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  /  News   /  How Reagan’s assassination attempt affected him

How Reagan’s assassination attempt affected him

(NewsNation) — Former President Ronald Reagan was deemed a hero after surviving a brutal assassination attempt in 1981, and the attack ultimately strengthened his resolve to fight Communism and end nuclear proliferation. 

The attempt happened when Reagan was leaving the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., where he had been talking to 5,000 members of the AFL-CIO, according to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

John Hinckley, Jr. fired several shots at the former president with his .22 caliber revolver using  “devastator” bullets.

It was his 69th day in office during his first term.

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This Saturday, NewsNation will air the 90-minute documentary film “Reagan: Portrait of a Presidency” about the life and legacy of President Ronald Reagan, narrated by actor Dean Cain. The documentary film will air from 9-10:30 p.m. ET (8-9:30 p.m. CT), followed by “Reagan: The Post Show,” with NewsNation senior political contributor George Will and chief Washington anchor Leland Vittert from 10:30-11 p.m. ET (9:30-10 p.m. CT). To find NewsNation on your screen, go to

Reagan was wounded when one of the bullets bounced off of the limousine, striking him under the left armpit. He was then taken to George Washington University Hospital where he spent twelve days. 

Former Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy, and policeman Thomas Delahanty were also wounded during the shooting.

As he went into surgery he told his wife, Nancy, ”Honey, I forgot to duck,” and to his surgeons, “Please tell me you’re Republicans,” according to The History Channel

Upon his return, the former president was given a hero’s welcome by Congress. Later, his controversial economic program passed Congress, with several Democrats breaking ranks to back Reagan’s plan, the outlet reported. 

Reagan was convinced his life was spared so he could pursue peace by ending the Communist threat and nuclear proliferation under the Cold War. He was even more determined to change the U.S. and Soviet relations. 

“Perhaps having come so close to death made me feel I should do whatever I could in the years God had given me to reduce the threat of nuclear war,” he wrote in his autobiography, “An American Life.”

Soon after leaving the hospital, he wrote a letter to then-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev expressing his desire for “a meaningful and constructive dialogue which will assist us in fulfilling our joint obligation to find lasting peace.”

He later went on to have a large hand in ending the Cold War working with Brezhnev’s successor Mikhail Gorbachev.

Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of mental illness and was committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. in 1982. 

The assassination attempt made its way into several of Reagan’s talks. When he gave a speech in West Berlin in 1987, a balloon popped very loudly near him to which he replied, “Missed me,” referring to the sound as a gunshot. 

Reagan’s hand in ending the Cold War

While Reagan re-upped his resolve and won a second term, he continued to battle the lingering painful effects of the murder attempt in private. 

After the president nearly died, the first lady became obsessed with taking precautions to ensure her husband’s safety, reported People.

“Americans love a hero; Ronald Reagan survived an assassin’s bullet. However, that can’t take away the fact that Ronald Reagan was already on a trajectory of real change with the support of the people,” Duke Blackwood,  director of the Reagan Presidential Library, said according to CNN

“The attempted assassination perhaps gave him a temporary boost. Make no mistake though, it was his leadership and vision that made it all happen, not the result of what a deranged man vainly attempted. Ronald Reagan was destined to lead our country and he did.”