The untold truth of Dick Cheney

Remember the 2000 presidential election? The nation anxiously awaited the results from Florida because while Al Gore already won the popular vote, the winner of the state's electoral votes would earn enough to become the next president. "Ultimately, it came down to just 537 votes out of six million cast," NPR reported, prompting calls for a recount. The outlet went on to note the Supreme Court "ruled that no alternative method of recount could be established in a timely manner. In effect, the latter ruling made Bush president." George W. Bush won 271 electoral votes, via the FEC, putting himself and Vice President Richard B. Cheney in the White House.

Cheney, who "had a distinguished career as a businessman and public servant, serving four Presidents and as an elected official" according to WhiteHouse.gov, became the second most powerful man in the executive branch. And for some of those who looked closely, the VP appeared to influence many major presidential decisions throughout Bush's eight-year term. Cheney's life story is so interesting that Hollywood made a feature film about the man in 2018. From major health issues, to working with two members of the Bush family, to that infamous hunting incident, the former VP's life has been full of twists and turns.

Do you recall Cheney's years in the White House? It's time for the untold truth of Dick Cheney.

The Dick Cheney origin story

Dick Cheney was born in 1941 in Lincoln Nebraska, in the midst of World War II. When Dick Cheney was a teenager, his family relocated "to Casper, Wyoming, where his father worked for the US Soil Conservation Service," via CNN. In Wyoming, the young Cheney attended Natrona High School, where, as CNN noted, he was the "co-captain of the football team and the senior class president." And that's where he met Lynne Vincent, the homecoming queen who would go on to become his wife.

In an interview with Larry King Live, Lynne talked about a children's book she wrote called A is for Abigail, "an almanac of amazing American women." One figure that's featured in the book was a "1930s softball star named Marjorie Dickey" who "played for the Syracuse Bluebirds in Nebraska." Dickey also just so happened to be Cheney's mother. Lynne told Larry King that Dickey "married and had three children, the oldest of whom is my husband" when her softball career ended.

"So his mom is in this book. And he loves that," the former SLOTUS — Second Lady of the United States — added about Cheney.

Higher education for Dick Cheney spanned the country

Amazingly, Vice President Dick Cheney dropped out of college multiple times. After high school, Cheney started at Yale, but as Time reported, he only stayed for a few semesters. "I didn't like it. I didn't enjoy it. The only reason I was there was somebody offered me a package to go and I went," he explained to the National Park Service. According to the Wyoming State Historical Society, the Ivy League school "cut his scholarship in the second year, and it still did not go well. Finally, the dean suggested he take a year off." Cheney relocated to Wyoming and switched to manual labor, specifically, placing transmission lines. Per the Wyoming State Historical Society, he gave Yale another shot, and then gave working as a lineman another go. But during his time on the job, he started drinking more. Eventually, a DUI landed him in jail. In a 2001 New Yorker interview, he recalled, "I was headed down a bad road, if I continued on that course."

Cheney enrolled in Casper Community College and then the University of Wyoming. After receiving his master's degree, he started the doctoral program at University of Wisconsin. "I pictured my future as that of an academic," Cheney recounted in an alumni newsletter back in 2006. That did not last: As CNN noted, Cheney dropped out to pursue a career in politics.

How did Dick Cheney get into politics?

In 1966, Dick Cheney attended the University of Wisconsin as a doctoral candidate. But in a life-altering change, he decided to quit school and become "a staff aide to Governor Warren Knowles," CNN reported. According to Senate.gov, Cheney went on to join Representative William Steiger's team, and then worked as a special assistant to Donald Rumsfeld, who at the time was the director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. Working under President Richard Nixon, this was the first of many presidential administrations Cheney worked for. Once Rumsfeld received his promotion to White House counselor, he appointed Cheney as his deputy.

In August 1974, President Nixon shocked the nation when he resigned from his seat. As Vice President Gerald Ford quickly found himself as the new president, he needed a strong transition team. Rumsfeld led the group, and once again called upon Cheney to be his deputy. From there, Cheney earned a promotion to the president's deputy assistant, then finally the White House chief of staff. With all this experience, Cheney was "elected as a Republican to the Ninety-sixth and to the five succeeding Congresses and served from January 3, 1979, until his resignation on March 17, 1989, to accept appointment by President George H.W. Bush as secretary of defense," via the United States House of Representatives History.

Dick Cheney worked with the Bushes a lot

After serving in two presidential administrations, Dick Cheney once again found himself with a new boss. When the nation elected George H.W. Bush as the 41st President of the United States, Bush Sr. asked Cheney to be his secretary of defense. In an interview on Meet the Press, Cheney talked about his former superior. "He was a remarkable man. I, of course, was his second choice for Secretary of Defense," Cheney explained. In fact, Bush first nominated John Tower but the Senate voted against this "after a savage confirmation fight centering on Tower's drinking habits and his lucrative defense consulting deals," the Los Angeles Times reported. Though bad for Tower, Cheney thrived in his position, even if he wasn't the first choice. "I'm always asked which job I liked best of ones I had, and I always cite that period of Secretary of Defense for George Bush," Cheney said on Meet the Press.

In March 2000, George W. Bush asked Cheney to be his running mate in the presidential election. According to CNN, Cheney declined, "instead accepting a position vetting potential vice presidential candidates." Later, Cheney accepted "in July when Bush asks again." The rest is history. 

Looking back at working for both of the Bushes, Cheney shared the attribute passed down from father to son that most impressed him. "Well he hired me," the former VP joked in the aforementioned Meet the Press interview, referring to the younger Bush.

What is life like as a veep?

When Dick Cheney sat down with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on 60 Minutes (via CBS This Morning) in 2013, he shared a shocking truth: In 2001, Cheney wrote a "pending" resignation letter. This was due to Cheney's constant health struggles. As Gupta explained on CNN, Cheney "wrote this letter because he saw a gap in the U.S. Constitution. If a vice president is alive but incapacitated, there's nothing in the Constitution that allows for that person's removal." Since Cheney felt he could potentially become incapacitated, "he created the unprecedented letter." His health remained stable to perform his vice-presidential duties, which some described as "a puppet master pulling George W. Bush's strings," per Teen Vogue. This partly led to Cheney's approval rating being at, as The Atlantic put it, "a staggeringly low 13 percent" when he left office after eight years.

During his first year as second-in-command, Cheney faced one of the darkest moments in American history. On September 11, 2001, President Bush was on Air Force One and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld — second in the military chain of command — was unreachable in the Pentagon, according to History. This left Cheney "positioned in a bunker beneath the White House, in the decision-making hot seat." Though Cheney allegedly approved the order to shoot down commercial airliners suspected of being hijacked, the scenario fortunately never played out. In The Only Plane In the Sky, Cheney said of the controversial decision, "It had to be done."

About that infamous hunting incident

In 2006, Dick Cheney visited Texas for some rest and relaxation from his duties as vice president. As an outdoorsman, Cheney loved to hunt and went on an excursion to shoot at "quail on the Armstrong Ranch near Kingsville, about 30 miles southwest of Corpus Christi," per CNN. Alongside Cheney were several other hunters including the ranch's owner, Katharine Armstrong, and Harry Whittington, a 78-year-old Texan. As Armstrong recalled, "Whittington had just shot a quail and had dropped back to retrieve it" as when trying to join up with the group, the man "apparently came up unannounced" right as "Cheney prepared to fire." The result wasn't pretty: From 30 yards away, "Whittington was 'peppered' with birdshot. Pellets hit him in the face and chest, but he never lost consciousness," Armstrong claimed. She added the sport of "quail shooting ensures that this will happen. It goes with the turf."

The incident naturally made national headlines. When speaking with Fox News, Cheney called the accident "one of the worst days of my life" and accepted responsibility. And in a surprising turn of events, Whittington apologized to Cheney. "My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice-President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week," Whittington said in a statement, per The Guardian. "We send our love and respect to them, as they deal with situations that are much more serious than what we've had to deal with this week," he added.

How did Hollywood interpret Dick Cheney's life?

During the 2016 Oscar season, director Adam McKay awaited to see if his film The Big Short would win Best Picture. But before Hollywood's biggest night, he caught the flu. "During a week of bed rest" McKay reportedly read several books about Dick Cheney "and realized he had his next protagonist," via The Hollywood Reporter. McKay considers Cheney "the most pivotal figure in modern politics, a man whose power far eclipsed the commander in chief he served." With his idea in mind, McKay and producers needed the perfect leading man. And Christian Bale seemed to be the perfect candidate. The Oscar-winning movie star "was the guy while Adam was writing it," according to one of the producers of Vice, Jeremy Kleiner. Bale signed on and became unrecognizable in his transformation for the role in Vice. And it paid off with many award season nominations, including eight at the Academy Awards.

In an interview for Yahoo!, Bale shared whether or not he thought Cheney saw Vice. While Bale revealed that he wasn't certain if the former veep viewed the film, he added that Cheney passed along a message to the actor. "Strangely enough, it was through my son's school. One of the moms ... she was at a party that he was at. And she said, 'Oh, I'm going to be seeing Christian tomorrow, do you have anything to say to him?'" Per Bale's story, Cheney reportedly said, "Tell him he's a d*ck."

Dick Cheney, the family man

In high school, Dick Cheney became smitten with Lynne Vincent, the homecoming queen. The two married in 1964 and celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary in 2020, via CNN. And she stayed by his side for his entire political career. Cheney's wife also played an important role in George H.W. Bush's administration when the president appointed her "as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities," The Atlantic reported. The pair have two daughters, Liz and Mary Cheney.

Mary, the former VP's younger kid, is openly gay. While on the surface, this fact seems at odds with his affiliations in the Republican party, CNN noted "Cheney has said in the past that he supports same-sex marriage, but regulations should be handled at the state level." 

Meanwhile, his oldest daughter, Liz, followed her father's footsteps in politics. In 2016, she was elected "as Wyoming's lone member of Congress in the U.S. House of Representatives," via her official website. The father and daughter even published a book together, called Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America. The New York Times reviewed the work as "a book that amounts to a stinging indictment of President Obama."

What does Dick Cheney think about Trump?

Though Dick Cheney was long retired as Donald Trump began his presidential campaign, the press wanted to know what the former vice president thought about the new face of the Republican party. "He's a candidate and I don't want to be in the business of rating candidates," Cheney said about Trump in a 2016 interview for CNN. Though he admitted, "I've been surprised that he's done as well as he has," Cheney clearly declared, "I'm not endorsing Donald Trump."

Once Trump took office, Cheney didn't hold back on his opinions to the man sitting in the seat he once occupied, Vice President Mike Pence. As reported by The Washington Post, a discussion between Pence and Cheney at a private gathering "quickly turned into a vigorous back-and-forth over President Trump's foreign policy." Per a transcript obtained by the publication, Cheney reportedly compared Trump's "instincts to those of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama."

In 2019, Cheney's loyalties seemed a little clearer in advance of President Trump's attempt at a second term. The Washington Post reported in August of that year that Cheney and his daughter Liz Cheney were slated to appear at a fundraiser event for Trump Victory.

The favorite hobbies of Dick Cheney

Though he served in the United States Government for decades, Dick Cheney also found time outside of his jobs to unwind. For starters, Cheney enjoys hunting (as you might've gleaned from his notorious quail hunting incident). The former veep is a longtime lover of fishing, too. He revealed to the National Park Service in 2016 that "[steelhead fishing] was something I used to do. A lot of it." Cheney remembered one particular trip when he was secretary of defense, alongside a security guy and an official communicator. "We camped out, we had tents and so forth and we were in a very remote part of British Columbia so there wasn't a big security threat. Bears were more a threat," he explained.

Once Cheney retired and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, his passion for casting lines lived on. He showed off one of his favorite spots to fish, "drifting down the south fork of the Snake River in Idaho," in a CBS interview. "No matter what other worries or problems you may have or dealing with, you really focus on what you're doing and put all your other cares aside," Cheney said about fishing. 

Following his health issues, he did not pump the brakes on his hobbies. "There aren't any real physical limits on what I do," he told 60 Minutes in 2013. "I fish, I hunt. And— I don't ski, but that's because of my knees, not my heart."

Dick Cheney dealt with constant health issues

Dick Cheney's "failing heart used to get almost as many headlines as he did," according to CBS. Looking back at his medical history, Cheney's health issues don't come as a shock. In fact, the biggest surprise may be how Cheney lived through it all. As Dr. Sanjay Gupta wrote for CNN in 2013, the former veep "started smoking cigarettes when he was 12 years old, and his daily staple was a dozen doughnuts and three packs of cigarettes when he was President Gerald Ford's chief of staff." 

Cheney told CNN in 2011 that he had his first heart attack at the age of 37 during his "first campaign for Congress." This started a domino effect: Cheney suffered a total of five heart attacks. After the fifth cardiac arrest, he had the HeartMate II implanted, which, as he explained to CNN, "supplements the beating of the heart" and facilitates blood flow.

As reported for CNN by Gupta, Cheney believed in 2010 he neared the end of his life, going as far to make burial plans for himself. Then in 2012, Cheney had a heart transplant after, as The New York Times noted, a 20-month wait. At age 71, Cheney successfully received his replacement heart and returned mostly back to normal.

How much is Dick Cheney worth?

Do you earn a salary as a vice president? Back in the early 2000s, President George W. Bush "made $400,000 and got additional money in various expense accounts. Cheney made $208,100," according to How Stuff Works. What's more, Cheney didn't need to spend all his money because of the numerous gifts received in the high-profile position. And thanks to financial disclosures, the public got a glimpse at some practical and not-so-practical presents. In the financial records released in 2007, the "vice president reported receiving $21,674 in gifts, including three fishing rods, a pair of $615 leather hunting boots and a $399 cowboy hat," according to Reuters. Plus, "from senior members of the White House staff, Cheney received a $778 gift of an iPod and a collection of compact discs." Even after you subtract a few hundred dollars from that total for the cost of the iPod, that's a lot of CDs.

The New York Times revealed that on their 2000 federal income tax returns, "Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, reported income of $36,086,635." Then where did all this extra money come from? After Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush, Cheney stepped away from public service and joined Halliburton Co. as CEO. Based mainly on his role at the top of Halliburton and a decades-long career in federal service, Cheney amassed a healthy bank account: His net worth was estimated to be $100 million in 2020, according to Celebrity Net Worth.