WASHINGTON — Alexander M. Haig's life threaded through some of the most tumultuous episodes of the second half of the 20th century. An Army officer in Vietnam, a presidential adviser during the Watergate scandal and a key Cabinet member during the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, he was a combat warrior who found himself a diplomat, a career military man who became the consummate political insider.
He died Saturday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore from a staph infection he had before being admitted, a hospital spokeswoman said. He was 85.
President Obama in a statement Saturday said Haig "exemplified our finest warrior-diplomat tradition of those who dedicate their lives to public service."
Haig is probably best remembered by many Americans as the man who asserted his authority in the White House after Reagan was shot outside a Washington hotel in 1981 — despite the fact that, as secretary of state, he was well down the line of presidential succession.
The gaffe sparked a small-scale firestorm. But Haig had been a controversial figure in Washington circles for years, chiefly for his role as President Richard M. Nixon's chief of staff as the administration buckled beneath the weight of the Watergate investigation.
Haig, who attained the rank of four-star general, was that rare Washington species: a product of the armed forces who adapted seamlessly to the Byzantine workings of executive power. Brash, steely and opinionated, he fought on the battlefield and navigated the corridors of the Pentagon and White House with equal aplomb, and his progress became linked with those of other notable figures of the period such as Douglas MacArthur, Robert McNamara, Henry Kissinger and, later, Nixon and Reagan.
In addition to his wife of 60 years, Patricia, Haig is survived by his children, Alexander, Brian and Barbara; eight grandchildren; and his brother, the Rev. Francis R. Haig.