Joan Quigley, who has died aged 87, was an astrologer who counselled Ronald and Nancy Reagan during their years as the First Family of the United States: the exposure, in 1988, of her relationship with the most powerful couple in the Western world turned her into a national figure overnight.
Joan Quigley first encountered Nancy Reagan through a mutual acquaintance, the entertainer Merv Griffin, who had featured Joan several times on his talk show in the 1970s and 1980s. A Republican herself, Joan immediately volunteered her services to Nancy’s husband’s presidential campaign because, as she put it: “[Ronald Reagan] had the most brilliant horoscope I’d ever seen .”
It was not until John Hinckley shot the newly elected president in 1981, however, that Joan began to gain influence. Deeply shaken by the attempt on her husband’s life, Nancy Reagan turned to astrology for guidance; and Joan Quigley was quick to take on the task of astral adviser. “I had to convince myself that it was possible to protect the president,” she recalled. “At times, it was not easy.”
Joan Quigley’s extraordinary role eventually came to public attention in May 1988, when Donald Regan, former chief of staff at the White House, published For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington, an account of his years in office. Referring to Joan only as the First Lady’s “Friend”, he claimed that Joan Quigley had advised Mrs Reagan – who in turn advised her husband – on “virtually every major move and decision” from 1985 to 1987. Nancy, wrote Regan, set up private lines for their consultations at the White House and Camp David, paying her “Friend” a retainer of $3,000 a month.
Within hours the press had identified Joan Quigley, a wealthy San Francisco socialite, as the “Friend” in question. The New York Times broke the story under the headline “Astrologer Runs the White House”.
Eager to spare the administration further embarrassment, Nancy Reagan took full responsibility for her dealings with Joan Quigley. In her own memoirs, My Turn, she insisted that Joan’s recommendations “had nothing to do with policy or politics”. Reagan also denied that he had ever let the movement of the stars dictate his political career.
Joan Quigley contemplates her astrological charts (AP)
The damage was done, however, and the Reagans found themselves criticised on all sides. Religious leaders condemned astrology as a “devil’s tool”, while members of the Federation of American Scientists expressed alarm at the idea that the president could act on the basis of such “evident fantasies”.
Joan Quigley, meanwhile, was incensed at the summary dismissal of her profession, which she regarded as a serious science. She entered the battle of memoirs in 1990 with “What Does Joan Say?’’ — the question that she alleged was on the lips of the president whenever there was an important decision in the offing. Part self-aggrandisement and part blistering attack on the Reagans and their associates, the book had Nancy Reagan down as a person who “could chew someone up and swallow and spit out the bones and never feel a thing”.
In defence of her one-time position at the White House, Joan Quigley took the credit for timing “all press conferences, most speeches, the State of the Union addresses, the take-offs and landings of Air Force One”. She also claimed to have derailed Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1980 by picking an unlucky day for his final debate, and to have transformed Reagan’s “Evil Empire” attitude towards the Soviet Union.
Although she met the president only once – at a state dinner in 1985 – she knew his horoscope back to front, and would often read it hourly. Even his famous personal charm and apparent immunity to criticism were attributed to her work behind the scenes: “I was the Teflon,” she declared, “in the 'Teflon Presidency’.”
According to Joan Quigley, Nancy rang her when the story of the Reagans’ mystery “Friend” broke, and told her to keep all details of their association secret. “But what will I do if someone asks about sensitive matters?” Joan asked. Nancy replied: “Lie if you have to.” It was the last time the pair ever spoke.