LOS ANGELES -- William French Smith, former President Reagan's personal lawyer and key adviser who placed his conservative stamp on federal policy during his term as U.S. attorney general, is dead of cancer at the age of 73.
Smith died yesterday with his family at his bedside at the Kenneth Norris Jr. Cancer Center at Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center where he was admitted Oct. 2, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Smith was an original member of the "kitchen Cabinet" who helped guide Reagan from Hollywood to Sacramento, Calif., and the White House.
As attorney general, Smith "brought talent, wisdom and the highest integrity to the Department of Justice," Reagan said yesterday. "Our nation was indeed fortunate to have a person of his excellence and patriotism in the Cabinet. And we were made better as a country because of Bill's work.
"More than a colleague, Bill was a valued and trusted friend and adviser. . . ."
As attorney general from 1981 to 1985, Smith was a key architect of the Reagan administration's conservative shift on issues affecting domestic policy, including civil rights. While acknowledging that the administration had been accused of "abandoning the federal civil rights effort," he maintained that the Department of Justice under his leadership vigorously enforced civil rights laws.
After meeting Reagan in 1963, Smith became the future president's personal lawyer, confidant and business adviser. He has been credited with engineering Reagan's rise to wealth at a time when the former actor's primary income was royalties from movies.
Along with Smith, drugstore magnate Justin Dart, auto dealer Holmes Tuttle and oil, entertainment and real estate entrepreneur Jack Wrather were among that group of California millionaires known as the kitchen Cabinet.
The group persuaded Reagan to run for California governor in 1966, and remained his most important political advisers and fund-raisers.