Former US first lady Betty Ford dies, age 93

Once dubbed the "fighting first lady," wife of late President Gerald Ford overcame alcohol, prescription drug addictions.

Betty Ford in 70s 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Karl Schumacher/Courtesy Gerald R.Ford Lib)
Betty Ford in 70s 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Karl Schumacher/Courtesy Gerald R.Ford Lib)
LOS ANGELES - Betty Ford, the wife of the late President Gerald Ford, who overcame alcohol and prescription drug addictions and helped found a rehabilitation clinic that bears her name, died on Friday at the age of 93.
"I was deeply saddened this afternoon when I heard of Betty Ford's death," another former first lady, Nancy Reagan, said in a statement confirming Ford's death.
Ford once was dubbed the "fighting first lady" by Time magazine because of her outspoken political views, which often differed from those of her husband's Republican Party.
She strongly supported women's rights while her husband was president from 1974 to 1977, working the phones in a vain attempt to get states to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which sought to give women and men equality under law.
Ford's candor was surprising for the time. She took a tolerant stance on abortion and admitted without shame that some of her children had tried marijuana. Nor was she alarmed by the prospect of her daughter having premarital sex.
Ford also was an early campaigner against breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy in 1974, less than two months after her husband succeeded the disgraced Richard Nixon as president.
Her frank discussions about her disease helped raise awareness about breast cancer and she eventually took the same approach toward her alcoholism, which she battled even as first lady.
Ford's problems with chemical dependency may have begun in 1964, when doctors prescribed her painkillers for a pinched nerve. She developed an addiction to prescription drugs and also became dependent on alcohol during the 1960s.
The Betty Ford Center in California came into being in 1982 after Ford was treated for her addictions at the US Naval Hospital at Long Beach, and saw the need for treatment that emphasized the special needs of women.
"She has been an inspiration to so many through her efforts to educate women about breast cancer and her wonderful work at the Betty Ford Center," Nancy Reagan, the wife of the late President Ronald Reagan, said in the statement.
"She was Jerry Ford's strength through some very difficult days in our country's history and I admired her courage in facing and sharing her personal struggles with all of us."