Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States, serving our country from 1981 until 1989. He was also the 33rd Governor of California from 1967 until 1975. He is considered an icon of American conservatism. At age 69, he was the oldest person ever elected President. Before entering politics, Reagan was a popular motion picture actor, head of the Screen Actors Guild, and a motivational speaker. He was an "FDR Democrat" in the 1930s and 1940s but became a Republican in the 1960s. His persuasive speaking style earned Reagan the title "The Great Communicator." He was elected governor of the largest state, California, in 1966 and reelected in 1970.
In 1976, Reagan made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican Presidential nomination against incumbent Gerald Ford. By 1980, Reagan dominated the GOP and faced a much weakened President Jimmy Carter, whose performance in domestic and foreign policies Reagan denounced. Winning in a landslide, President Reagan had a momentous first term. He escalated the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and then negotiated massive arms reductions with the Soviets in the late 1980s. Rejecting both containment and détente, Reagan called for roll-back and the destruction of communism. His economic and foreign policies have formed the base of American conservatism since 1980.
In domestic affairs Reagan's economic policy of supply-side economics, or "Reaganomics," is noted for its implementation of a 25% cut in the federal personal income tax, a reduction in interest rates, a reduction in inflation, increased military spending, and a dramatic rise in deficits and the national debt. He was reelected in a 49-state landslide in 1984. He did create a more conservative federal judiciary through appointments to the United States Supreme Court and other federal courts.
Many political and social commentators have credited him with restoring a brisk new optimism to the American psyche that had remained awash in sullen negativity following the scars of the Watergate Scandal, the American defeat in Vietnam, and a late 1970s economy racked by spiraling inflation and interest rates. He was the only U.S. President to be shot by an assassin (on March 30, 1981) while in office and survive. After suffering from Alzheimer's disease for at least a decade, he died in 2004 at age 93 in Bel-Air, California.
Reagan was born on February 6, 1911, in an apartment above a bank in Tampico, Illinois. He was the second of two sons born to John Edward Reagan (1883-1941), an Irish American Catholic, and Nellie Clyde Wilson (1883-1962), who was of Scottish, Canadian, and English descent. His older brother was Neil Reagan (1908-1996). His paternal great-grandfather, Michael Reagan, came to the United States from Ballyporeen, County Tipperary, Ireland, in the 1860s, and the rest of his paternal family emigrated from Ireland in the 1800s as well.
During his childhood Reagan attended Mount Lebanon school district. There, he developed a gift for storytelling and acting. These abilities led to his selection as one of the freshman speakers during the late-night meeting prior to the student strike at Eureka College. In 1926 Reagan began work as a lifeguard at Lowell Park, near Dixon. He was credited with saving 77 lives during the seven summers he worked there. In 1932, after graduating from Eureka with a B.A. in economics and sociology, Reagan worked at radio stations WOC in Davenport, Iowa, and then WHO (an AM radio station) in Des Moines.
In 1937, when in California to cover spring training for the Chicago Cubs as a Headline radio announcer, Reagan took a screen test that led to a seven-year contract with the Warner Brothers studio. Reagan's clear voice, easy-going manner, and athletic physique made him popular with audiences; the majority of his screen roles were as the leading man in B movies. In total Reagan boasts a fairly prodigious credit history of 102 activities ranging from Cowpoke to a cameo appearance in Spies Like Us. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Reagan was commissioned as a reserve officer in the Army in 1935. In November 1941, Reagan was called up but disqualified for combat duty because of his astigmatism. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant Reagan was activated and assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit in the United States Army Air Forces, which made training and education films, where his acting experience could be put to work. He remained in Hollywood for the duration of the war.
His first major political role was as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the labor union that represented most Hollywood actors, but which, he claimed, was being infiltrated by communists. In this position, he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on suspected communist influence in the motion picture industry. He also kept tabs on actors he considered disloyal and reported them to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under the code name "Agent T-10," but he would not denounce them publicly. In public, he opposed the practice of blacklisting, while in private he and his first wife, Jane Wyman, met with FBI agents in 1947 to name "suspected subversives." Among those he allegedly fingered were actors Larry Parks, Howard Da Silva and Alexander Knox, each of whom was later called before HUAC and subsequently blacklisted in Hollywood. (This information was not revealed until a 2002 Freedom of Information Act request.) FBI files allegedly show that he continually gave the FBI names of people he suspected of communist ties.
The ever-looming threat of Communism soon persuaded Reagan that, of the major American political parties, the Republican was its more capable adversary. He supported the presidential candidacies of Dwight D. Eisenhower (1952;1956) and Richard Nixon (1960), while remaining a registered Democrat. Through these years, Reagan had been educating himself in the laissez-faire economics of classical liberalism; following the election of John F. Kennedy and the near catastrophe of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, he was ready to change his party affiliation. He joined the Republican party in time to mount the 1964 bandwagon of conservative Presidential contender Barry Goldwater. "I didn't leave the Democratic Party," he claimed. "The party left me." Speaking on the candidate's behalf, Reagan revealed his ideological motivation: "The Founding Fathers knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government set out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing."
In 1966, he was elected the 33rd Governor of California, defeating two-term Pat Brown; he was re-elected in 1970, defeating Jesse Unruh, but chose not to seek a third term. Ronald Reagan was sworn in as governor of California on January 3, 1967. In his first term, he froze government hiring but also approved tax hikes to balance the budget. Reagan quickly controlled protest movements of the era. During the People's Park protests in 1969, he sent 2,200 state National Guard troops onto the Berkeley campus of the University of California. In a speech in April 1970, he stated, "If it's to be a bloodbath, let it be now. Appeasement is not the answer."
He worked with Democratic Assembly Speaker Bob Moretti to reform welfare in 1971. Reagan also opposed the construction of a large federal dam, the Dos Rios, which would have flooded a valley of American Indian ranches. Later, Reagan and his family took a summer backpack trip into the high Sierra to a place where a proposed trans-Sierra highway would be built. Once there, he declared it would not be built. One of Reagan's greatest frustrations in office concerned capital punishment. He had campaigned as a strong supporter; however, his efforts to enforce the state's laws in this area were thwarted when the Supreme Court of California issued its People v. Anderson decision, which invalidated all death sentences issued in California prior to 1972, although the decision was quickly overturned by a constitutional amendment. Despite his support for the death penalty, Reagan granted two clemencies and a temporary reprieve during his governorship. As of 2006, no other clemency has been granted to a condemned person in California. The only execution during Reagan's governorship was on April 12, 1967, when Aaron Mitchell was executed by the state in San Quentin's gas chamber. There was not another execution in California until 1992. When the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped Patty Hearst in Berkeley and demanded the distribution of food to the poor, Reagan suggested that it would be a good time for an outbreak of botulism. After the media reported on the comment, he apologized.
Reagan promoted the dismantling of the public psychiatric hospital system, proposing that community-based housing and treatment replace involuntary hospitalization, which he saw as a violation of civil liberties issue. The community replacement facilities have never been adequately funded, either by Reagan or his successors. Reagan was strongly influenced by the classical liberals. When asked in an interview in 1975 which economists were influential on him, he replied: "Bastiat and von Mises, and Hayek and Hazlitt-I'm one for the classical economists."
Reagan was the first governor to use a corporate business jet for official travel. California received one of the first Cessna Citation jets manufactured. His pilot, Bill Paynter, changed his Democratic voting registration to Republican within six months of meeting Reagan. Paynter often told listeners the Reagan on TV was the same Reagan in person, a man who walked his talk. Reagan would often ask his flight crew if it would be any inconvenience to change the published flight schedule because he did not want to keep his support staff from being with their families and any family planned events.
Reagan first tested the Presidential waters in 1968 as part of a "Stop Nixon" movement which included those from the party's left led by then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Reagan managed to win the pledges of some 600 delegates, but Nixon quickly steamrolled to the nomination; Reagan urged the convention to nominate Nixon unanimously.
In 1976, Reagan challenged incumbent President Gerald Ford, a moderate. Reagan soon established himself as the conservative candidate; like-minded organizations such as the American Conservative Union became the key components of his political base. He relied on a strategy crafted by campaign manager John Sears of winning a few primaries early to seriously damage the liftoff of Ford's campaign, but the strategy quickly disintegrated. Poor management of expectations and an ill-timed speech promising to shift responsibility for federal services to the states without identifying any clear funding mechanism caused Reagan to lose New Hampshire and later Florida. Reagan found himself cornered, desperately needing a win to stay in the race.
Reagan's stand in the North Carolina primary was a do-or-die proposition. Hammering Ford on the Panama Canal, detente with the Soviet Union, busing of school children, and Henry Kissinger's performance as Secretary of State, Reagan won 53% to 47%. He used that bit of momentum to add the major states of Texas and California, but then fell back from losing efforts in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and Michigan. As the party's convention in Kansas City neared, Ford appeared close to victory, thanks to New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania delegates ostensibly under the control of Ford's liberal Vice President Rockefeller. Acknowledging the strength of his party's moderate and liberal wing, Reagan balanced his ticket by choosing as his running mate moderate Republican Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, Ford squeaked by with 1,187 delegates to Reagan's 1,070. Reagan's concession speech was a stirring exhortation, emphasizing the dangers of nuclear war and the moral threat posed by the Soviet Union.
The Briggs Initiative, which for a time was winning in polls conducted prior to the election with about 61% of voters supporting it while 31% opposed. The extreme right state legislator John Briggs was pushing Prop 6, the ballot initiative describing it as an initiative that would defend your children from homosexual teachers." Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Supervisor Dan White was leading the campaign for the passage of the Briggs Initiative.
It was the first attempt to restrict gay and lesbian rights through a ballot measure. However, it is historically significant that the polls changed in the opponents favor when former Governor Ronald Reagan, later President opposed the measure. Reagan opposed the ballot initiative sponsored by religious conservatives that would have barred homosexuals from teaching in the public schools. As legend has it, Reagan penned an editorial for a major California newspaper in which he opposed the initiative. The timing is significant because he was then preparing to run for president, a race in which he would need the support of conservatives and moderates who felt very uncomfortable with homosexual teachers, nevertheless Reagan chose to state his convictions.
However, in the fall of 2006, a committee of Log Cabin Republicans spearheaded by Trustee Kevin Norte began researching the legend of the Reagan editorial and the Briggs Initiative and utilized the services of a student worker, Grant Grays, at the Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies at the University of Minnesota Libraries. Grays discovered that there was no editorial penned by Reagan but rather he sent a letter to a pro-Briggs Initiative group in which he opposed the initiative. The entire text of Reagan's letter of opposition was never printed in the public media. The most extensive excerpts from his statement were reprinted in the San Francisco Chronicle of September 24, 1978 where it was revealed that the future President opposed the Briggs Initiative. Reagan's letter also allegedly stated, "Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual's sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child's teachers do not really influence this."
In the end the Briggs Initiative was defeated by over one million votes and would have prevented gay men and lesbians from being public school teachers in California. Even John Briggs' home territory, the conservative Orange County, rejected the measure. Without Reagan's personal, forceful opposition to Briggs it's likely the measure would have passed. There is, however, no public acknowledgement of Reagan's historic stance on the Briggs Initiative at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
In 1980, Reagan won the Republican nomination for President, handily winning most of the primaries after an early defeat in the Iowa caucuses. During the convention, Reagan proposed a complex power-sharing arrangement with Gerald Ford as Vice President, but nothing came of it. Instead, Reagan selected his opponent in the primaries, George H. W. Bush, who had extensive international experience.
On August 4, 1980, Ronald Reagan, as a candidate, delivered a speech near Philadelphia, Mississippi at the annual Neshoba County Fair. Reagan excited the crowd when he announced, "I believe in states' rights. I believe we have distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended to be given in the Constitution to that federal establishment." He went on to promise to "restore to states and local governments the power that properly belongs to them." Philadelphia was the scene of the June 21, 1964 murder of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, and Reagan's critics alleged that the presidential candidate was signaling a racist message to his audience. The speech was in keeping with his philosophy of a limited federal government, but critics alleged that Reagan had chosen the site for the speech and had made his states' rights declaration implicitly to appeal to southern white voters. In his biography of Reagan, Edmund Morris states that Reagan was still a firm believer in the supremacy of the federal government. Reagan, who felt many of the major civil rights bills of the 1960s were unnecessary considering the already extensive civil rights protection already in the U.S. Constitution. However, Reagan was vulnerable to charges of at least insensitivity to the cause of black civil rights. Still, according to the book Running on Race: Racial Politics in Presidential Campaigns, when Carter tried to accuse Reagan of racism, because of his record, it largely backfired against Carter. When one of Carter's main black supporters, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young tried to whip up black opposition to Reagan by stating that if he were elected, it would be "okay to kill " the strident language probably alienated more whites than it attracted blacks.
The presidential campaign, led by William J. Casey, was conducted in the shadow of the Iran hostage crisis; every day during the campaign the networks reported on Carter's unavailing efforts to free the hostages. Most analysts argue this weakened Carter's political base and gave Reagan the opportunity to attack Carter's ineffectiveness. On the other hand, Carter's inability to deal with double-digit inflation and unemployment, lackluster economic growth, instability in the petroleum market leading to long gas lines, and the perceived weakness of the U.S. national defense may have had a greater impact on the electorate. Adding to Carter's woes was his use of the term "misery index" during the 1976 election, which he defined as the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates. This so-called "misery index" had considerably worsened during his term, which Reagan used to his advantage during the campaign. With respect to the economy, Reagan said, "I'm told I can't use the word depression. Well, I'll tell you the definition. A recession is when your neighbor loses his job; depression is when you lose your job. Recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."
Reagan's showing in the televised debates boosted his campaign. He seemed more at ease, deflecting President Carter's criticisms with remarks like "There you go again." His most influential remark was a closing question to the audience, during a time of skyrocketing prices and high interest rates, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"
In the 1984 presidential election, Reagan was re-elected over former Vice President Walter Mondale, winning 49 of 50 states (Mondale carried only his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia). Reagan received nearly 60% of the popular vote. His chances of winning were not harmed when, at the Democratic National Convention, Mondale accepted the party nomination with a speech that was regarded as a self-inflicted mortal wound to his presidential aspirations. In it, Mondale remarked "Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did."
The campaign of 1984 also featured one of Reagan's most famous gaffes -- The infamous quotation "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes", spoken as a sound check prior to a radio address. Spoken during a time of great tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, it left many (particularly outside the United States) questioning Reagan's understanding of some of the realities of his foreign policy and of international affairs in general. Samples of the recording of the quotation were later turned into the dance record "Five Minutes" by Jerry Harrison and Bootsy Collins.
Reagan accepted the Republican nomination in Dallas, Texas, on a wave of good feeling bolstered by the recovering economy and the dominating performance by the U.S. athletes at the Los Angeles Olympics that summer. He became the first American President to open a summer Olympic Games held in the U.S.
Despite a weak performance in the first debate, Reagan recovered in the second and was considerably ahead of Mondale in polls taken throughout much of the race. Reagan's landslide win in the 1984 presidential election is often attributed by political commentators to be a result of his conversion of the "Reagan Democrats," the traditionally Democratic voters who voted for Reagan in that election.
As Reagan entered office the American economy faced the highest rate of inflation since 1947, and this was considered the nation's principal economic problem. Reagan was considered a small-government conservative and supported income tax cuts, cuts domestic government programs, and deregulation, but no one knew what concrete steps he meant to take, or whether the House, controlled by Democrats, would support him.
Reagan's first official act was to terminate oil price controls, a policy designed to boost America's domestic production and exploration of oil.
In the summer of 1981 Reagan, backing up a pledge he made when the union threatened to strike, fired a majority of federal air traffic controllers (members of the PATCO union) when they went on an illegal strike. Since this union was one of only two unions to support Reagan in the prior election, this action proved to be a political coup.
A major focus of Reagan's first term was reviving the economy, which was plagued by a new phenomenon known as stagflation (a stagnant economy combined with high inflation). He fought double-digit inflation by supporting Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker's decision to tighten the money supply by dramatically hiking interest rates. While successful at reducing inflation, this plunged the economy into its most severe recession since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate increased from 7.5% when Reagan took office to a peak of 10.8% in late 1982. By mid-1984, however, unemployment was back down to its early-1981 level, and continued to drift downward for the next five years, a period of strong economic growth. During the Reagan presidency, the inflation rate dropped from 13.6% in 1980 (President Carter's final year in office) to 4.1% by 1988, the economy added 16,753,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell from 7.5% to 5.3%. In addition, the poverty rate fell from 14% to 12.8
Reagan pursued a strategy of combining this tight-money policy with broad tax cuts designed to boost business investment (in Reagan's words: "Chicago school economics, supply-side economics, call it what you will - I noticed that it was even known as Reaganomics at one point until it started working..."). Ridiculed by George H.W. Bush as "voodoo," and others as "trickle-down," and "Reaganomics," he managed to push across-the-board tax cuts in 1981, although in 1982 and 1983 he signed tax increases.
Reagan's 1981 income tax cuts, the largest in American history, were passed with bipartisan support by the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate. Reagan's support for an increased defense budget also was supported by Congressional Democrats. These Democrats, however, were not so willing to go along with Reagan's proposed cuts in domestic programs. The resulting increase of the national budget deficit led Reagan and Congress to approve tax increases in 1982 and 1983.
The Tax Reform Act of 1986 both lowered tax rates and eliminated tax shelters and deductions. For some this caused taxes to go up, for others to go down, but the act was intentionally designed so that it would neither increase nor decrease tax federal revenue compared to previous baselines.
One of the Reagan Administration's cost-cutting moves was abolition of the U.S. Metric Board, established by President Gerald R. Ford, thereby ending the attempt to harmonize U.S. measurements with the majority of first world nations.
Alarmed by the growth in Social Security outlays, Reagan appointed a Social Security reform commission, headed by Alan Greenspan. This commission reached a bipartisan consensus on a two-part plan to slow the growth: raising the Social Security tax base by staged increases in the age required to begin receiving benefits (reflecting rising life expectancy); and increasing government revenues by accelerating a previously enacted (by Ronald Reagan) increase in the rates of social security payroll taxes.
In order to cover the federal budget deficit, the United States borrowed heavily both domestically and abroad, and by the end of Reagan's second term the national debt held by the public rose from 26% of Gross Domestic Product in 1980 to 41% in 1989, the highest level since 1963. By 1988, the debt totaled $2.6 trillion. The country owed more to foreigners than it was owed, and the United States moved from being the world's largest international creditor to the world's largest debtor nation.
During Reagan's presidency, all economic groups saw their income rise in real terms, including the bottom quintile, whose income rose 6 percent (Bureau of the Census, 1996.) The increases were stronger for the middle class and wealthier Americans, as they benefited from the growth of the stock market the increasingly high returns of college and post-graduate education.
Reagan was the first major world leader to declare that Communism would soon collapse. On March 3, 1983, he was blunt: "I believe that communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose - last pages even now are being written." His most detailed analysis came on June 8, 1982, to the British Parliament, stunning the Soviets and allies alike. The prevailing doctrine in the West was that the Soviet Union would be around for generations to come, and it was essential to recognize that and cooperate with Moscow. But Reagan argued that the Soviet Union was in deep economic crisis, which he intended to make worse by cutting off western technology. He stated the Soviet Union "runs against the tide of history by denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens."
Reagan forcefully confronted the Soviet Union, marking a sharp departure from the détente observed by his predecessors Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. Under the assumption that the Soviet Union could not then outspend the US government in a renewed arms race, he accelerated increases in defense spending begun during the Carter Administration and strove to make the Cold War economically and rhetorically hot.
The Administration oversaw a military build-up that represented a policy named "peace through strength". The U.S. set a new policy toward the Soviet Union with the goal of winning the Cold War by using a strategy outlined in NSDD-32 (National Security Decisions Directive). The directive outlined Reagan's plan to confront the USSR on three fronts: decrease Soviet access to high technology and diminish their resources, including depressing the value of Soviet commodities on the world market; increase American defense expenditures to strengthen the U.S. negotiating position; and force the Soviets to devote more of their economic resources to defense.
Around the world the U.S. used the Vietnam War example, by financially and diplomatically supporting anticommunist movements trying to overthrow Communist regimes. This included support for the Afghani insurgents and Poland's Solidarity movement.
Reagan argued that the American economy was on the move again; with the rapid computerization of the economy, high technology was the driving force. But the Soviets lagged far behind even South Korea when it came to high technology, and slipped further every year. Reagan made the Soviet predicament far worse by forbidding high tech exports to the Soviets from the U.S. or its allies. For a while the decline was masked by high prices for Soviet oil exports, but that advantage collapsed in the early 1980s. In November 1985, the oil price was $30/barrel for crude; in March 1986 it had fallen to $12, as the Soviet economy lost billions in revenues.
Both opponents and supporters noted his "sunny optimism", which was welcomed by many in comparison to his presidential predecessor, the often smiling, but serious, Carter. Reagan once said "The lessons of leadership were the same: hard work, a knowledge of the facts, a willingness to listen and be understanding, a strong sense of duty and direction, and a determination to do your best on behalf of the people you serve."
In response to being dubbed the Great Communicator, he said in his Farewell Address: "I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things..."
On March 30, 1981, Reagan, his press secretary James Brady, and two others were struck by gunfire from a deranged would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr.. Missing Reagan's heart by less than one inch, the bullet instead pierced his left lung, which likely spared his life. Reagan joked to the surgeons, "I hope you're all Republicans" (though they were not, Dr. Joseph Giordano replied, "We're all Republicans today"). Reagan later famously told his wife, "Honey, I forgot to duck" (borrowing Jack Dempsey's line to his wife the night he was beaten by Gene Tunney for the heavyweight championship). Reagan had been scheduled to visit the City of Brotherly Love on the day of the shooting. He quipped to a nurse, "All in all, I'd rather be in Philadelphia," referring to the W.C. Fields' tagline (which was itself a reference to an old vaudeville joke among comedians: "I'd rather be dead than play Philadelphia").
On January 11, 1989, Reagan addressed the nation for the last time on television from the Oval Office of the White House, nine days before handing over the presidency to George H. W. Bush. After Bush's inauguration, Reagan returned to his estate, Rancho del Cielo, near Santa Barbara, California, to write his autobiography, ride his horses, and chop wood. He eventually moved to a new home in Bel-Air, Los Angeles. In the fall of 1989, Fujisankei Communications Group of Japan hired him to make two speeches and attend a few corporate functions. Reagan's fee during his nine-day visit was about $2 million, more than he had earned during eight years as President. Reagan made occasional appearances on behalf of the Republican Party, including a well-received speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention. He publicly spoke in favor of a line-item veto, a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, and repealing the 22nd Amendment, which prohibits a President from serving more than two terms. Reagan's final public speech was on February 3, 1994, during a tribute in Washington, D.C.. His last public appearance was at the funeral of fellow Republican President Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994.
On November 5, 1994, Reagan announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He informed the nation of his condition via a hand-written letter. With his trademark optimism, he stated in conclusion: "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you."
As the years went on, the disease slowly destroyed his mental capacity, forcing him to live in quiet isolation. On February 6, 2001, Reagan reached the age of 90 and was only the third former US president to reach that age - the other two being John Adams and Herbert Hoover. Since the former president had a hip operation three weeks prior to his 90th birthday and had was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease for the past seven years, his 90th birthday was to be a low-key celebration with his family at his home in Bel-Air. Nancy Reagan, the wife of the former US president, told CNN's Larry King that very few visitors were allowed access to her husband because she felt that "Ronnie would want people to remember him as he was." Nancy Reagan went on to say that as the only ailment he had was the Alzheimer's disease he could live to be 100. People who had visited the former US president in his home said the disease was so well advanced that he was unable to recognize any of them and he could not remember anything about his days as US president. As of December 5, 2003, Reagan had begun to enter the final, fatal stage of Alzheimer's disease.
Reagan died of pneumonia on June 5, 2004 at 1:09 PM PDT at his home in Bel-Air, California. After a major state funeral in Washington that drew leaders from around the world, he was buried at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Interestingly, the state funeral was presided over by President George W. Bush, whose father was vice-president under Reagan and followed Reagan to the White House.
The Gallup Organization recently took asking respondents to name the greatest president in U.S. history. Ronald Reagan was chosen by 18% of Americans polled, followed by John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Ronald Reagan continues to be named year after year by Gallup and other polling organizations as one of the United States' most popular Presidents.
On February 6, 1998, Washington National Airport was renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport by a bill signed into law by President Clinton. Three years later, the USS Ronald Reagan was christened by the United States Navy. It is one of few ships christened in honor of a living person and the first to be named in honor of a living former President. Many other highways, schools and institutions were also named after Reagan during his post-presidential years. In 2005, Reagan was given two posthumous honors:
- On May 14, CNN, along with the editors of TIME, named him the "most fascinating person" of the network's first 25 years.
- On June 26, participating voters selected Reagan as the "Greatest American" during a live television special sponsored by AOL and broadcast live on the Discovery Channel.
These and other honors were, as one reporter noted, "a final win for the Gipper."
- In 2002, Congress authorized the creation of Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home National Historic Site in Dixon, Illinois, pending federal purchase of the property.
- Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Ronald and Nancy Reagan