Walt Zebowski, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — James Brady, the affable, witty press secretary who survived a devastating head wound in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan and undertook a personal crusade for gun control, died Monday. He was 73.
"We are heartbroken to share the news that our beloved Jim "Bear" Brady has passed away after a series of health issues," Brady's family said in a statement. "His wife, Sarah, son, Scott, and daughter, Missy, are so thankful to have had the opportunity to say their farewells."
Brady, who spent much of the rest of his life in a wheelchair, died at a retirement community in Alexandria, Virginia, where he lived with his wife.
He suffered a bullet wound to his head in the assassination attempt outside the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981. Although he returned to the White House only briefly, he was allowed to keep the title of presidential press secretary and his White House salary until Reagan left office in January 1989.
Former first lady Nancy Reagan said she was "deeply saddened to learn of Jim Brady's passing today. Thinking of him brings back so many memories — happy and sad — of a time in all of our lives when we learned what it means to 'play the hand we're dealt.'"
"I still remember vividly that day in March 1981, when Sarah and I sat together in a tiny room near the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital, trying to comfort each other while we both were gripped with unspeakable fear," Mrs. Reagan said. "The bond we established then was unlike any other."
A federal law requiring a background check on handgun buyers bears his name, as does the White House press briefing room.
Josh Earnest, President Barack Obama's press secretary, said Brady "showed his patriotism and commitment to the country by being very outspoken on an issue that was important to him and that he felt very strongly about."
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement that because of Brady's work on gun control "an estimated 2 million gun sales to criminals, domestic abusers and other dangerous people have been blocked. As a result, countless lives have been saved. In fact, there are few Americans in history who are as directly responsible for saving as many lives as Jim."
Of the four people struck by gunfire in the assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr. — later found to be insane — Brady was the most seriously wounded. A news clip of the shooting, replayed often on television, showed Brady sprawled on the ground as Secret Service agents hustled the wounded president into his limousine. Reagan was shot in one lung while a policeman and a Secret Service agent suffered lesser wounds.
Brady never regained full health. The shooting caused brain damage, partial paralysis, short-term memory impairment, slurred speech and constant pain.
The TV replays of the shooting did take a toll on Brady, however. He told The Associated Press years later that he relived the moment each time he saw it: "I want to take every bit of (that) film ... and put them in a cement incinerator, slosh them with gasoline and throw a lighted cigarette in." With remarkable courage, he endured a series of brain operations in the years after the shooting.
On Nov. 28, 1995, while he was in an oral surgeon's office, Brady's heart stopped beating and he was taken to a hospital. His wife, Sarah, credited the oral surgeon and his staff with saving Brady's life.
Brady was a strong Republican from an early age — as a boy of 12 in Centralia, Ill., where he was born on Aug. 29, 1940, he distributed election literature for Dwight D. Eisenhower.
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