With No Borders / GIVE
Preserve The Moment /
114 - In
June 6, 2004 RONALD WILSON
REAGAN / 1911- 2004
Reagan Dies at 93
He created the Republican Inter-circle
Ronald Reagan, the Hollywood actor who became
one of the most popular presidents of the 20th
century and transformed the political landscape of
an era with his vision of conservative government,
died Saturday at his home in the Bel-Air
neighborhood of Los Angeles. He was 93.
----"His wife, Nancy,
his greatest fan and fierce protector, was at his
side. For 10 years, he suffered from Alzheimer's,
an incapacitating brain disease. In 1994, he bade a
poignant farewell to "my fellow Americans." In a
hand-written letter, made public by his office, he
said he was setting out on "the journey that will
lead me into the sunset of my life."
----In a statement
relayed by chief of staff Joanne Drake, who
represents the family, Nancy Reagan said: "My
family and I would like the world to know that
President Ronald Reagan has passed away
appreciate everyone's prayers." Drake said Reagan's
death came at 1 p.m. and was caused by pneumonia,
complicated by Alzheimer's.
----The disease robbed
Reagan of his ability to remember much of his own
remarkable history: that he had served eight years
as governor of California and eight more as
president of the United States, and that he had led
America's politics rightward toward the middle.
Only one Democrat has succeeded him: Bill Clinton,
a "new Democrat," who did as much or more to
achieve such conservative goals as balancing the
federal budget and changing welfare than anything
Reagan himself accomplished.
----Reagan inspired a
missionary corps of conservatives who hold
countless elected offices and government jobs to
this day. Others have been elected since he left
the White House. Indeed, biographer Lou Cannon
likened the Reagan revolution to a time bomb,
citing political analyst Michael Barone's tally
showing that more Reagan Republicans won
congressional seats in 1994 than they did when he
was president. Even in his final years, he was a
role model. President George W. Bush, who tugged
the country even farther right, has called Reagan
"a hero in the American story."
----As recently as
last month, Nancy Reagan had said her husband's
disease was worsening. "Ronnie's long journey has
finally taken him to a distant place where I can no
longer reach him," she said. When he died, she and
Reagan's son and daughter Ronald Prescott Reagan
and Patti Davis were at the family home, chief of
staff Drake said. She said son Michael Reagan
arrived a short time later. He had spent all day
Friday with his father.
brought accolades and condolences from around the
world. President George W. Bush was told while
visiting Paris to mark the anniversary of D-day.
"It's a sad hour in the life of America," Bush
said, adding that Reagan "leaves behind a nation he
restored and a world he helped save." Former
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Reagan's
contemporary and political ally, declared that
"millions of men and women
live in freedom
today because of the policies he pursued."
offered statements of praise. Gerald R. Ford called
Reagan "an excellent leader of our nation during
challenging times." Bill Clinton said, "He
personified the indomitable optimism of the
[and kept] America
at the forefront of the fight for freedom." George
H.W. Bush said, "We had been political opponents
and became close friends. He could take a stand
and do it without creating bitterness."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called Reagan "a great
American patriot" and said, "He was a hero to
----World and national
leaders were expected to gather at the National
Cathedral in Washington for Reagan's funeral, after
his body lies in state for two days at the Reagan
presidential library and museum near Simi Valley,
and then for two days in Washington at the Capitol
Rotunda. Then the body was to be returned to the
presidential library for private burial. Details of
the arrangements were not final.
the nation's 40th president, Reagan left lasting
contributions to the world, his nation and the
people he served. Graced with a gift for
storytelling, a ready wit and a visceral
understanding of the aspirations of his countrymen,
Reagan had the rare distinction of leaving office
more popular than when he arrived.
----Part of his gift
was his ability to make Americans, shaken by the
Vietnam War and the scandal of Watergate, feel good
about themselves. His optimism was real and
unyielding. Once, after surgery for colon cancer,
he told reporters: "I didn't have cancer. I had
something inside of me that had cancer in it, and
it was removed." It helped that he was an actor.
"There have been times in this office," he once
told interviewer David Brinkley, "when I've
wondered how you could do the job if you hadn't
been an actor."
----People called him
the Gipper, because he played Notre Dame football
star George Gipp in the 1940 movie "Knute Rockne
All American." On his deathbed, Gipp urges Coach
Rockne to implore the Fighting Irish to "win one
for the Gipper." As president, Reagan urged his
fellow Americans to do the same, time and again: to
write Congress for tax relief, to vote Republican
so they, too, could win one for the Gipper.
----People also called
him the Great Communicator, because he understood
the presidency was a pulpit, and he used it to
preach. Mostly his sermons were about a simple kind
of conservatism: cut taxes so investments of the
wealthy would trickle down to the poor; build
America's military might so world Communism would
topple and fall. "Mr. Gorbachev," he shouted, at
the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin during a visit in
June 1987, "tear down this wall!"
----Ten years later,
after the Berlin Wall had tumbled and the Soviet
empire collapsed, Reagan was strolling in Armand
Hammer Park near his home. The Toledo Blade
reported that a Ukranian from Ohio and his
12-year-old grandson asked if Reagan would sit on a
park bench with the boy for a picture. He obliged.
The grandfather later told the New York Times that
they had thanked him for opposing communism.
replied, that had been his job.
Pluses and Minuses
Reagan left a tangled legacy.
----He presided over a
historic agreement to ban intermediate range
nuclear missiles with the Soviet Union, which he
had reviled as an "evil empire." But he also
presided over a debacle in Lebanon with uncounted
victims, including 241 U.S. troops, mostly Marines;
and he presided over the Iran-Contra affair, a
scandal that severely damaged his
produced lower inflation, interest rates and
unemployment. But his term also saw a busted budget
and record deficits, which made America a net
importer and tripled the national debt. It
"mortgaged much of our future vitality," said
conservative columnist George F. Will. Nearly 15
years passed before the nation was able to post a
himself was a man of striking contradictions, say
Jane Mayer, a New Yorker magazine staff writer, and
Doyle McManus, the Times' Washington bureau chief,
in their book, "Landslide: The Unmaking of the
President, 1984-1988." He was a gifted leader, they
write, but he could be detached and indecisive. He
was an overwhelmingly popular politician, they say,
but he could be shy and intensely private and kept
a personal distance from almost everyone except his
Reagan was a strong man, but an extraordinarily
weak manager," biographer Cannon said in his book
"President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime." He
restored public confidence in the presidency,
Cannon wrote, "without mastering the difficult art
of wielding presidential power." Reagan often said:
"Government is not the solution to our problems.
Government is the problem." In fact, Cannon said,
"Reagan thought so little of government that he did
not think enough about it." As a result, he treated
the presidency with a hands-off style of management
that tested the abilities of those charged to run
the executive branch, sometimes with unhappy
----But he also could
be a very personal president. He shared jellybeans
from a jar in the Oval Office. A recent collection,
"Reagan: A Life in Letters," revealed that he
hand-wrote an astonishing assortment of notes to
friends, adversaries, world leaders and plain
folks, from Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to a
seventh-grader who requested federal help because
his mother had declared his bedroom a disaster
area. Reagan's letters asked whether governments
truly reflected the needs of their people, told of
his imaginings about a ballistic missile defense
system and suggested, with a fatherly chuckle, that
the youngster volunteer to clean up his room
----Many Americans saw
in him things they also wanted to believe about
themselves, said cultural historian Garry Wills, in
his book "Reagan's America: Innocents at Home."
They were convinced, Wills wrote, that both he and
they were hopeful and independent, strong and
God-fearing, as well as destined to be
extraordinary. They shaped their faith in him and
in themselves to accommodate any uncomfortable
realities, Wills said, and they ignored his
----This helped to
shield Reagan from political disapproval.
Confounding opponents, he seemed at times to be
immune to controversy. "The Teflon-coated
presidency," complained former Rep. Patricia
Schroeder (D-Colo.), when criticisms would not take
hold, but slipped off instead like grease on a
nonstick frying pan.
protected, too, by his style. He did not turn
political foes into personal enemies. House Speaker
Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, an earthy populist from
Boston who championed liberal causes with a fervor
to match Reagan's devotion to conservative
crusades, often went from Capitol Hill down to the
White House at the end of the day for a quiet chat
between two Irish pols.
something about the guy that people like," O'Neill
once explained to the Washington Post. "They're
rooting for him, and of course they're rooting for
him because we haven't had any presidential
successes for years Kennedy killed, Johnson with
Vietnam, Nixon with Watergate, Ford, Carter and all
the rest." O'Neill remembered how Reagan would say
to him, "Tip, you and I are political enemies only
until 6 o'clock. It's 4 o'clock now. Can we pretend
that it's 6 o'clock?"
was sustained by his sense of humor, which he often
exercised in times of adversity. When a would-be
assassin gunned him down outside a Washington hotel
during the third month of his presidency, he
quipped to a doctor laboring to save his life: "I
hope you're a Republican."
----As in "win one for
the Gipper," when Reagan did not have a good line
of his own, he borrowed one from a movie in which
he had appeared, or which he especially liked. To
Reagan, the presidency was often the stage for a
well-rehearsed script. He tapped the talents of a
stable of writers, including the eloquent Peggy
----On the 40th
anniversary of D-day, she provided his tribute on
the palisades of Normandy to American veterans who
had flown to France for the occasion. "These are
the boys of Pointe du Hoc," he intoned, his
delivery a marvel of dramatic narrative and pauses
at the punch lines. "These are the men who took the
cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a
continent. These are the heroes who helped win a
said the Washington Post, adding that he had moved
"even reporters and Democrats to tears."
----His writers knew
history. Left to himself, Reagan sometimes garbled
it. This mattered little, however, because he had
perfect pitch for its music. "Reagan would embody
great chunks of the American experience, become
deeply involved with them emotionally, while having
only the haziest notion of what really occurred,"
Wills says. "He had a skill for striking
'historical' attitudes combined with a striking
lack of historical attention."
----What he was doing
was acting, but it served him well, even in times
of trouble. Alexander M. Haig caused a stir, for
example, by resigning abruptly as secretary of
state after battling the White House staff and
embarrassing the administration with an emotional
pronouncement following the assassination attempt
that "I am in control here."
----As Reagan prepared
to answer questions from reporters about Haig's
departure, he regaled his aides with jokes. Chief
of Staff James A. Baker cautioned against levity at
Jim," Reagan replied. "I'll play it somber."
----And he did.
Ronald Wilson Reagan was born Feb. 6, 1911, in
Tampico, Ill., the second son of John Edward Reagan
and Nelle Wilson Reagan.
----His father, an
Irish-Catholic Democrat, was a shoe salesman and
charming storyteller, but he had a restless spirit
and a drinking problem. In the early years of
Reagan's childhood, his father had difficulty
holding a job.
----The Reagans moved
from one small town to another in rural Illinois.
For a brief period, they resided on the South Side
of Chicago. By the age of 8, he had lived in seven
homes. In 1920, when Reagan was 9, the family
settled down at last in the small community of
Dixon, about 100 miles due west of Chicago.
----Dixon was where
Reagan went to high school, played football and
fell in love with a preacher's daughter. It was
where he took up his famous duties as a lifeguard
in Lowell Park, northeast of town on the Rock
River. He was credited with saving 77 lives.
----He was "Dutch"
Reagan then, a nickname given to him when he was a
baby by his father, who thought he looked like "a
fat little Dutchman." Reagan preferred "Dutch" to
Ronald, which he considered not manly.
----His mother was a
pious woman who had a big influence on her sons,
Neil and Ronald. Cheerful and energetic, she taught
that people were innately good and could achieve
great things with perseverance. She gave Ronald his
first taste of acting: playing parts in moralistic
church skits, some of which she wrote.
----By contrast, in an
early autobiography, "Where's the Rest of Me? The
Ronald Reagan Story," he described coming home to
find his father "flat on his back on the front
porch and no one there to lend a hand but me. He
was drunk, dead to the world. I wanted to let
myself in the house and go to bed and pretend he
wasn't there." Instead, the scrawny 11-year-old
tugged his father inside and put him to bed.
----Reagan said that
he felt no resentment and credited his mother. "She
told Neil and myself over and over that alcoholism
was a sickness that we should love and help our
father and never condemn him for something that was
beyond his control." But it scarred him: As a
youngster, he tried to avoid the trouble that
alcoholism caused at home; as an adult, Cannon
said, sometimes he could not bring himself to
confront the trouble that infighting caused on his
White House staff.
----After high school,
Reagan enrolled in Eureka College, a small
Christian school 21 miles east of Peoria. Early on,
he found his public voice. The college president,
under fire for restrictions against smoking,
dancing and staying out after 9:30 p.m., compounded
his problems by threatening to eliminate courses
and fire teachers to save money.
freshman representative, was asked to speak on
behalf of students who were in revolt. "He did not
call for a return to law and order or ask the
students to protest to the trustees through
established channels," writes Bill Boyarsky, a
retired Times city editor, political writer and
columnist, in his book, "Ronald Reagan: His Life
& Rise to the Presidency." Nor did he criticize
the faculty for supporting the students, as he did
during student unrest when he was the governor of
says, "he offered a resolution calling for a
student strike." Reagan's emotional appeal
prevailed: All but a few students refused to attend
classes. Ultimately, the president of Eureka
autobiography, Reagan said he discovered while he
was making his strike speech "that an audience has
a feel to it, and, in the parlance of the theater,
the audience and I were together
. It was
----When he graduated
from Eureka in 1932, the nation was deep in the
Depression. "We didn't live on the wrong side of
the railroad tracks," Reagan said later about those
meager years, "but we lived so close to them we
could hear the whistle real loud."
----Even in the depths
of the nation's economic catastrophe, Reagan was
determined to succeed. He wanted to be a
broadcaster. He was attracted to radio partly by
the new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Memorizing portions of FDR's first inaugural
address, Reagan later echoed Roosevelt's cadence.
As for FDR's New Deal politics, "I was a
near-hopeless hemophilic liberal," Reagan wrote
later. "I bled for 'causes.' "
----He landed a
part-time announcer's job at WOC in Davenport,
Iowa. Within a year, WOC had merged with its
big-sister station, WHO in Des Moines, and Reagan
was hired as a sports announcer and re-created
Chicago Cubs games.
----Reagan often told
a story during his presidency of how he would get
abbreviated information about a game in progress by
telegraph and relay it to listeners as if he were
describing the action. Except once, when the ticker
[telegraph] slip came through, it said,
'The wire's gone dead.' Well, I had the ball on the
way to the plate," Reagan recalled to a group of
baseball players at a Hall of Fame lunch at the
White House in 1981. "So I had Billy
[Jurges] foul one off
. And I had him
foul one back at third base and described the fight
between the two kids who were trying to get to the
ball. Then I had him foul one that just missed
being a home run." Finally, with Reagan sweating
and listeners wondering about this odd succession
of foul balls, the ticker started to click
----"And the slip came
through the window, and I could hardly talk for
laughing," Reagan recalled. "It said, 'Jurges
popped out on the first pitch.' "
Reagan's voice, but he longed to be an actor. WHO
sent him to Catalina Island in 1937 to cover the
Cubs during spring training. While he was in
California, he wrangled a screen test and signed a
contract for $200 a week with Warner Brothers
Private and Public Transition
acted in 52 movies cast as a good guy and in one
made-for-TV film, "The Killers," cast as a villain.
He later said he regretted making the picture. It
was considered too violent for television and was
released in theaters just as his political career
----In 1940, he
married actress Jane Wyman, and they appeared
together in a sequel to their first pairing in
"Brother Rat." It was called "Brother Rat and a
Baby." Within a year, their first child was born, a
daughter they named Maureen Elizabeth. Later they
adopted a son, Michael Edward. Their daughter died
in August 2001 of melanoma. She was 60.
----Reagan's big movie
break came with "Knute Rockne All American," the
film that immortalized the Gipper. But his most
challenging part came in "Kings Row," a 1942
picture in which he played a small-town playboy
whose legs are needlessly amputated by a vicious
surgeon. Both he and critics called it his best
----He became a board
member of the Screen Actors Guild. Stars who
commanded big money Robert Montgomery, Cary Grant,
James Cagney welcomed him as an equal.
career was sidetracked by World War II, and it
never recovered. Disqualified from combat because
he was nearsighted, he was sent to the First Motion
Picture Unit of the Army Air Forces in suburban
Culver City, which made over 400 training films. He
was discharged on Dec. 9, 1945, as a captain.
with the Screen Actors Guild increased, and with it
a growing interest in public life, which Wyman
complained took all his time. In 1948, their
marriage to Reagan's painful surprise headed for
divorce. It was for him a personal trauma. "The
plain truth was," he said, "that such a thing was
so far from even being imagined by me that I had no
resources to call upon."
coincided with his first stirrings of conservatism.
He remained a Democrat, urging Dwight D. Eisenhower
to run for president as a Democrat and campaigning
for Helen Gahagan Douglas in her futile U.S. Senate
race against Richard M. Nixon. It would not be
until the early 1960s that he switched parties. "I
didn't leave the Democratic Party," he said. "The
party left me."
----By 1947, Reagan
had become president of the Screen Actors Guild. He
was swept up in ideological turmoil that tormented
Hollywood. The House Un-American Activities
Committee began investigating claims of Communist
influence within the studios. Writers and actors
were blacklisted. Some never worked again.
convinced that Communists intended to seize control
of the movie industry so it could be used as "a
worldwide propaganda base." The remedy, he wrote in
"Where's the Rest of Me?" was "that each American
generation must be re-educated to the
precariousness of liberty."
----Reagan and other
actors appeared before HUAC to testify to their
opposition to Communism. They "lent [their]
names" to the luster of its hearings, say Larry
Ceplair and Steven Englund in their book, "The
Inquisition in Hollywood."
----In 1952, he
married Nancy Davis, a young actress whose mother,
Edith Luckett, had been on stage and whose
stepfather, Dr. Loyal Davis, was a prominent
neurosurgeon. She gave up acting to devote herself
to her husband. They had two children, Patricia Ann
and Ronald Prescott.
----For Reagan, there
was comfort in having a family again.
Electric, stage right. For eight years, beginning
in 1954, Reagan served GE as the host of a
televised series of dramas. He also was its
goodwill ambassador to employees and to civic and
business groups around the country. While his
motive was to make money, over time the experience
of speaking to business people helped crystallize
his views and prepared him for active politics.
initially only lighthearted reminiscences of
Hollywood's Golden Age, began to grow more serious.
In speeches with titles like "Encroaching
Government Controls" and "Our Eroding Freedoms," he
broadened his scope to include a wide range of
national issues. At first, he confined his deepest
political beliefs to private communications a 1960
letter to Vice President Richard M. Nixon, for
instance, in which he said of John F. Kennedy:
"Under the tousled boyish haircut is still old Karl
----By 1962, his
speeches had become more political and more
controversial. Under pressure, General Electric
ended the arrangement. He had become so popular, he
said, that at least three years of bookings had to
----"It would be nice
to accept this as a tribute to my oratory," Reagan
later wrote. "But I think the real reason had to do
with a change that was taking place all over
America. People wanted to talk about and hear about
encroaching government control. And hopefully they
wanted suggestions as to what they themselves could
do to turn the tide."
Reagan / White House
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