WASHINGTON -- Franklyn ''Lyn" Nofziger, known for his fierce loyalty to Ronald Reagan and his unorthodox style as Reagan's press secretary and political adviser, died of cancer Monday at his home in Falls Church, Va. He was 81.
A rumpled and irreverent conservative who joined Reagan's ranks early in the political career of the actor-turned-politician, Mr. Nofziger headed the White House political office during the first year of the Reagan presidency and then quit to form a political consulting and lobbying firm.
''He was a great big garrulous guy who was very serious about his politics and very serious about Ronald Reagan," Michael Deaver, Reagan's deputy chief of staff, said Monday. ''He was sort of the keeper of the flame."
''He was fun to be around," Deaver said. ''Reagan would light up when he came into the room."
Reagan's wife, Nancy, said in a statement: ''Lyn was with us from the gubernatorial campaign in 1965 through the early White House days, and Ronnie valued his advice -- and good humor -- as much as anyone's."
Conservative columnist George F. Will once described Mr. Nofziger, a cigar-chomping nonconformist, as Sancho Panza to Reagan's Don Quixote.
Asked why he was leaving the White House, Mr. Nofziger replied, ''I don't like government; it's just that simple." He denied as ''99 percent untrue" a report he had quit because of his exclusion from the president's innermost circle.
His determined irreverence extended to the Reagans.
''I'm not a social friend of the Reagans," he told an interviewer. ''That's by their choice and by mine. They don't drink enough."
Bombay gin, outrageous puns, and loyalty to Reagan and conservative Republican principles were Mr. Nofziger hallmarks. His caustic wit made him a favorite among some reporters who covered Reagan as governor and president and on his various campaigns.
In a town where men wear expensive suits, Mr. Nofziger stood out in his rumpled sports coats and slacks. His trademark was a tie with a picture of Mickey Mouse, a visual statement of what he thought about Washington. When Reagan was elected to the White House, Mr. Nofziger refused to join other aides in calling their boss Mr. President. To him, Reagan was always ''Ronnie."
Mr. Nofziger was the aide who announced to the world that Reagan had been shot in the 1981 assassination attempt by John W. Hinckley Jr. Mr. Nofziger's statement, to reporters in the driveway of George Washington University Hospital, deflated assurances by other White House officials that Reagan had escaped unscathed.
But Mr. Nofziger's wit and camaraderie did not disguise the fact that he was a bare-knuckled political partisan.
During his year in the Reagan White House, he saw one of his principal responsibilities as rooting Democrats out of the federal government and replacing them with Republican loyalists.
Earlier, he had served on the Republican National Committee and as an aide to President Nixon. According to John Dean, Mr. Nofziger helped Nixon put together his infamous White House ''enemies list."
Mr. Nofziger, who had worked as a newspaper reporter and editor and then as Washington correspondent for James Copley's chain of California papers, teamed up with Reagan in 1966 when the former actor was running for governor of California. After that successful campaign, Mr. Nofziger spent 21 months in Sacramento as Reagan's press secretary.
While his distaste for government made him unwilling to be part of anyone's bureaucracy for very long, he never was far from a Reagan campaign, whether for governor or for president.
In 1988, after he had left the Reagan administration to capitalize on his ties to Washington's ruling elite, Mr. Nofziger was convicted of illegally lobbying for two defense contractors and a labor union.
But Mr. Nofziger compared the offense to ''running a stop sign" and remained unrepentant. He told the judge, ''I cannot show remorse, because I do not believe I am guilty."
A year later a federal appeals court threw out the conviction, saying that prosecutors had failed to show Mr. Nofziger had knowingly committed a crime.
Mr. Nofziger's aversion to bureaucratic rules was best illustrated by the White House staff meeting early in the administration when James A. Baker III, the chief of staff, told everyone that even senior presidential aides must wear the distinctive lapel pins that would identify them to the Secret Service.
''I'm not going to wear my badge," declared Mr. Nofziger.