As an actor, TV personality and politician, Ronald Reagan lived his life in the public eye. Americans developed what felt like a personal connection with him over the decades. As Reagan biographer and Politics Daily correspondent Lou Cannon notes, "Americans still see themselves in Reagan."
Yet even now, 100 years after his birth, there are some things you probably didn't know about the 40th president of the United States.
1. He Was an Unabashed Earlobe Fondler
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2. He Sometimes Packed Heat
Reagan was a member of the National Rifle Association, according to his son, and the cowboy movie star received guns as gifts. "We'd go out to the ranch and shoot tin cans and sometimes hunt ground squirrels," Ron Reagan told The Atlantic. "He certainly taught me how to use [a gun]. But he always put an emphasis on safety." Personal safety was also on the president's mind. In 1988, seven years after he was shot in the chest in an assassination attempt, Reagan carried a gun in his briefcase during his trip to Moscow for a summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, according to Ronald Kessler's book "In the President's Secret Service." Years earlier, when he first ran for president in 1976, a Secret Service agent noticed that Reagan was armed with a pistol when the candidate came out of his home in Bel Air to drive to the ranch near Santa Barbara. "Well, just in case you guys can't do the job, I can help out," Reagan explained.
3. He Was Nuts About the White House Squirrels
4. He Had to Fight His Fear of Flying
Reagan was a down-to-earth person, especially when it came to travel. Even though he served as an officer in the Army Air Force's 1st Motion Picture Unit during World War II and later spent eight years crisscrossing the country as a spokesman for General Electric, Reagan refused to get on an airplane for nearly 30 years. It was because of a rough flight to Catalina in 1937, according to Cannon's "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime." Even into the early 1960s, Reagan would turn down requests to make appearances if there wasn't enough time for him to travel by car or train. "I don't fly," he would explain simply and politely in letters declining such invitations. By the time he ran for governor of California in 1966, political ambition trumped aerophobia. But that didn't mean Reagan became comfortable in the air. According to Time magazine, when someone remarked to him in 1968 that he seemed to have overcome his fear of flying, Reagan responded: "Overcome it, hell. I'm holding this plane up in the air by sheer will power."
5. He Was Really a Very Private Person
"Public Reagan sought glory on his college football team and when he broadcast sports events over the radio, acted in films, and entered the political arena with great success. He wanted and needed acclaim and recognition. At the same time, he would disavow ambition: It was crucial to his sense of self that he be seen working on behalf of others, and not for personal gain. But all the while, another, quieter Reagan, just as vital, rested invisibly beneath the waves. ... This private self, glimpsed only in fleeting, unguarded moments, formed his core. Without public acclaim, he may have been unfulfilled. Deprived of the opportunity to take refuge in his castle of solitude, he would have withered altogether. The Ronald Reagan with whom everyone is familiar could not have existed without the Ronald Reagan he rarely let anyone see."
-- from "My Father at 100" by Ron Reagan