William French Smith, who as Ronald Reagan's personal lawyer helped guide him to the White House and then joined the Reagan Revolution as the president's first attorney general, has died at 73.

Smith, who died of cancer Monday, helped lead the administration's conservative shift on such issues as civil rights and corporate mergers."William French Smith served his country with the greatest dedication and distinction," Reagan said in a statement. "As attorney general, he brought talent, wisdom, and the highest integrity to the Department of Justice.

"Nancy and I are deeply saddened today," Reagan said. "We have lost a dear friend, who we will always remember with the greatest respect and affection."

Born in Wilton, N.H., to an aristocratic Yankee family, Smith pursued a career in corporate law, leaving New England behind for Los Angeles.

A Navy officer during World War II, Smith later became Reagan's personal attorney, helping guide investments that made the former actor a millionaire.

Smith served as informal chairman of Reagan's so-called kitchen cabinet, a group of California millionaires who saw Reagan socially and helped his quest for the governorship, and finally, the presidency in 1980.

Others in the group included Justin Dart, Walter Annenberg, Verne Orr, William Clark, Alfred Bloomingdale and Holmes Tuttle.

A specialist in corporate labor relations, Smith was managing partner of the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher when Reagan named him the nation's 74th attorney general.

Among the policy changes in which he played a key role were the appointment of the first woman to the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor; legislation overturning a 100-year-old ban on military aid to civilian law enforcement; relaxation of rules against corporate mergers, which had not been changed in 15 years; and halting the Justice Department's advocacy of mandatory busing to desegregate schools and of hiring and promotion goals to remedy job discrimination.

His relaxation of antitrust enforcement infuriated consumers and liberal Democrats.

Black groups and women's organizations were outraged by his civil rights policies. They prevailed in Congress over his opposition to toughening the Voting Rights Act and in court over his unprecedented effort to give tax exemptions to racially discriminatory private schools.

Smith's personal finances and patrician style also drew attacks.

Career department attorneys jeered his establishment of a second private dining room at the Justice Department and his regular appearances on the Washington social circuit.

Smith is survived by his wife, Jean; three sons; a daughter; a stepson; a stepdaughter; and seven grandchildren.