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LONDON – The death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, immortalized on screen in an Oscar-winning turn by Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, exploded across the headlines in the U.K. on Monday.
Thatcher, Britain’s first and to date only female PM, won three elections to hold the position in 1979, 1983 and 1987, and was famous and notorious in equal measure among many voters in the U.K. and political observers around the globe.
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Thatcher’s spokesman Lord Bell announced her death at age 87 on Monday morning.
“It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning,” he said.
News of her death hit all the major newspaper sites, the BBC and ITN News and Channel 4 news.
Thatcher became one of the most recognizable world leaders and media figures of her time. She often was seen as a close ally of then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
Transforming Britain with a focus on free-market economics, she drew support from the likes of News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch. Last year, during the Leveson Inquiry into British media ethics and standards, the media mogul said he was a “great admirer” of the former conservative prime minister.
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News Corp.’s The Sun supported her in the 1979 British election.
Born Margaret Roberts, Thatcher became the conservative member of Parliament for Finchley, north London in 1959 and retired from the House of Commons in 1992 after being ousted as PM earlier in her last Parliamentary term.
Thatcher’s government courted controversy and generated riches for some during her first term in power as her government privatized several state-owned industries.
She was also in power when the U.K. went to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982 and was PM for longer than anyone else in the 20th century.
Streep, who won one of her three best actress Oscars for her portrayal of Thatcher, described the polarizing political player as a feminist.
In Berlin in 2012 to receive the festival’s Honorary Golden Bear, Streep said: “She would have been kicking and screaming the entire way to the feminist altar, but she was a feminist, whether she likes it or not.”
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Streep also said the former British prime minister was incredibly “brave” for her time, even if filled with arrogance and hubris.
Streep said Thatcher, unlike the right wing in the United States, was pro-choice and had no problem once deriding President Reagan over a policy issue. Thatcher also recognized the dangers of global warming early on.
“A lot surprised me,” Streep said.
Former British prime minister Gordon Brown, attending MIP TV in Cannes, France told THR that he and his wife Sarah sent messages to Thatcher’s children offering them their condolences.
“She will be remembered not only for being Britain’s first female prime minister and holding the office for 11 years, but also for the determination and resilience with which she carried out all her duties throughout her public life,” Brown told THR. “Even those who disagreed with her never doubted the strength of her convictions and her unwavering belief in Britain’s destiny in the world.”
During Brown’s time in Number 10, Thatcher was invited to revisit the famous Downing Street address and Chequers – the PM’s rural retreat, with Brown saying it was “something which we know she enjoyed very much.”
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