Washington Michael K. Deaver, a close adviser to Ronald Reagan who directed the president's picturesque and symbolic public appearances, died Saturday. He was 69.
Deaver, who had pancreatic cancer, died at his home in Bethesda, Md., according to a statement from the Deaver family that was issued by Edelman, the public relations firm he served as vice chairman.
Deaver was celebrated and scorned as an expert at media manipulation for focusing on how the president looked as much as what the president said. Reagan's chief choreographer for public events, Deaver protected the commander in chief's image and enhanced it with a flair for choosing just the right settings, poses and camera angles.
"I've always said the only thing I did is light him well," Deaver told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. "My job was filling up the space around the head. I didn't make Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan made me."
Deaver's own image suffered a setback in 1987. He was convicted on three of five counts of perjury stemming from statements to a congressional subcommittee and a federal grand jury investigating his lobbying activities with administration officials.
Deaver blamed alcoholism for lapses in memory and judgment. He was sentenced to three years' probation and fined $100,000 as well as ordered to perform 1,500 hours of public service.
When the subject of a pardon surfaced in Reagan's final days in office in 1989, the president noted that Deaver had indicated he would not accept one, according to Reagan's diary.
Deaver's family said in the statement Saturday that he fought his cancer "with the courage, grace and good spirit that he carried throughout his life. ... In the end, he stood as the model of a man who not only loved life, but lived life right, one day at a time."
Former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a statement that Deaver "was the closest of friends to both Ronnie and me in many ways, and he was like a son to Ronnie." She added, "We met great challenges together. ... I will miss Mike terribly."
A spokesman for President Bush, Gordon Johndroe, said Deaver "knew the importance in our democracy of communicating with the American people and he will be missed."
Deaver's greatest skill "was in arranging what were known as good visuals - televised events or scenes that would leave a powerful symbolic image in people's minds," Nancy Reagan recalled in her memoir, "My Turn."
One example was Reagan's visit to the beaches of Normandy, in France, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Europe during World War II. Deaver arranged for Reagan to appear on a cliff overlooking the English Channel and address D-Day veterans, which yielded dramatic video and still images of the president.
Mistakes could be costly, though.
Deaver chose a German military cemetery near Bitburg for Reagan to lay a wreath while on a visit. To the president's embarrassment, the cemetery turned out to contain the graves of 49 members of Adolf Hitler's elite SS troops. Reagan refused to drop the appearance from his schedule in spite of withering criticism.
Survivors include his wife, Carolyn, whom he met while they were staffers for the Reagan administration in Sacramento. They had two children, Amanda Deaver, of Washington, and Blair Deaver, of Bend, Ore.