On this day in 1981, President Ronald Reagan and three others were shot and wounded by John Hinckley Jr. in Washington, DC, as they were leaving a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel. Hinckley’s motivation for the attack was to impress actress Jodie Foster, who had played the role of a child prostitute in the 1976 film Taxi Driver. After seeing the film, Hinckley had developed an obsession with Foster.
Reagan was struck by a single bullet which ricocheted off his 1972 Lincoln limousine; for motoring enthusiasts, the Lincoln was in fact manufactured in Wixom, MI. That bullet in turn broke a rib, punctured a lung, and caused serious internal bleeding, stopping one inch short of the heart, but the POTUS recovered quickly. No formal invocation of presidential succession took place, although Secretary of State Alexander Haig stated that he was “in control here” while Vice President George HW Bush returned to Washington.
Besides Reagan, White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, and police officer Thomas Delahanty were also wounded. All three survived, but Brady suffered brain damage and was permanently disabled; Brady’s death in 2014 was considered homicide because it was ultimately caused by this injury.
Rushed to George Washington Hospital, Reagan actually walked into the ER entrance on his own power before going down on one knee. Though furious at having his $1,000 suit cut off of him, the POTUS quickly regained his characteristic sunniness. Ever the quipster, when Mrs. Reagan arrived at the ER, the POTUS told her “Honey, I forgot to duck.” In surgery, Reagan removed his oxygen mask to tell the treating team “I hope you are all Republicans,” and whilst intubated and recovering, he scribbled a note to a nurse stating “All in all, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”
Whilst the POTUS completed two full terms with relative success, medical experts have posited that the shooting and surgery may have contributed to the degradation of Reagan’s mentation, especially in his second term; he was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 1994 and passed away in 2004 at age 93.