The One Tragedy That Changed Paul Ryan Forever

Paul Ryan is best known for leading Congress under former President Donald Trump, but the former speaker of the House had been an important cog in the U.S. political machine for decades. Known for referring to himself as "Paul Ryan Deficit Hawk," as Politico pointed out, Ryan made a name for himself in Washington D.C. for talking the fiscal conservative talk, earning him praise among Republicans who made him second in the presidential line of succession in 2015. 

Two years later, Ryan helped pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a bill that lowered taxes both for business and for individuals and marked a major political win for Ryan, Politico noted at the time. Ryan has long pushed the "pull yourself by the bootstraps" life philosophy. After being elected to represent Wisconsin in Congress in 1998 at age 28, Ryan became involved in efforts to privatize Social Security and Medicare and later to repeal Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, as the Economic Policy Institute detailed. "This is America, you can make it. You work hard, play by the rules, you can rise, you can do well," he told NPR in 2016.

While a Republican through and through, Ryan grew up in a nonpartisan household with parents who admired politicians on both sides of the spectrum, according to The New York Times. It wasn't until tragedy struck him as a teenager that he began to cultivate his conservatism. Read on to learn about the event that forever changed him. 

The death of Paul Ryan's father inspired his conservatism

In 1986, a 16-year-old Paul Ryan discovered his father unresponsive in bed at their Janesville, Wisconsin, home, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The younger Ryan had gone to check on his father, who was a lawyer, after his assistant called to inquire why he hadn't shown up at work, per The Associated Press (via TPM). "It was obvious I wouldn't be able to save him. His heart had stopped and he was gone," Ryan wrote in his 2014 book "The Way Forward: Renewing the America Idea." At the age of 55, Paul Murray Ryan died of a heart attack, which Ryan attributes partly to his alcohol addiction, the report detailed.

Growing up with a father dealing with alcoholism and then losing him made Ryan grow up fast, as he told Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" (via HuffPost). Immediately after, Ryan took a minimum wage job to help his family, per The New York Times. "It is remarkable that he chose a path of individual responsibility and maturity rather than letting grief take a different course," his brother Tobin told the newspaper. It was around that time that Ryan began to chisel his brand of conservative philosophy that would later define his career, Tobin added. "There is a good story at the end of this, which is you can overcome these things ... I talk about sinking or swimming. I just decided to swim," he told Todd.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Paul Ryan's family history inspires him to be fit

A P90X enthusiast might not be your typical guy hurrying down the halls of the U.S. Capitol in a suit, but they exist nonetheless — well, at least they did. Paul Ryan was put in the spotlight in 2012 when he was picked as the running mate of presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and the added attention also piqued interest in a different aspect of the vice-presidential candidate: his fit bod. Per the New York Magazine, impressed Americans were quick to turn to Google in hopes of finding pics of Ryan sans T-shirt. Within 12 hours of the announcement, "shirtless" was the second most-searched term associated with Ryan, noted The Associated Press (via the Denver Post).

Ryan has been open about his love for fitness and a health-conscious lifestyle, which he said was inspired by his family history. "(My father) died of a heart attack at 55, my grandfather died of a heart attack at 57, my great-grandfather died of heart attack at 59, so I'm into the health thing," Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2009. To maintain his body fat in the 6-8 percent range, Ryan follows the strict P90X workout regime and avoids sugar. Because his father struggled with alcohol addiction, Ryan also opted to forgo distilled spirits, he said on "Meet the Press" (via HuffPost). "It's why I'm a fitness nut; it's why I don't drink hard liquor," he said.