Betty Ford, Outspoken Former First Lady, Dies at 93

Ford founded the drug and alcohol center that became synonymous with celebrity rehab

Former First Lady Betty Ford, who founded the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center that bears her name, died Friday in Rancho Mirage. She was 93.

She was married to former President Gerald R. Ford, who died in 2006. In her later years she became synonymous with celebrity rehab, thanks to the Betty Ford Center. Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Downey Jr., Drew Barrymore and Lindsay Lohan have all undergone treatment there. 

The Fords were the nation's first couple from Aug. 9, 1974 to Jan. 20, 1977. They entered the White House after the resignation of President Nixon. Until then, Gerald Ford had been vice president.

Soon after moving into the White House, on Sept. 26, 1974, Betty Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two days later, she underwent a mastectomy.

Ford openly discussed her diagnosis and raised public awareness of breast cancer.

As First Lady, Ford expressed interest in the performing and fine arts and in helping disabled children. She also was known for having strong opinions — and expressing them. She publicly supported the Equal Rights Amendment and the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion.

She was widely popular as first lady and, during her husband's unsuccessful 1976 presidential campaign, famously said, "I would give my life to have Jerry have my poll numbers."

In 1978, after leaving the White House, Ford acknowledged her own alcoholism and addiction to painkillers. She entered treatment and, in 1982, established the non-profit Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage. She was chairman of the center's board of directors until 2005.

She and Chris Chase wrote the 1987 book, "Healing and Hope: Six Women From the Betty Ford Center Share Their Powerful Journeys of Addiction and Recovery."

Ford was known for having an understanding of popular culture. She tried disco dancing, had a cameo appearance on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show," and tried out a CB radio using the handle, "First Mama."

She also was a deeply religious woman.

She was born in Chicago and grew up in Michigan. She was educated at Grand Rapids Public Grammar School, Central High School — and, a lover of dance, at the Calla Travis Dance Studio.

She always figured she'd be a professional dancer, and she studied at the Bennington College School of Dance during the summers of 1937 and 1938. There, she met the legendary Martha Graham, who invited the young Betty Bloomer to study with her in New York.

Ford moved to Greenwich Village and, later, to Chelsea. She danced at least once at Carnegie Hall and worked as a fashion model, wearing furs, hats and dresses in runway shows and in department stores.

She was twice married, first to William Gustavas Warren, an insurance and furniture salesman, and then, after a divorce, to Gerald Ford.