Reluctant Hero Who Saved Ford’s Life Is Found Dead
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Death came to Oliver W. Sipple without any of the fanfare that once anguished the disabled ex-Marine, who became a reluctant hero when he foiled an assassination attempt on President Gerald Ford.
A friend found Sipple, 47, dead in his apartment on Thursday, apparently of natural causes. A framed letter of commendation signed by Ford hung on the wall.
Sipple gained unwanted fame on Sept. 22, 1975, when he lunged for a .38- caliber chrome revolver aimed at Ford by Sara Jane Moore outside a San Francisco hotel. His move caused Moore’s shot to go astray, hitting a building instead.
Afterward, Sipple telephoned news outlets and begged them not to mention his name, his address or ″anything about me.″
″I’m not a hero, I’m a live coward,″ he said later. ″It’s probably the scariest thing that ever happened in my whole life.″
But reports about Sipple, some mentioning his homosexuality, were published anyway.
Sipple filed a $15 million invasion of privacy lawsuit against several newspapers, claiming he was abandoned by his brothers and sisters after they learned of his sexual orientation by reading published accounts.
″My sexuality is part of my private life and has no bearing on my response to the act of a person seeking to take the life of another,″ he said in the lawsuit, which was filed five days after the assassination attempt.
He lost the five-year court battle when Superior Court Judge Ira Brown dismissed the suit.
″I think that his life was a very tragic life,″ attorney John Wahl, who represented Sipple, said Friday. ″He did some very heroic things. He was 100 percent disabled from his service in the Marine Corps, then he went out of his way, endangering his life, to save the life of President Gerald Ford - then he got punished for doing it.″
Sipple, who was on disability because of mental problems relating to his combat experiences in the Vietnam War, had originally come to San Francisco from Detroit so that he could live as he wished without upsetting his family, according to Wahl. However, that all changed by the published accounts of his personal life.
Sipple, though, never regretted his life-saving action, Wahl said.
″He just was astounded that some columnist and then the rest of the media would just take it upon themselves - without ever asking him - to publicize these personal facts about him,″ said Wahl.
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen first hinted that Sipple was homosexual, noting that the White House had not thanked him for his actions. Ford eventually did convey his gratitude to Sipple.
Moore pleaded guilty to the assassination attempt and is serving a life term in federal prison.
A Coroner’s Office spokesman said Sipple apparently died of natural causes but results of an autopsy performed Friday were not immediately available. A statement released by the office said Sipple had a pacemaker and a long history of hypertension and heart problems.