Speakes, who had Alzheimer's disease, died in his sleep at his
home in Cleveland, Mississippi, said Kenny Williams, owner of the
Cleveland Funeral Home. He was 74.
Speakes joined the Reagan administration in 1981 as deputy press
secretary after previously serving as vice president of public
relations firm Hill and Knowlton. Later that year, he took over from
James Brady as acting press secretary after Brady was wounded in the
shooting attack on Reagan, and Speakes held the position until 1987.
He conducted some 2,000 daily press briefings, dealing with issues
from the Iran-Contra scandal to the investigation into the bombing
of Pan Am Flight 103 and Cold War relations between the United
States and the Soviet Union.
An announcement from the White House in 1987, when Speakes received
the Presidential Citizens Medal, described him as "cool under
pressure" and "conscientiously working to get the facts out."
In a statement, Ronald Reagan's widow, Nancy Reagan, called Speakes
"an articulate and respected spokesman day in and day out, including
some very historically significant moments."
"I was saddened to learn about Larry, who served Ronnie with great
loyalty in one of the toughest jobs in the White House," Reagan
said. She said it was a source of "special sadness" to know Speakes
suffered from Alzheimer's, which also afflicted Ronald Reagan.
More recently, Speakes was criticized for his response to the AIDS
crisis when the disease that early on was associated with gay men
first came up at a White House press briefing.
At the October 1982 news conference, a reporter asked Speakes about
the disease gaining epidemic proportions and called it the "gay
plague," according to a transcript posted online last year by the
"I don't have it. Do you?" Speakes asked, to laughter from the press
corps, and said he was unfamiliar with the disease, according to the
[to top of second column]
Speakes also worked in the White House in the 1970s.
During President Richard Nixon's final days in the White House,
Speakes served as press secretary to the special counsel to the
president in the Watergate hearings.
After Nixon resigned, Speakes was assistant press secretary to
President Gerald Ford.
After leaving the White House, Speakes worked in public relations
for Northern Telecom and the U.S. Postal Service, retiring from that
last position in 2008.
Born in Cleveland, Mississippi, Speakes attended the University of
Mississippi and went on to a career in newspapers, serving from 1966
to 1968 as general manager and editor for Progress Publishers of
Leland, Mississippi, which published weekly newspapers.
Speakes was buried on Friday at North Cleveland Cemetery, Williams
said. He is survived by a daughter, Sandy Speakes Huerta, and sons
Scott and Jeremy Speakes, six grandchildren and one great
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Cynthia Johnston, Mary
Wisniewski and Ken Wills)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.