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Joan Quigley dies at 87; astrologer who advised Reagans in White House

Astrologer Joan Quigley is seen at her Nob Hill residence in San Francisco in 1990.

Astrologer Joan Quigley is seen at her Nob Hill residence in San Francisco in 1990.

(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

Joan Quigley was a well-known astrologer, with books published and several appearances on national television, when she was asked in 1981 to take on the leader of the free world as a client. In secret.

In Nancy Reagan’s memoir, “My Turn,” the former first lady said she called Quigley in the aftermath of an assassination attempt on the president. “I’m scared every time he leaves the house,” she told Quigley, seeking advice on the timing of President Reagan’s comings and goings.

Quigley later said that over the next seven years, she issued guidance, for pay, that went far beyond mundane scheduling to matters of diplomacy, Cold War politics and even the timing of the president’s cancer surgery.

Nancy Reagan downplayed Quigley’s influence when news that the first family had an astrologer was met with a firestorm of criticism and jokes. But the scorned Aries astrologer struck back.

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“I would participate in a more intimate way,” she said in a 1990 Times interview, “than the publicly recognized insiders of greatest importance.”

Quigley, 87, died Tuesday at her home in San Francisco. She had several bouts of pneumonia in recent years and died of natural causes, said her sister, Ruth Quigley.

Nancy Reagan’s consultations with an astrologer were revealed by former White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan, who said in his 1988 book “For the Record” that “the president’s schedule — and therefore his life and the most important business of the American nation — was largely under the control of the first lady’s astrologer.”

The reaction to the news that decisions were made through astrology, which contends that the positions of planets and other astronomical bodies influence events and people based on their birthdays, was quick. The New York Post had a headline saying, “Astrologer Runs The White House,” and one joke suggested a Cabinet post in charge of voodoo be created.

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Nancy Reagan, who said she was highly embarrassed by the revelation (payments to Quigley had been made through a third party to try to keep the relationship secret), wrote in her 1989 book, “While astrology was a factor in determining Ronnie’s schedule, it was never the only one, and no political decision was ever based on it.”

Quigley’s own book, the 1990 “What Does Joan Say?: My Seven Years As White House Astrologer to Nancy and Ronald Reagan,” countered that characterization.

“I was responsible for timing all press conferences,” she said, “most speeches, the State of the Union addresses, the takeoffs and landings of Air Force One. I picked the time of Ronald Reagan’s debate with Carter and the two debates with Walter Mondale; all extended trips abroad as well as the shorter trips and one-day excursions.”

Quigley spoke to the president only once, briefly, at a 1985 state dinner. But she said on “CBS The Morning” in 1990, that “through Nancy, I really had a direct line to the president.”

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Nancy Reagan, who declined to comment on Quigley’s death, said in her book that her husband was aware she was conferring with an astrologer.

Quigley, who said she even had a hand in easing the president’s “evil empire” stance against the Soviet Union, maintained that she played an important role in the Reagan White House.

“Each person did their own job and own function,” she told The Times in 1990. “Nancy knew what she had in me. I don’t think she ever wanted to admit it. I think she would have preferred for me never to be heard from again.”

Quigley was born April 10, 1927, in Kansas City, Mo. Her family moved to California, eventually settling in San Francisco, where her father became a successful hotelier. She graduated as class valedictorian from Sarah Dix Hamlin school for girls and went on to Vassar College, where she earned a degree in art history.

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She joined the socialite Junior League back in San Francisco and took up astrology as a hobby, studying with a Scottish woman, Jerome Pearson, whom she said taught her a rare, intricate method that took a year to master.

Before her link with the White House, she wrote books on the topic, including “Astrology for Teens” and “Astrology for Adults,” and appeared several times on the television talk show hosted by Merv Griffin, who introduced her to his friend Nancy Reagan.

After Quigley’s memoir was published, she kept a lower profile. She briefly surfaced in 2000 when she attempted to start a paid astrology online service, but it seems it wasn’t in the stars.

Her sister is her only survivor.

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david.colker@latimes.com

Twitter: @davidcolker


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