White House Celebrity Santas of the 1980s


When it gets this close to Christmas, you can barely turn around without spying someone in a Santa suit. Although most of these Saint Nicks are just old guys who happen to have the man in red’s robust physique, every year some famous Kris Kringles don the suit. Some even hit the White House. Let’s take a look at a pictorial history of celebrity Santas at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Occasionally the President himself will toss on a wig and a beard, but these pictures are tough to find. According to news reports, though, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Dwight Eisenhower all dressed up as Santa to spread a little holiday cheer during their time in office.

None of these men can lay claim to being at the pinnacle of the famous-White-House-Santa game, though. Some people are patrons of the theater or artists. Ronald and Nancy Reagan (pictured at left) were something even better: supporters of celebrity Santas. The 1980s were heady times to be famous and own a red jacket. Check out this list of Saint Nicks:

1983: Mr. T

When the Reagans unveiled the White House Christmas decorations on December 12, 1983, they had some muscle-bound help. Never one to look like a fool, Mr. T. added his own flair to the Santa getup by cutting off the sleeves and adding his usual pile of necklaces. His reward? Getting Nancy Reagan to sit in his lap.

1984: John Riggins

How do you up the ante from Mr. T.? By getting the Washington Redskins’ star running back to pull on a fake beard. On December 10, 1984, Pro Bowler John Riggins turned up to hand out toys at a White House Christmas party. Playing Santa must have been good karma; he rolled for 76 yards and a touchdown in the Redskins’ next game, a win over the Cardinals.

1985: Larry Hagman

You might have been able to shoot J.R., but nobody’s pulling a gun on Santa. In 1985 the Reagans tried to top Riggins by bringing in Hagman, who was in the middle of his run as the villainous J.R. Ewing on TV’s Dallas. Hagman didn’t look much like Santa, but that didn’t stop the first lady from planting one on his cheek.

1987: Ed McMahon

It’s not clear whether or not he had any checks from Publishers Clearing House in his sack, but in 1987 Ed McMahon donned the Santa outfit and searched for good girls and boys at the White House.

1987: Dom DeLuise

McMahon wasn’t the only famous Saint Nick the Reagans hosted in 1987, though. Burly actor, comedian, and chef Dom DeLuise put his girth to good use by helping Nancy Reagan show off the Christmas decorations to guests that year.

Beyond the '80s

Celebrity Santas kept rolling in even after the Reagans moved out. In 2004 George W. and Laura Bush welcomed jovial TV weatherman Willard Scott to dress up as Santa and attend the lighting of the national Christmas tree. NFL Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen put on the suit the following year.