SIMI VALLEY, California (AFP) - Hollywood stars and political powerbrokers past and present gathered on Friday for the funeral of former first lady Nancy Reagan, who is to be buried beside her husband at the Reagan presidential library.
Reagan died on Sunday of heart failure at the age of 94 at her home in the Bel Air suburb of Los Angeles, 12 years after Ronald Reagan, the 40th US president.
Representatives of nine White House families arrived for the ceremony, including First Lady Michelle Obama, former first lady and ex-secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former president George W. Bush and John F Kennedy’s daughter Caroline Kennedy, the US ambassador to Japan.
The Reagans were former actors and many of the 1980s Hollywood glitterati, including 1980s sex symbol Bo Derek, Oscar winner Anjelica Huston, Magnum PI actor Tom Selleck and the A-Team’s Mr T, were expected among around 1,000 guests who began arriving under sunny skies several hours ahead of the ceremony.
The former first lady’s funeral opened with a musical prelude by the Santa Susana High School Advanced Women’s Choir and Abbe Road A Cappella, and an instrumental section by the First Marine Division Band, Marine Corps Camp Pendleton.
Clinton broke from her campaign to become the Democratic presidential nominee at a critical juncture in the race against Senator Bernie Sanders, just four days before the March 15 primaries that include key large states Florida, Illinois and Ohio.
Stuart Kenworthy, the vicar of Washington National Cathedral, presided over the programme, which was to include a reading of a letter from Ronald Reagan to his wife, by former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney.
James Baker, chief of staff under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and two of Reagan’s children – her daughter Patti Davis and son, Ron Junior – were due to deliver eulogies.
A fierce protector of her husband and his political legacy, Reagan had outsized influence during their White House years from 1981 to 1989.
The couple wed in 1952 after Ronald divorced his first wife, actress Jane Wyman. The marriage has been described as a love story to rival any that the couple acted out on the silver screen.
The pair, who wrote passionate love letters to each other over the decades, had two children – Patti, born in 1952, and Ron, born in 1958.
While in the White House, Nancy Reagan actively participated in her husband’s campaigns, approved members of the president’s Cabinet, and was the face of the administration’s Just Say No drugs campaign.
Ronald Reagan suffered from Alzheimer’s disease after leaving office and went into a long decline. His wife took care of him until his death and became a tireless advocate for Alzheimer’s research.
President Barack Obama and his wife praised Nancy Reagan’s “proud example” in a statement after her death, saying she redefined the role of first lady.
The Obamas highlighted her advocacy “on behalf of millions of families going through the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer’s.”
As a “mark of respect”, Obama ordered that flags be flown at half-staff at federal buildings, military posts, US naval vessels and diplomatic missions until sunset on Friday.