William French Smith, one of Ronald Reagan's kitchen cabinet confidants who helped make the former president a millionaire and served as his first attorney general, died Monday of cancer. He was 73. Mr. Smith led the Reagan administration's conservative shift on a number of issues affecting domestic policy, notably civil rights.
Under his influence, the administration took a more laissez-faire attitude toward antitrust law, even though it presided over the breakup of American Telephone and Telegraph Co.
The merger policies of his antitrust division infuriated consumers and liberal Democrats.
Black groups and women's organizations were outraged over his civil rights policies. They prevailed in Congress over his opposition to strengthening the Voting Rights Act and in court over his unprecedented effort to give tax exemptions to racially discriminatory private schools.
A Navy officer during World War II, Mr. Smith later became Ronald Reagan's personal attorney, helping guide the investments that made the former actor a millionaire.
Mr. Smith served as the informal chairman of the president's kitchen cabinet, a group of California millionaires who saw Reagan socially and helped pick his first Cabinet.
Mr. Smith was surrounded by his family when he died at the University of Southern California's Kenneth Norris Jr. Cancer Hospital, where he was admitted Oct. 2, said spokeswoman Betsy Bates.
Ms. Bates said that at the request of the family, the hospital withheld details on Mr. Smith's cancer.
Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, in a statement of condolences, said that Mr. Smith "served the United States with great distinction during his term as attorney general from 1981 to 1985."
A member of an old New England family, Mr. Smith was born in Wilton, N.H., and raised in Boston. He graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1939 and received his law degree from Harvard in 1942.
Mr. Smith was appointed the 74th attorney general of the United States in 1981 and served until 1985. He was followed by Edwin Meese III.