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Jay Koch, 81; Reagan look-alike portrayed the ex-president for 25 years

April 05, 2007|Claire Noland | Times Staff Writer

Jay Koch, a Ronald Reagan look-alike who doubled as the former president in movies, functions at the Reagan library and a steady stream of personal appearances since the 1980s, has died. He was 81.

Koch died of heart failure March 19 at his home in Port Hueneme after battling cancer since last summer, his daughter Maureen Foster said this week.

With his thatch of thick dark hair, a warm smile and twinkling eyes, he bore a remarkable resemblance to the former actor turned politician. People used to approach Koch on the street and in restaurants to tell him how much he looked like Reagan, his daughter said.

His wife, Sylvia, submitted his photo without his knowledge for a National Enquirer look-alike contest in 1980, and he won, casting him in the presidential stand-in role for the next 25 years.

"I never had so much fun in my life," Koch told the Ventura County Star in 2004. "I slipped into his character fast."

He taught himself to imitate Reagan's speaking voice and mannerisms, his daughter said, and nailed such signature lines as, "Well, there you go again."

Koch signed with an agent and made hundreds of appearances at conferences and parties and in advertisements, television and films, including "Back to the Future Part II" (1989) and "Hot Shots! Part Deux" (1993).

He also joined other presidential doppelgangers at Presidents Day celebrations and other events at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Simi Valley over the years.

But the highlight for Koch, a Republican who voted for Reagan in the presidential elections of 1980 and '84, was meeting him at his Century City office in 1994, 10 years before the president died of Alzheimer's disease.

Reagan welcomed Koch, shook his hand and said laughingly, "Jay, I hear you've been doing the Gipper," according to Koch's daughter.

Julius Koch Jr. was born Feb. 25, 1926, in Rechnitz, Austria, and immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was 3.

After graduating from high school in Brooklyn, he joined the Navy and had just completed flight training when World War II ended.

He returned to Brooklyn, where he met his wife-to-be at a roller skating rink. He joined the New York Police Department and walked a beat, retiring in 1969 with the rank of sergeant.

Koch and his family moved to California, and he spent his time sailing in the Pacific until he set off on his second career portraying the president.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by a brother, Ernest; another daughter, Jackie Schaeffer; a son, Brian Jay Koch; and four grandchildren, Justin and Amber Koch and Harrison and Faith Foster.

Koch's family plans to scatter his ashes off Channel Islands Harbor on April 14.

Instead of flowers, donations can be made to the Canine Adoption and Rescue League, 901 Mission Rock Road, Santa Paula, CA, 93061; www.carlvc.org.

claire.noland@latimes.com

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