Nevada giant Harry Reid dies at 82

By: - December 28, 2021 7:03 pm

Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid during a Nevada Democrats’ event at Bellagio Resort & Casino on Nov. 17, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Harry Reid, a man who wielded power in the U.S. Senate that was greatly disproportionate to the sparsely populated state he represented, died Tuesday.

“I am heartbroken to announce the passing of my husband, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,” his wife Landra said in a statement. “He died peacefully this afternoon, surrounded by our family, following a courageous, four-year battle with pancreatic cancer. Harry was 82 years old. We were married for 62 years.”

“I’ve had the honor of serving with some of the all-time great Senate Majority Leaders in our history. Harry Reid was one of them,” Pres. Joe Biden said in a statement. “And for Harry, it wasn’t about power for power’s sake. It was about the power to do right for the people.”

“Under his watch as Senate Majority Leader, Harry helped pass the Recovery Act to prevent another Great Depression,” Biden said. “He helped rescue the American auto industry. He helped pass the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform, ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and ratified the New Start Treaty.”

Reid served as a state legislator and lieutenant governor to his mentor, Gov. Mike O’Callaghan.

He was also the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission and sparred with gaming license applicant and mob associate Lefty Rosenthal, an episode chronicled in Martin Scorcese’s film Casino.

Reid was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982, when Nevada’s population warranted a second seat.

In the 1986 race for the U.S. Senate, Reid defeated Jim Santini, a Democrat who ran as a Republican at the behest of then-U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, a Republican who was vacating the seat.

Reid served in the Senate from 1987 to 2017, and as Majority Leader from 2005 to 2015.

He is perhaps best known nationally for helping then-Pres. Barack Obama shepherd the Affordable Care Act through Congress, and for igniting the so-called ‘nuclear option’ (a procedural vote to allow simple majority rule) in the process of approving judicial nominees.

In Nevada, Reid is hailed as the person most responsible for parrying a seemingly inevitable decades-long Congressional effort to site a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, about 90 miles from Las Vegas.

Reid, born in Searchlight, a mining town in the Southern Nevada desert, attended Basic High in Henderson, where he met Landra Gould, who would become his wife. They have five children.

“He was the man from Searchlight, born into the humblest beginnings, and he went on to lead a truly extraordinary life and fight for every man and woman across our state,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said in a statement.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a news release that the mark Reid “left on the Silver State will last forever.”

“To say Harry Reid was a giant doesn’t fully encapsulate all that he accomplished on behalf of the state of Nevada and for Nevada families; there will never be another leader quite like Senator Reid,” Sisolak said. “To me, he was a mentor, a father figure, and someone I trusted to always give it to me straight.”

Reid underwent surgery in 2018 to have a cancerous tumor removed from his pancreas. Earlier this month, his name officially replaced that of former U.S. Sen. Pat McCarran on the Las Vegas airport.

“We are so proud of the legacy he leaves behind both on the national stage and his beloved Nevada,” Landra Reid said in a statement.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.