Notable Deaths in 2004

From Superman to the Gipper, the nation lost icons from the worlds of entertainment, national and international politics -- some universally revered, some controversial, but all interesting. The world is a different place for their contributions.

Ronald Reagan

The 40th president of the United States who went from Hollywood actor to leader of the free world, Ronald Reagan died June 5 at 93. Known for his conservative vision and sunny outlook that transformed America, he succumbed to the Alzheimer's disease that he was diagnosed with in 1989 after leaving office.

A journeyman actor, union president and California governor before he won the presidency in a landslide on his third try, Reagan became known as the Great Communicator. With movie-star charisma and a natural feel for television cameras, he rejuvenated the Republican Party, and along with it, the nation.

Critics protested his cuts in social programs, his buildup in military spending and a hands-off management style that led to a series of scandals. But many Americans enjoyed an economic joyride during his eight years in office, once "Reaganomics" wrenched the country out of the stagnation and malaise of the Carter years.

Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve, the actor who gained fame as "Superman" and became known for his bravery and tireless activism after a near-fatal spinal cord injury, died Oct. 10 of heart failure at 52.

With an "S" emblazoned across his chiseled chest, Reeve became the most famous movie actor to take on the role of the comic book hero from planet Krypton, who could bend steel, repel bullets and fly through the air to save damsels in distress, occasionally taking them back to his crystal lair. The 1978 blockbuster led to a series of sequels.

Reeve was paralyzed from the neck down when he was thrown from a horse during an equestrian competition in 1995. When he realized he could not breathe without a respirator, he contemplated "pulling the plug," he admitted in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters just months after the tragedy.

Instead, he became an outspoken advocate for spinal cord injury research, raising money, writing books, testifying before Congress and giving motivational speeches all over the country.

Yasser Arafat

Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader who fought for statehood and went from using terrorism as a policy to winning the Nobel Peace Prize, died Nov. 11 of multiple organ failure.

Under Arafat's leadership, the PLO carried out some of the world's most infamous terrorist attacks, but he was a consistent symbol of the decades-long Palestinian liberation struggle.

Through years of global wanderings, five Arab-Israeli wars, two violent intifadas and several attempts at peace, Arafat became a rallying point for the Palestinian people, even as they often felt at odds with his dictatorial and sometimes mercurial leadership style.

For four decades, Arafat was a symbol their struggle. Although he spent the last few years holed up in his compound in Ramallah, shunned by the United States and Israeli negotiators, Arafat never lost his hold on the Palestinian people.

Ray Charles

Ray Charles, the legendary singer and piano player whose songs like "What'd I Say" and "Georgia on My Mind" became American classics, died June 10 at 73 from liver disease.

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