Reagan's Hospital One-Liners Inspired by Hollywood

When getting treatment after the 1981 assassination attempt, President Reagan dropped classic one-liners.

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President Ronald Reagan drew on his acting experience for his post-assassination-attempt hospital zingers, according to Washington Post reporter Del Wilber. Wilber’s tome Rawhide Down details the 1981 Reagan assassination attempt minute-by-minute, including the president’s well-known one-liners, like to the surgery team: “I hope you’re all Republicans,” and to Nancy Reagan: “Honey, I forgot to duck.”

The lines and Reagan’s handling of the crisis endeared the country to the president, and, Wilber says, helped his political opponents separate the policies from the man and like him as a person. [See a gallery of caricatures of Reagan and other pols.]

But such lines were apparently inspired by his Hollywood career. Two of his best films, Wilber pointed out, were Knute Rockne, All American and Kings Row, and both have climactic hospital-bed-like scenes with one-liners that became classic: “Win just one for the Gipper,” and “Where’s the rest of me?”

Wilber discovered that Reagan actually first tested his famous “I hope you’re all Republicans” line in the emergency room on Secret Service agent Jerry Parr. Though, Wilber said, the joke fell flat the first time since Parr was more than a little stressed out. “But Reagan puts that line in his back pocket and uses it again maybe 15 to 20 minutes later,” Wilber said. “This guy knew the power of delivering a line at the right moment.”

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  • Corrected 8/2/11: The previous version of this article misspelled Del Wilber’s name.