Former Reagan spokesman Larry Speakes dies at 74
Mr. Speakes died at home in Cleveland, Miss., where he had lived the last several years, said Bolivar County Coroner Nate Brown. Brown said Mr. Speakes had Alzheimer's disease.
"He died in his sleep and it was a natural death," Brown said.
Mr. Speakes was buried in North Cleveland Cemetery during a private service Friday morning, a few hours after dying, said Kenny Williams of Cleveland Funeral Home.
Republican Haley Barbour, who served as Mississippi governor from 2004 to 2012, was political director of the Reagan White House when Mr. Speakes worked there. He said Friday that it wasn't unusual to have tension between the political office and the press office, but he and Mr. Speakes had a good working relationship.
Barbour said that within the Reagan administration, people generally admired Mr. Speakes' handling of the press, although he could be abrupt.
Weeks after leaving his White House job in 1987, Mr. Speakes said during a speech at East Texas State University that he often thought about the day Reagan, Brady, and two others were wounded when John Hinckley Jr. opened fire.
"Shortly before the president left that day to go the Hilton Hotel to make a speech, I said to Jim, 'Do you want to go with the president, or would you like me to go?' And he said, 'I believe I'll go,' " Mr. Speakes said. "And had it not been in that one split second, I would have been exactly where Jim Brady was at that moment an hour or so later. . . . It's not a day goes by that I don't think about that."
After resigning his White House job in 1987, Mr. Speakes worked for Merrill Lynch in New York. He left the Merrill Lynch job after he wrote in his memoir, Speaking Out, that he had fabricated quotes for Reagan while working for him.
He returned to Washington in 1988 and worked in public relations for Northern Telecom and the U.S. Postal Service, retiring in 2008.
Mr. Speakes grew up in Merigold, Miss., and graduated from the University of Mississippi. He worked for two Mississippi newspapers, the Oxford Eagle and the Bolivar Commercial, before going to Washington in 1968 as press secretary for Sen. James O. Eastland (D., Miss.).
In 1974, Mr. Speakes worked as press secretary for the special counsel to President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate hearings. After Nixon resigned, Mr. Speakes became assistant press secretary for President Gerald R. Ford.
Mr. Speakes worked as press secretary for Ford's vice presidential running mate, Bob Dole, during the 1976 campaign. After Jimmy Carter won the election, he moved to the Hill & Knowlton public relations firm in Washington. Mr. Speakes worked for Reagan's transition team after Reagan won the 1980 election, then became deputy press secretary under Brady.
Mr. Speakes is survived by a daughter, Sandy Speakes Huerta of Cleveland, Miss.; sons Scott Speakes of Cleveland, Miss., and Jeremy Speakes of Clifton, Va.; six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.