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Joyce Jillson

Astrologer to the Reagans

Joyce Jillson, actress and astrologer: born Cranston, Rhode Island 26 December 1946; married 1969 Joseph Gallagher (marriage dissolved 1981); died Los Angeles 1 October 2004.

Joyce Jillson was an actress of no small talent, who won a Broadway award as leading lady opposite Anthony Newley in the hit 1960s show The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd. She then starred as Jill Smith in the blockbuster television soap Peyton Place. But her impact on 20th-century America might be far greater. If Jillson is to be believed, she was the astrologer who in 1980 advised Ronald Reagan's team to pick George H.W. Bush as his running mate in the presidential election that year. The rest, as they say, is history.

Jillson started in astrology at the tender age of eight, as child assistant to the well-known Boston astrologer Maude Williams. For a while those gifts were overshadowed by her acting career, but by the mid-1970s she had re-invented herself as an astrologer celebrity who was the talk of Los Angeles.

As official astrologer of 20th Century-Fox, she advised the studio on the most suitable opening day in 1977 for the first "Star Wars" film - with evident success, given that Star Wars went on to become the second biggest-grossing movie of all time. Her business clients included AT&T and ITT, Ford and the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. But she was most famous - or infamous - for her Reagan connection.

Jillson's exact place in the firmament of Ron and Nancy's occult advisers is unclear. The former First Lady's obsession with astrology was first revealed in For the Record, the 1988 tell-all autobiography by Donald Regan, the White House chief of staff who was sacked on her orders. Regan wrote of her consultations with a "friend in San Francisco" - believed to be the astrologer Joan Quigley. The White House dismissed the story. But it emerged that the First Lady had contact not only with Quigley but also others of her trade including Carroll Righter, Jeane Dixon (who was said to have predicted the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963) and Jillson herself.

Her precise contribution to White House decision-making is a matter of dispute. She claimed to have spent "a lot of time" in Washington after the 1981 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. The President's spokesmen dismissed the claims, but Jillson's husband, Joseph Gallagher, replied simply, "Just look at the White House logs."

Unarguably however, the collective impact of the various astrologers was considerable. As Regan, a former Merrill Lynch chairman, put it,

The frustration of dealing with a situation in which the schedule of the President of the United States was determined by occult prognostications was very great - far greater than any other I had known in nearly 45 years of working life.

But Regan's problems were nothing but good news for Jillson. The media flocked to her door. She wrote books (Real Women Don't Pump Gas, 1982; The Fine Art of Flirting, 1984). By the end of her life her daily horoscope column, syndicated in 230 papers in the US and 84 abroad, was read by 40 million people.

Rupert Cornwell