaigning.
* * *
"Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of California against all enemies, foreign or domestic?" asks California Supreme Court Justice Marshall McComb.
"I do." Reagan's voice fills the rotunda, bouncing off the marble floors and the larger-than-life statue of Queen Isabella looking over him.
Reagan lets his gaze float out over the room. It is impossible not to be distracted. Men and women surround him, watching the proceedings with reverence. Several stand on tiptoe to better witness the historic moment.
These are Reagan's people. They also represent something of an anachronism. America is in turmoil, torn apart by the Vietnam War, a deep racial divide, drug use, and a sexual revolution. But in this room, at this moment, Reagan sees none of that conflict. Many filling this towering ceremonial space are as conservative as he is. The men wear crisp dark suits. Their hair is cut short, in sharp contrast to the shoulder-length locks so many young men are wearing these days. The women's knee-length dresses are a throwback to the more formal styles of the 1950s, nothing at all like the skimpy miniskirts popular at the time.
Reagan knows that some in the crowd might doubt his ability to lead, thinking of him as just an actor. He is also aware that his political views are at odds with current trends in American and California politics, thus making him a dinosaur in the eyes of many beyond the curved walls of this rotunda.
But on this cold January night, Ronald Reagan has a secret: despite what some may think of his abilities, the governorship will not be enough. Reagan hopes to be president of the United States one day.CHAPTER 8
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA * AUGUST 1972
Ronald Reagan is well into his sixth year as governor. He has achieved much as California's leader, cracking down on large student protests against the Vietnam War, balancing the budget so well that the state actually issued a tax rebate, and signing a bill that made abortions legal if the mother's physical well-being was in peril. In October 1971, Reagan traveled to Asia as a special representative of President Richard Nixon to calm foreign heads of state who were nervous about the thawing of relations between the United States and China.
And Nancy Reagan has prospered as California's first lady. She has come to enjoy the trappings of power, such as private jet travel, having an aide carry her purse, and the surprise friendship of Frank Sinatra. The famous singer has become a big supporter of Governor Reagan and a close friend of Nancy's.
Even though her husband has stated publicly that he will not seek a third term as governor, Nancy is not about to give up a life full of perks and celebrity adulation. She is working behind the scenes to plan a presidential campaign. The time will come, Nancy believes, when her Ronnie will be ready for the big job.CHAPTER 9
THE WHITE HOUSE
WASHINGTON, D.C. * AUGUST 1973
The leaders of the republican party are shifting in Washington. Richard Nixon has been battling to stay in office. The Watergate scandal has been traced back to the White House. The men who planned and carried out the break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee have been sentenced to federal prison for burglary, conspiracy, and wiretapping. They have maintained a code of silence, saying that they operated without help.
Now another scandal shocks Washington, D.C.: the vice president of the United States has been taking bribes since his days as governor of Maryland. Spiro Agnew is accused of extortion, conspiracy, bribery, and tax fraud. Ultimately, he resigns on October 10, 1973.
So, even as he is under suspicion, Nixon has to choose a new vice president. Nancy hoped that Ronnie might be the choice, but he is third on the list after Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller.
Reagan will have to wait.
Excerpted from The Day the President was Shot by Bill O'Reilly. Copyright © 2016 Bill O'Reilly. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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Table of Contents
A Note to Readers x
Key Players xii
Part 1 The Road to the White House 2
Part 2 March 30, 1981 108
Part 3 Moving on 162
Before Politics 194
Alzheimer's Disease 198
Guns and Gun Control 202
Government Watch Lists 205
By Reason of Insanity 207
Transfer of Power 209
Presidential Assassinations and Attempts 211
The Presidential Motorcade 215
Jelly Beans 218
Gallery of Reagan Movie Posters 219
Code Names 223
Photographing the President and First Family 225
Time Line 227
The Author Recommends 232
Source Notes 235
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