James Brady, wounded in Reagan assassination attempt, dead at 73

James Brady, the former White House press secretary who was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan and then became a prominent gun-control advocate, has died at the age of 73.

Former White House press secretary became advocate for gun control after 1981 shooting

James Brady was left paralyzed after being shot in the 1981 attempt to kill then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

James Brady, the former White House press secretary who was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan and then became a prominent gun-control advocate, has died at the age of 73.

According to a statement issued by his family, Brady died Monday morning "after a series of health issues."

"We are enormously proud of Jim's remarkable accomplishments — before he was shot on the fateful day in 1981 while serving at the side of President Ronald Reagan and in the days, months and years that followed," it read.

President-elect Ronald Reagan, right, introduces Brady as his press secretary in Washington on Jan. 6, 1981, about three months before the attempt on Reagan's life that left Brady partially paralyzed. (Walt Zebowski/Associated Press)

"Despite his injuries and the pain he endured every day, he used his humour, wit and charm to bring smiles to others and make the world a better place."

U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement that Brady's gun control work has kept "dangerous individuals" from obtaining firearms. "An untold number of people are alive today who otherwise wouldn’t be, thanks to Jim," Obama said.

Brady suffered a head wound on March 30, 1981, outside the Washington Hilton Hotel when a gunman fired six bullets at Reagan. One bullet bounced off Reagan's limousine and wounded the president in the chest. A Secret Service agent and D.C. police officer were also wounded and survived.

Brady's wound left him partially paralyzed, and his job as Reagan's press secretary was cut short. He retained the title, however, throughout Reagan's presidency. The current press briefing room at the White House is named after Brady.

Became strong gun control advocate

Brady, known as "the Bear," went on to become a gun control advocate and lobbied for stricter gun laws. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is currently chaired by his wife, Sarah. She became involved with Handgun Control Inc. and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence in the 1980s, and the two organizations were renamed in her and Brady's honour in 2000. 
This March 30, 1981, file photo shows a U.S. secret service agent with an automatic weapon watching over a wounded Brady after the assassination attempt. (Ron Edmonds/Associated Press)

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, described Brady as a "true American hero" in a statement Monday. 

In 1993, then president Bill Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act into law, which requires background checks before handgun purchases can be made. Gross said the policy that bears Brady's name has prevented an estimated two million gun sales to dangerous people.

"As a result, countless lives have been saved," Gross said. "In fact, there are few Americans in history who are as directly responsible for saving as many lives as Jim. Jim will always remain one of our greatest inspirations as this organization continues to lead the fight for a safer America."  

'Personification of courage'

News of Brady's death came up at Monday's White House briefing with reporters. Press secretary Josh Earnest said he was aware that Brady's health was failing in recent days.

"He is somebody who I think really revolutionized this job and even after he was wounded in that attack on the president was somebody who showed his patriotism and commitment to the country by being very outspoken on an issue that was important to him and that he felt very strongly about," Earnest said.

"He leaves the kind of legacy that I think certainly this press secretary and all future press secretaries will aspire to live up to." 

It's not classy to be bitter, and I try to be classy.- James Brady in a 2006 interview with CBS

Earnest and nine of his predecessors issued a joint statement calling Brady a "selfless public servant" and "an unfailing defender of the president and the value of a free press."

Reagan's wife, Nancy, also expressed her sympathies to Brady's wife and two children.

"Thinking of him brings back so many memories — happy and sad — of a time in all of our lives when we learned what it means to 'play the hand we're dealt,' " she said in a statement.

The shooting took place just three months into her husband's presidency.

"Jim was the personification of courage and perseverance," she said.

Brady held a number of jobs in politics before landing the press secretary position. He was director of public affairs and research on Reagan's presidential campaign, and his wit made him popular with the press. 

Once Reagan was elected, however, his aides were reluctant to hire Brady as press secretary and Nancy Reagan was said to feel the job required someone younger and better looking than Brady.
"I come before you today not as just another pretty face but out of sheer talent," Brady told reporters around that time. A week later, he got the job.

Brady said in an interview with CBS in 2006 that he if he never seemed angry over what happened to him it was because he hid it well.

"It's not classy to be bitter, and I try to be classy," he said. 

With files from The Associated Press