WASHINGTON – Michael K. Deaver, a close adviser to Ronald Reagan who directed the president’s picturesque and symbolic public appearances, died Saturday. He was 69.
Deaver, who had pancreatic cancer, died at his home in Bethesda, Md., according to a statement from the Deaver family issued by Edelman, the public relations firm where he was vice chairman.
Deaver was celebrated and scorned as an expert at media manipulation for focusing on how the president looked as much as what he said. Reagan’s chief choreographer for public events, Deaver protected the commander in chief’s image and enhanced it with a flair for choosing just the right settings, poses and camera angles.
“I’ve always said the only thing I did is light him well,” Deaver told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. “My job was filling up the space around the head. I didn’t make Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan made me.”
Deaver’s image suffered a setback in 1987, when he was convicted on three of five counts of perjury stemming from statements to a congressional subcommittee and a federal grand jury investigating his lobbying activities with administration officials.
Deaver blamed alcoholism for lapses in memory and judgment. He was sentenced to three years probation and fined $100,000 as well as ordered to perform 1,500 hours of public service.
Deaver brought a public relations background and long association with Reagan to his work as White House deputy chief of staff from 1981-1985. He and top Reagan advisers Edwin Meese III and James A. Baker III were known as “the troika” that, in effect, managed the presidency.
Deaver, however, was concerned more with Reagan’s image than his policies. To exert as much control as possible, Deaver steered the president away from reporters when he could, instead arranging Reagan in poses and settings that conveyed visually the message of the moment. Presidential news conferences were a rarity, which suited an actor-turned-politician who was at his best using a script.
Meese, in a telephone interview from his Virginia home, said Deaver “had great imagination, great innovation.”
“Public relations was his obvious forte, and he did a very good job of it throughout his life,” Meese said. “Mike had an amazing way to understand how people would respond and he had a great way of helping Ronald Reagan get his message across to the public.”