Nancy Reagan’s pet cause as first lady was stopping the nation’s youth from trying drugs, and she did it with a simple catchphrase: “Just Say No.”
She said it on shows like “Diff’rent Strokes” and alongside stars like Clint Eastwood. The logic behind the phrase was so simple — if we all just say no to drugs, there won’t be any market for drug dealers.
But critics said it was too simple, and ignored factors like poverty and lack of opportunity that encouraged people to try drugs.
That led to criticisms suggesting the first lady was out of touch, and unaware of harsh realities.
NWA, the group celebrated in last year’s “Straight Outta Compton,” belittled the phrase in their hit “Gangsta Gangsta.” Ice Cube‘s response to “Just Say No” was this:
And then you realize we don’t care
We don’t just say no, we too busy sayin’ “Yeah!”
About drinkin’ straight out the eight bottle
Do I look like a muthafuckin’ role model?
To a kid lookin’ up ta me:
Life ain’t nothin but bitches and money.
Other celebrities were more receptive, including Michael Jackson, “Punky Brewster” star Soleil Moon Frye and the Los Angeles Lakers. Here are the “Just Say No” campaign’s most star-studded moments.
The “Just Say No” campaign is still cited today… including on Netflix’s “Narcos.”
Nancy Reagan’s campaign was so successful she was even able to get the president of the United States to join in.
“The thrill can kill,” Mrs. Reagan said in this PSA with Clint Eastwood. Dirty Harry had this advice for drug pushers: “Take a hike.” And with that, no one ever did drugs again ever.
The first lady scored the ’80s biggest celebrity endorsement when Michael Jackson and the Flintstone Kids recorded an anti-drug song. I know what you’re thinking: How did she land the Flintstone Kids?
In 1987, the Los Angeles Lakers hadn’t yet learned how to deliver a good hip-hop chorus: Keep it short, and don’t have 12 guys yelling at once.
When Arnold’s drug-pushing pal Sam tried to get him hooked on pills during an episode of “Diff’rent Strokes,” Nancy Reagan intervened and told him to just say (spoiler alert) no.
When “Punky Brewster” was offered dope, she didn’t go out like a punk. She just said “Thank you, ladies, but I prefer not to do drugs.”