Larry Speaks, who became the White House spokesman after President Ronald Reagan and Press Secretary James Brady were shot in a 1981 assassination attempt, died Friday. He was 74.
Speakes, who had Alzheimer’s disease, died at his home in Cleveland, Miss.
The New York Times reports:
“A Southerner who started many days in his White House office by listening to Mozart for what he said was its calming influence, Mr. Speakes served as acting White House press secretary from 1981 to 1987, parrying the increasingly adversarial queries from the press along the way. His nickname among friends was ‘the Mississippi catfish,’ a fish that stings when mishandled.”
While Reagan largely recovered from assailant John Hinckley Jr.’s March 30, 1981 assassination attempt outside a Washington hotel, Brady, who was shot in the head, suffered disabling injuries.
In its obituary, The Washington Post writes:
“His job included providing information to the news media on some of the most significant events in the history of the last half of the 20th century, including the meetings between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which helped end the Cold War.
“Mr. Speakes also commanded the podium in the West Wing as disputes grew about an administration plan to trade arms to Iran in return for support of the Nicaraguan rebels known as the contras.
“Unlike many of those who held the spokesman’s position, Mr. Speakes was officially the deputy press secretary, implying that he was only filling in for Brady.”
The Associated Press says Speakes is survived by a daughter, two sons, six grandchildren and a great-grandchild.