Politics

12 videos from Nancy Reagan's 'Just Say No' campaign

Nancy Reagan at a
Nancy Reagan at a "Just Say No" rally at the White House on May 22, 1986.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum
Nancy Reagan at a
Nancy Reagan speaking at a "Just Say No" rally at the Universal Amphitheatre in Universal City on May 13, 1987.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum


Former First Lady Nancy Reagan was best known for her fierce protection of her husband Ronald, but her aggressive "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign put her squarely in the public eye. She was already an anti-drug crusader before arriving at the White House, but once there, she took the public fight to the next level.

Mrs. Reagan came up with the idea for the campaign when speaking to schoolchildren in Oakland, California, according to the Reagan Foundation & Library website.

"A little girl raised her hand," the former first lady is quoted as saying, "and said, ’Mrs. Reagan, what do you do if somebody offers you drugs?’ And I said, ’well, you just say no.’ And there it was born. I think people thought we had an advertising agency over who dreamed that up - not true."

The campaign's effectiveness remains an open question. It was launched in 1982. Six years later, cocaine use by high school seniors had dropped by a third by 1988 and 12,000 "Just Say No" clubs had been formed, according to the Reagan Foundation. Still, some have criticized the campaign and its frequent refrain as being an overly simplistic approach to stemming drug use. Footage of Mrs. Reagan talking about the campaign was contrasted with Pablo Escobar in a recent promo for the Netflix show "Narcos."

Narcos video

Here are some of the memorable "Just Say No" public service announcements, as well as Reagan speaking about the campaign.

1. Clint Eastwood and Nancy Reagan

One that starred Reagan herself also included Clint Eastwood and was shown in movie theaters before films. It focused on the 1980s' crack cocaine epidemic.

Clint Eastwood and Nancy Reagan Just Say No video

2. Nancy with Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan delivered a television address alongside Nancy speaking against drugs in 1986.

Ronald Reagan addresses the nation

3. Nancy Reagan on "Just Say No"

Reagan took a direct approach in this message from the White House.

Nancy Reagan just saying no

4. Nancy Reagan talks "Just Say No" at the 1988 World Series

Nancy Reagan took to the pitchers' mound to throw out the first ball at a World Series game, but also spoke about the "Just Say No" campaign with the game's broadcasters.

1988 World Series just say no

5. Kids say no to drugs

This PSA takes a direct approach, showing exactly what Nancy Reagan was seeking to encourage kids to do — just saying "no."

Kids say no to drugs

6. The Lakers rap "Just Say No"

Socially conscious songs from celebrities who may or may not have been able to sing were staple of the '80s, and the Lakers didn't escape this trend, rapping — if you can call it "rapping" — this anti-drug message.

The Lakers just say no

7. MTV "Just Say No" music video

In perhaps the most 1980s anti-drug message, another musical anti-drug PSA took "Just Say No" and set it to song alongside kids dancing and playing saxophone.

MTV Just Say No music video

8. The longer take

In this PSA, they play out a whole scenario of what just saying no actually looks like.

How to just say no

BONUS: Taking the message to kids

There were a number of programs that took the message directly to kids — like this clip from "The Flintstone Kids," with "Michael Jackstone" singing a version of "Beat It" reworked around the "Just Say No" concept.

Michael Jackstone Just Beat It

Many of the most popular '80s cartoons characters came together in one anti-drug special, "Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue," which included characters like Garfield, Alf, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Alvin & The Chipmunks, the Muppet Babies, Slimer, Bugs Bunny, Winnie the Pooh and more.

Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue

"Punky Brewster" was one of those who did an entire episode about "Just Say No."

Punk Brewster

Nancy Reagan also made a personal appearance on the show "Diff'rent Strokes" to help Arnold say no.

Nancy Reagan helps Arnold Just Say No