Joan Quigley was a well-known astrologer who had published books and made several appearances on national television when she was asked in 1981 to take 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 Ms. Quigley in the aftermath of an assassination attempt on the president. “I’m scared every time he leaves the house,” she told Ms. Quigley, seeking advice on the timing of President Ronald Reagan’s comings and goings.
Ms. 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 Ms. 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.
“I would participate in a more intimate way,” she said in a 1990 Los Angeles Times interview, “than the publicly recognized insiders of greatest importance.”
Ms. Quigley died Oct. 21 at her home in San Francisco. She was 87. She had had several bouts of pneumonia in recent years. Her sister, Ruth Quigley, confirmed the death.
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.
Nancy Reagan, who said she was highly embarrassed by the revelation, 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.”
Payments to Ms. Quigley had been made through a third party to try to keep the relationship secret.
Ms. Quigley’s own book, “What Does Joan Say?: My Seven Years As White House Astrologer to Nancy and Ronald Reagan” (1990), maintained that she played an important role in the Reagan White House.
“I was responsible for timing all press conferences,” she wrote, “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 [President Jimmy] Carter and the two debates with Walter Mondale; all extended trips abroad as well as the shorter trips and one-day excursions.”
Ms. Quigley said she spoke to the president only once, briefly, at a 1985 state dinner. But she said on “CBS This Morning” in 1990 that “through Nancy, I really had a direct line to the president.”
Nancy Reagan, who declined to comment on Ms. Quigley’s death, said in her book that her husband was aware that she was conferring with an astrologer.
Joan Ceciel 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 was a graduate of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where she earned a degree in art history.
She took up astrology as a hobby and studied it intensively. 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 Nancy Reagan.
After Ms. Quigley’s memoir was published, she kept a lower profile. She surfaced briefly 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.