Margaret Thatcher, who died Monday of a stroke, age 87, was one of the U.K.’s most politically divisive figures in recent history — and, as a result, was a media favorite.
She became a pop-culture figure who was arguably Britain’s most famous prime minister since Winston Churchill. She was depicted frequently, rarely with affection. She was impersonated in a James Bond movie (“For Your Eyes Only”), was the subject of songs (the English Beat’s “Stand Down Margaret”), was an offscreen villain (“Billy Elliot”) and an onscreen hero (the 2011 “The Iron Lady,” which some blasted for soft-pedaling its depiction, but which won Meryl Streep an Oscar). And a Thatcher puppet mercilessly lambasted her every move in the U.K.’s popular “Spitting Image” series.
The media loved her because she was Britain’s only female P.M., because her actions were bold and controversial, and because she had such a distinctive style, with her helmet of hair and her clipped, posh way of speaking. “She was a real toughie,” Thatcher’s press secretary Bernard Ingham told AP the day she died.
Admirers said she saved a country that was economically flailing. Detractors said she made a series of moves guaranteed to help the rich and further handicap the poor.
The grocer’s daughter rose in politics with a strong free-market philosophy shared by her political ally and chum Ronald Reagan.
When Argentina seized the Falklands Islands from Britain in 1982, she refused to back down and sent the military to seize control. She also refused to cede to coal miners who went on strike in 1984-85. They returned to work having won no concessions, and her victory is credited with changing the entire economic landscape.
The media industry has felt the effects of her economic policies for decades, with her devaluation of unions and her selling of multiple state-run industries to the private sector, including British Telecom, British Gas, Rolls-Royce, British Airways, British Coal, British Steel, the water companies and the electricity distribution system among them.
After being forced out of office, Thatcher wrote several memoirs. She suffered several small strokes that in 2002 led her to curtail her lucrative public speaking career.
She is survived by her two children, Mark Thatcher and Carol Thatcher, and her grandchildren.
Associated Press contributed to this report.