40 Years Ago Today President Ronald Reagan Was Shot and Almost Died

AP Photo/U.S. White House, File

Forty years is a lifetime ago, but I still can recall this like it was just last week.

Ronald Reagan was a transformational president in so many ways it is hard to recall actually in one sitting or post all that his administration accomplished. Volumes of books have been written about him and I have read most of them. The Gipper is the one President I wished I could have voted for (I turned 18 in 1988 when he was termed out) but he was my guy. He was America, and represented this country incredibly well and I hated to see him leave the White House.

We almost lost him, though.

On this day forty years ago, just two months into his Presidency he almost died from the bullet of an assassin. He literally was just minutes away from dying.

Reagan had just finished up a speech to the AFL-CIO at the Washington Hilton when he was exiting the building walking to his limousine. As you can see in the picture above, he is smiling and waving as he walks from the back door across the sidewalk to his car. Reagan’s lead Secret Service Agent Jerry Parr is to Reagan’s left in the photo above and was always at the President’s hip in these situations. The gentleman in a suit and tie to Reagan’s right in the photo is Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy who just a moment later would turn and face the sounds of gunshots and would take a bullet in the stomach protecting the President. This video from the Discovery Channel shows the moment this occurred.

Parr pushed Reagan into the limo as the shots rang out and as the limo sped off began to pat the President down to see if he had been hit. The lead agent ordered the driver to get back to the White House ASAP. However, as Reagan started to ask what had happened he began to cough up blood. Jerry Parr immediately ordered that the limo head to George Washington University Hospital.

Had the limo originally headed back to the White House the 40th President of the United States would have died most likely sometime after his arrival there.

Reagan had been hit by one single bullet that had hit the limo and flattened into a thin projectile and entered the President’s body under his armpit and lodged itself right next to his heart. Upon arriving at the hospital Reagan initially refused help to enter the emergency doors but he started to stumble and eventually collapsed just after getting inside the sliding doors of the emergency room.

The public did not know how badly he had been wounded for weeks and how close this nation had come to losing a President who would go on change the way America operates in so many positive ways.

Wounded in the attack on the President was his Press Secretary, James Brady, who suffered permanent brain damage from a bullet to the head. Washington policeman Thomas K. Delahanty, who was also shot, and agent Timothy J. McCarthy, who was wounded, both also thankfully survived the attempt on the President’s life.

The would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr was found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent his time in and out of a mental health facility until 2016 when he was discharged permanently and now sells his “art” and music online.

The stories of how Reagan dealt with almost dying and cracked jokes while he was being prepped for surgery (and after) are legendary. He tried to make sure everyone else was okay while he was the one critically ill on the operating table. Yet this one video below I feel encompasses the man in a single moment in time after this attempt on his life was made. He knew who he was and was confident of his place in the world, and if he had any fear after what happened to him on March 30th, 1981 he sure as hell didn’t show it.

Take a look at this clip of him giving a speech in West Germany not long after this attempt to kill him and his reaction when a balloon pops.


Godspeed to Ron and his beloved Nancy, and rest easy Mr. President. You made a difference in a world that needed it.

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