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January 11, 2014

Former Reagan spokesman Larry Speakes dies at 74

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Larry Speakes, who spent six years as acting press secretary for President Ronald Reagan, died yesterday in his native Mississippi. He was 74.

Speakes died at home in Cleveland, Miss., where he had lived the past several years, said Bolivar County Coroner Nate Brown. Brown said Speakes had Alzheimer’s disease.

“He died in his sleep and it was a natural death,” Brown said.

Speakes was buried in North Cleveland Cemetery during a private service yesterday morning, a few hours after dying, said Kenny Williams of Cleveland Funeral Home.

Speakes became Reagan’s acting spokesman after Press Secretary James Brady was wounded during an assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981.

Republican Haley Barbour, who served as Mississippi governor from 2004 to 2012, was political director of the Reagan White House when Speakes worked there. He said Friday that it wasn’t unusual to have tension between the political office and the press office, but he and Speakes had a good working relationship.

Barbour said that within the Reagan administration, people generally admired Speakes’ handling of the press, although Speakes could be abrupt.

“Sometimes, that meant reporters didn’t get everything they wanted, and sometimes it meant they didn’t get anything,” Barbour said Friday. “But, Larry knew who he worked for.”

Weeks after leaving his White House job in 1987, Speakes said during a speech at East Texas State University that he often thought about the day Reagan, Brady and two others were wounded when John Hinckley Jr. opened fire.

“Shortly before the president left that day to go the Hilton Hotel to make a speech, I said to Jim, ‘Do you want to go with the president, or would you like me to go?’ And he said, ‘I believe I’ll go,’” Speakes said. “And had it not been in that one split second, I would have been exactly where Jim Brady was at that moment an hour or so later. ... It’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about that.”

After resigning his White House job in 1987, Speakes worked for Merrill Lynch in New York. Speakes left the Merrill Lynch job after he wrote in his memoir, “Speaking Out,” that he had fabricated quotes for President Reagan while working for him.

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