A month after moving into the White House, Betty Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. She became an advocate for breast cancer research and early detection.
Asked about her illness, she said, "I'm very glad that I brought cancer to the forefront."
She was also outspoken on women's rights issues. She supported the equal rights amendment and the legalization of abortion.
She became famous for her candor. In an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes," she talked about marijuana, equal rights for women, abortion and the possibility of a premarital affair for her daughter, Susan.
Went Public With Addiction Battle
After leaving the White House, Betty Ford publicly acknowledged her addiction to alcohol and painkillers.
"This is not a lack of willpower, this is a disease," she said at the time.
In 1982, she co-founded the Betty Ford Center in California. Her candor in talking about and dealing with substance abuse and treatment helped led to an improvement in how Americans talk about such matters.
Helping others overcome addiction became her chief cause.
"I'm not out to rescue anybody who doesn't want to be rescued," she once said. "I just think it's important to say how easy it is to slip into a dependency on pills or alcohol, and how hard it is to admit that dependency."
By not being the "political wife" of self-sacrificing legend, she both reflected and advanced public views about women in politics.
"In the end, simply by being herself, she made it easier for millions of American women to be themselves," Smith told ABC News.
ABC News' David Reiter and Michael S. James contributed to this report.