'Great Communicator' dies

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - Ronald Reagan, who rose from the movie sets of Hollywood to become one of the most popular and influential presidents of the 20th century, died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 93.

During two terms as president, Mr. Reagan turned conservatism into a powerful and durable force in modern American politics. His belief in lower taxes and higher defense spending guided his Republican successors, who found it advantageous to identify themselves not only as conservatives, but also as "Reagan conservatives."


He was the oldest man to serve as president, leaving office a few weeks short of his 78th birthday, and at his death had lived longer than any other president. The last decade of his life was largely spent out of the public eye, after a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease in the early 1990s.

His wife, Nancy, and two of his children, Ronald Prescott and Patricia Ann, were with him when he died. Mrs. Reagan said in a statement: "My family and I would like the world to know that President Ronald Reagan has passed away after 10 years of Alzheimer's disease at 93 years of age. We appreciate everyone's prayers."


President Bush, who received word of Mr. Reagan's death during a visit to France, paid tribute to him as "our leader."

"During the years of President Reagan, America laid to rest an era of division and self-doubt," Mr. Bush said. "And because of his leadership, the world laid to rest an era of fear and tyranny."

The president is one of Mr. Reagan's political heirs, as is Mr. Bush's father, who served as Mr. Reagan's vice president and succeeded him as president.

A largely self-made man, Mr. Reagan was often underestimated because of his background as an actor. But in his second career as a politician, he became the definition of a modern Republican and, to many contemporaries, the party's pivotal figure.

Historian Lewis L. Gould wrote in last year's Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans, "Reagan stands supreme as the embodiment of GOP virtues and conservative ideals."

Mr. Reagan's years in office, from 1981 to 1989, marked a turning point for America at home and abroad. His popularity was reflected in a landslide 1984 re-election that won him a record number of electoral votes and more popular votes than any other Republican in history.

Mr. Reagan "was centrally responsible for the end of the Cold War and a fundamental redirection of the nation's domestic priorities," concluded Fred I. Greenstein of Princeton University.

He was widely credited with restoring public confidence in the presidency after a long period of drift that included the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal and the Iran hostage crisis. And yet those who worked closely with him and aided his rise to power were struck by how little affected he seemed by the experience.


"Ronald Reagan didn't change from the day I met him to the day he left office, other than to be a little wiser, a little savvier, which is a natural thing," Stuart Spencer, his longtime political adviser, said in an interview for a 2000 television documentary. "He believed in 1965 what he believed in 1988. What you saw with Ronald Reagan was what you got. There was no 'other' Ronald Reagan in private. He didn't change."

A political performer

Dubbed the "Great Communicator" by admirers, Ronald Wilson Reagan was the quintessential president for a media age that began when television emerged in the mid-20th century as a focal point of American life.

In the decades after World War II, the three broadcast TV networks came to dominate national elections. And in Mr. Reagan - a former radio announcer, movie actor and TV series host - presidential politics found a first great performer.

Mr. Reagan was helped when his adversaries, and at times even his supposed allies, sold him short.

In 1976, when Mr. Reagan challenged President Gerald R. Ford for the Republican nomination, former President Richard M. Nixon told a Ford adviser: "Ronald Reagan is a lightweight and not someone to be considered seriously or feared in terms of a challenge for the nomination."


Though Mr. Reagan narrowly missed winning the nomination that year, he succeeded four years later and unseated Democratic President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election.

During Mr. Reagan's presidency, the long Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union wound down to its final stage.

Mr. Reagan came to power by campaigning as an anti-government outsider. And he continued to run against Washington, even after he had been living in the White House for years. It is a model that, rhetorically at least, his successors have followed to some degree.

"Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem," he said in his 1981 inaugural address.

His conservative policies put the brakes on a half-century of growth in government's size and scope. At Mr. Reagan's prodding, Democrats in Congress joined with Republicans in slashing taxes and curbing the growth of domestic social spending.

But the military was sharply expanded, resulting in budget imbalances that added trillions of dollars to the government's debt. Conservatives maintain, in one of several continuing debates over Mr. Reagan's legacy, that those budget deficits were the stimulus for an economic boom that continued through the 1990s.


As president, Mr. Reagan was frequently described as intellectually lazy. Critics said his detached style of governing led him to delegate too much responsibility to others. But his successes made him a model for others, including the current president, who has consciously sought to imitate the Reagan style and has been similarly criticized as incurious.

George W. Bush is "the most Reagan-like politician we have seen," Michael Deaver, the chief White House image-maker during Mr. Reagan's first term, was quoted as saying.

The common touch

Among Mr. Reagan's greatest gifts as a politician was his ability to connect emotionally with ordinary Americans. The handsome former actor eluded political damage with no apparent effort - the result, at least in part, of a powerful mixture of personal charm and political cunning. Opponents grudgingly dubbed him the "Teflon president" because gaffes - and worse - never seemed to stick to him.

Barely two months into his first term, Mr. Reagan survived an assassination attempt. The shooting on March 30, 1981, nearly cost him his life.

Surgeons removed from Mr. Reagan's chest a .22-caliber bullet that had been fired by John W. Hinckley Jr. as the president left the Washington Hilton hotel after a luncheon speech. He recovered completely and went on to surpass Dwight D. Eisenhower as the oldest president.


The final years of Mr. Reagan's administration were marred by scandal, but his standing remained high enough to help his vice president, George Bush, succeed him.

In 1996, when Americans were asked in an opinion poll which former president they wanted to have leading the country, Mr. Reagan was rated second only to John F. Kennedy.

The nation's 40th president was a man of contradictions, large and small. He called for balancing the budget while running up more debt than all his predecessors combined. By some accounts, he was the most carefully stage-managed president ever, yet he was popularly admired as a strong leader.

Mr. Reagan played down his political ambitions and was 55 before he won his first elective office. But he started making political speeches in his 30s and spent a dozen years pursuing the nation's highest office before finally achieving it.

He was an outspoken critic of government activism, but he did more to shake up the federal establishment than any president of the past four decades.

His arrival in Washington led to a startling national mood swing: an unexpected surge in the public's faith that government would do the right thing.


"America," Mr. Reagan proudly declared after his third year in office, was "back, standing tall."

That upswing would prove fairly short-lived. Well before he left Washington, the burst of optimism had fizzled. The steady decline in trust in government, which began in the 1960s, had resumed its downward course.

Early life

Mr. Reagan's path from Tinseltown celebrity to leader of the world's greatest superpower had a parallel in the evolution of his political views. The man who would become the 20th century's pre-eminent conservative started out as a liberal Democrat, an ardent backer of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the father of modern big government.

Like many others who prospered in California, Mr. Reagan was the product of a small Midwestern town. He was born into modest circumstances on Feb. 6, 1911, in Tampico, Ill.

His father, Jack Reagan, was an alcoholic and had trouble keeping a job, and the family moved from town to town as he sought work as a shoe salesman. In 1920, they settled in Dixon, Ill., about 80 miles west of Chicago, which Mr. Reagan came to regard as his hometown.


His mother, Nelle, retained a deep-seated sense of optimism, according to her son, who projected her upbeat view of life.

His mother, a frustrated actress, pushed him onto the stage, beginning with church and school skits. Almost 70 years later, he recalled his first such appearance. "The applause was music," he said. "I didn't know it then, but, in a way, when I walked off the stage that night, my life had changed."

A mediocre student more interested in sports than academics, he graduated in 1932 from tiny Eureka College, a school affiliated with his mother's religion, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The Great Depression was under way, and Mr. Reagan acknowledged that he idolized FDR. So did his liberal Democratic father, who got a government job under Roosevelt's New Deal.

Mr. Reagan began his entertainment career as a radio announcer. In 1937, fulfilling a boyhood fantasy, he took a Hollywood screen test and won an acting contract from the Warner Brothers studio.

He appeared in 53 films over 20 years, followed by almost a decade on television.

His best-remembered role was as a bit player in 1940's Knute Rockne - All American (1940), the story of Notre Dame's legendary football coach. Mr. Reagan played halfback George Gipp, whose tragic death was used by Rockne, years later, to inspire his players with a plea to "win just one for the Gipper." When he became president, White House insiders often referred to Mr. Reagan as "the Gipper" - though not to his face.


In Hollywood, Mr. Reagan began forming his conservative ideology and was an industry politician. He honed his speaking skills as a corporate pitchman and made contact with a group of wealthy men who would become personal and professional benefactors.

He joined the Army Reserve in 1937 and was called to active duty during World War II. He spent 1942 and 1943 making training films in Culver City, Calif.

In 1940, he married actress Jane Wyman, whose film stardom he couldn't match. They met during the shooting of Brother Rat, and their marriage yielded two children: Maureen, who died of cancer in 2001, and an adopted son, Michael. They separated as Mr. Reagan's movie career was declining in 1948; that same year Ms. Wyman won an Academy Award.

The divorce, which became final in 1949, would later make Mr. Reagan the only divorced man to be elected president.

His first office of note was as president of the Screen Actors Guild, shortly after World War II.

During the late 1940s, Mr. Reagan became a secret informant for the FBI in its drive against suspected Communists in Hollywood.


In March 1952, he married another actress, Nancy Davis, who would remain the dominant figure in his personal life until his death. Their daughter, Patricia Ann, born in October of that year, spent much of her life rebelling against her parents, including while Mr. Reagan was president. A son, Ronald Prescott Reagan, was born in 1958.

Mrs. Reagan became her husband's protector and closest adviser, exerting considerable influence over his activities. At the White House, she had a role in major staffing decisions and helped direct his schedule, at times with the advice of a San Francisco astrologer.

"Not since Edith Galt Wilson served as a caretaker of her husband's White House after his debilitating stroke had a First Lady been as dominant as Mrs. Reagan," wrote historian Herbert Parmet.

Into politics

With his movie career fading, Mr. Reagan began a new one, in 1954, in the medium of television, then just beginning to take off. He became the host of a weekly show, the General Electric Theater. He also toured GE plants around the country, polishing his campaign skills and a pro-business, anti-government philosophy. In 1962, the company dropped him for being too controversial.

Though still a registered Democrat, Mr. Reagan's personal wealth and increasingly hostile attitude toward government were pushing him in another direction. He switched parties in 1962 and, two years later, gave an electrifying speech on national television on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.


That speech, titled "A Time for Choosing," thrust Mr. Reagan into the national political spotlight. Its attack on big government and high taxes would become the cornerstone of his subsequent career.

Mr. Reagan, then the host of a Western TV series, Death Valley Days, was propelled into the world of electoral politics with the active encouragement and financial support of a group of wealthy California friends - his "kitchen cabinet," which remained an important influence until he left public life.

In 1966, Mr. Reagan unseated two-term Democrat Edmund G. "Pat" Brown as governor of California, which had just become the nation's most populous state.

Once in office, he battled with student radicals at the University of California, to the delight of conservative supporters. For 17 days in 1969, he posted National Guard troops on the Berkeley campus after a violent confrontation between demonstrators and police officers left one man dead.

California's left-wing student radicalism was the start of a broader national trend. But relations between the governor and the higher education establishment were aggravated by Mr. Reagan's proposals to cut budgets and raise tuition. In the end, Mr. Reagan chose to compromise, restoring funds for higher education, a pattern of accommodation he repeated when he came to Washington.

He was re-elected, in 1970, on a pledge to reform the state's welfare system. But he had already begun raising his sights. He made a brief, late fling at the 1968 Republican presidential nomination, winning the California primary as a favorite son and offering himself to Southern delegates as a more conservative alternative to former Vice President Nixon. By the time the delegates gathered in Miami Beach that summer, however, the nomination was Mr. Nixon's.


Shrugging off his first, failed presidential try, Mr. Reagan began riding a wave of conservative reaction to what some Americans had come to regard as an overly permissive social attitude by many young people and their parents.

When Mr. Nixon was forced to resign by the Watergate scandal in 1974, and his successor, Mr. Ford, chose the liberal Nelson A. Rockefeller as his vice president, conservatives began pressing Mr. Reagan to run for the Republican nomination.

Attacking Mr. Ford over foreign policy - in particular, his support for a plan to surrender control of the Panama Canal to Panama - Mr. Reagan scored an upset victory over his party's president in the 1976 North Carolina primary. A run of late primary victories followed, and Mr. Reagan came extremely close to taking the nomination from an incumbent president.

With the nomination on the line, Mr. Reagan made a last-gasp attempt to sway undecided delegates by announcing that he would choose a liberal Republican, Sen. Richard S. Schweiker of Pennsylvania, as his running mate. The ploy failed, and Mr. Ford was nominated. But the episode showed Mr. Reagan to be less of a conservative ideologue than either his critics contended or his supporters believed.

Mr. Ford went on to lose the presidency to Mr. Carter, and Mr. Reagan quickly became the early favorite to lead the Republicans in 1980. His third White House try centered on a now-familiar theme: his promise to get the government off the backs of the American people.

As a candidate, Mr. Reagan called for a cut in spending for social welfare programs and a huge increase in military spending. He also proposed to slash income tax rates, an action he predicted would generate more money for the government by stimulating private investment, a so-called supply-side miracle. George Bush, who became his leading challenger for the nomination, derided the idea as "voodoo economics."


Mr. Bush's criticism and other events during the campaign left Mrs. Reagan uneasy about Mr. Bush and raised questions in Mr. Reagan's mind. But Mr. Reagan wound up offering the vice presidential nomination to his defeated rival at the 1980 GOP convention in Detroit.

The presidency

On Nov. 4, 1980, Mr. Reagan unseated Mr. Carter by 51 percent to 41 percent; independent candidate John Anderson drew 7 percent of the vote. Other Republicans rode Mr. Reagan's coattails to victory in Senate elections, giving Republicans control of that chamber for the first time in 28 years.

The decisive votes had been cast by a new group of swing voters known as Reagan Democrats. They were working-class, urban, ethnic and Catholic whites whom Mr. Reagan successfully pried away from their Democratic roots by appealing to their patriotism, opposition to abortion and anxieties over losing their jobs to immigrants and minorities.

As promised, he presided over the largest peacetime military expansion in American history, a $1 trillion arms buildup later credited with hastening the breakup of the Soviet Union.

He undertook the dismantling of a vast, expensive government establishment begun by Mr. Roosevelt during the Depression years of the 1930s and expanded in later decades, though Mr. Reagan failed to shrink the overall size of government.


His policies, rubber-stamped by a compliant Congress, resulted in 15 years of unbalanced budgets that left the government with little money for new social welfare spending, effectively curbing the sorts of programs the new president had criticized for decades.

Less than three months into his presidency, Mr. Reagan survived the attempt on his life by John Hinckley, the psychologically disturbed 25-year-old son of a wealthy Colorado oilman.

One of the bullets fired by Mr. Hinckley wounded James Brady, the president's press secretary, causing permanent brain damage.

Another bullet hit a Washington police officer. A third struck a Secret Service agent. Another ricocheted off the president's armored Lincoln limousine and lodged one inch from Mr. Reagan's heart.

Mr. Reagan did not initially know he was shot. An alert Secret Service agent, Jerry Parr, shoved the president into the waiting limousine. As the car sped off, the agent noticed blood coming from Mr. Reagan's mouth and ordered the driver to head for the nearest emergency room.

Mr. Reagan's handling of the attempt on his life, and its aftermath, helped remove any doubts about the character of the new president. "Honey, I forgot to duck," he was quoted as saying, repeating an old movie line, when Mrs. Reagan rushed to his side at George Washington Hospital, a short distance down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. "Please, tell me you're Republicans," he cracked to the doctors preparing him for emergency surgery.


Mr. Reagan came out of the ordeal with his personal stature greatly enhanced by his brave and seemingly lighthearted reaction to the shooting. Asked later in the year what he would have done differently during the first six months of his administration, he replied, "I wouldn't have gone to the Hilton Hotel."

Supporters described his agenda as the "Reagan Revolution." The heart of the program, dubbed Reaganomics, was an enormous increase in military spending and a similarly big cut in income tax rates. The budget would be balanced and a "safety net" of social programs would be preserved, the president argued, thanks to the miracle of supply-side economics: lower taxes would unleash a wave of private investment, expanding the economy and generating more total tax money for the government.

So went the theory, which Reagan's budget director, David Stockman, a former Republican congressman from Michigan, was charged with implementing. Privately, Mr. Stockman doubted both Mr. Reagan's knowledge of the economic plan and his commitment to hard-line conservative ideology. Revolution "wasn't in his bones," Mr. Stockman concluded. In a confession to liberal journalist William Greider, the disillusioned Reagan budget director went further. Reaganomics "was always a Trojan horse," he admitted, a new way to impose the old idea of trickle-down economics, which directly benefited the rich and only indirectly, if at all, the poor.

Mr. Reagan's election began a period in which Republican candidates fared markedly better with male voters than with women - a phenomenon that came to be known as the "gender gap." But Mr. Reagan made feminist history when he chose Sandra Day O'Connor, a conservative 51-year-old former Republican state legislator from Arizona, as the first woman on the Supreme Court, replacing Justice Potter Stewart, who retired.

By 1982, Mr. Reagan's second year in office, the nation plunged into what economists described as the worst recession since the Depression. To help repair the budget chasm created by the Reagan economic program, Congress approved the largest tax increase in history in 1982, and the president signed it into law. That year, Republicans suffered a midterm election loss of 26 House seats, postponing for a dozen years the Republican dream of regaining control of both the Senate and the House.

In 1983, the Social Security system was overhauled by Congress, which acted on the recommendations of a bipartisan commission appointed by the president. The plan raised the retirement age to 67 by the year 2027 and increased payroll taxes. The action ended a two-year fight that began when the Reagan administration proposed cutting benefits to keep the retirement system from going broke.


By this time, Mr. Reagan had become rather remote from the day-to-day running of the government. Never one to work long hours, he had the portrait of one of his early heroes, President Calvin Coolidge - a famous delegator who tried to avoid issues during his administration in the 1920s - hung in the Cabinet room at the White House.

Mr. Reagan "did a lot of delegating, but he'd always kind of come down in the right place and he just didn't pay that much attention to the detail behind policies. He just kind of knew in a broad sense where he wanted to be, or how he wanted to get there," his vice president, George Bush, told biographer Herbert Parmet in 1996.

Even as president, aides said, Mr. Reagan never completely lost touch with the values of his roots in the small Midwestern town.

"If he emptied his pants pocket, you would always find about five good-luck charms that people had sent him. I am sure he reads his horoscope every day," Mr. Deaver, the Reagan aide, wrote in 1987.

The second term

The Reagan-Bush ticket was re-elected in 1984, capturing 49 states against Mr. Carter's former vice president, Walter F. Mondale, and Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman named to a major national party ticket.


"You ain't seen nothin' yet," Mr. Reagan liked to declare while campaigning, recycling an old show-business boast. But, in fact, his second term lacked the electricity of the first, at least on the domestic side.

Mr. Reagan was also showing signs of age. In 1985, he underwent surgery for colon cancer. During the operation, for the first time ever, provisions of the 25th Amendment were put into effect, temporarily turning presidential powers over to Vice President Bush. Mr. Reagan was also operated on during his presidency for skin cancer.

The Reagan revolution faded long before his presidency ended. But after the 1982-1983 recession, the economy returned to health, thanks to tight monetary policies by the Federal Reserve Board, a drop in oil prices and the stimulus produced by deficit spending.

The 1980s had become the "greed decade," said critics, viewing the Reagans, and especially the first lady, as prominent symbols of conspicuous consumption. The impression was planted early when Mrs. Reagan persuaded the Knapp Foundation of St. Michaels, Md., to donate $209,000 for a 220-place setting of gilt-edged White House china.

The debate over the impact of the Reagan domestic program continued after he left office. It was blamed for "inflaming racial animosities, narrowing access to education and shifting the burden for social welfare to the private sector, even as the pace of charitable giving declined," Andrew Delbanco, a Columbia University professor, wrote in 1997.

A similar debate raged over the impact of the Reagan foreign policy. During his administration, there was a marked increase in the use of U.S. military force abroad, which had been constrained for nearly a decade by the "Vietnam syndrome," an aversion to armed intervention in the affairs of other countries.


In 1983, almost 5,000 U.S. Marines, Army Rangers and paratroopers landed on the island nation of Grenada in the eastern Caribbean, ostensibly to rescue a thousand Americans, including 595 U.S. students at a medical school. The invasion was also designed to keep Cuba's Communist government from gaining a foothold in the region.

The invasion Oct. 25 came just two days after a terrorist truck bomb killed 241 U.S. service members at a Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, where about 1,800 Americans had been part of a four-nation peacekeeping force. No one has ever been held accountable for the attack.

With no prior background in international affairs, Mr. Reagan pulled no punches. The hawkish, hard-line anti-Communist described communism as "the focus of evil in the modern world" and famously termed the Soviet Union an "evil empire"

But during his presidency, the superpower struggle with the Soviet Union all but came to an end. After Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev announced in December 1988 that he was making unilateral cuts in the Soviet military, a national poll found that a majority of Americans believed the Soviets were either a minor threat to the United States or none at all.

Such was not the case when Mr. Reagan took office. He argued that the Soviet Union had gained military superiority over the United States and that an unprecedented military buildup was needed to redress the balance. The Cold War, and Cold War thinking, still held sway.

The defense buildup of the Reagan years actually began during the Carter administration, when U.S. military spending was increased in an effort to close a perceived "window of vulnerability" in the arms race with the Soviets.


In March 1983, the administration proposed a major new military spending program. Nicknamed "star wars" by critics, the Strategic Defense Initiative was designed to provide a space-based missile defense shield against Soviet missiles. It was the forerunner of continuing, largely Republican efforts - thus far unsuccessful - to protect the United States against ballistic missile attack with a system of defensive missiles.

After Mr. Reagan's re-election, and Mr. Gorbachev's ascension as Soviet president in early 1985, the endgame of the 40-year superpower competition was at hand. The American president's willingness to negotiate with the Soviet leader has been credited with hastening the conclusion of the Cold War.

Mr. Reagan's missile defense plan became a bargaining chip as the two men began a series of four annual summit meetings, starting in 1985 in Geneva.

Even as the superpowers were making progress on nuclear arms issues, Mr. Reagan was keeping up the rhetorical pressure.

During a visit to Berlin in 1987, the American president challenged his Russian counterpart: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Two years later, after Mr. Reagan had left office, the wall did crumble, along with the Soviet empire. Today, a large concrete remnant of the Berlin Wall stands just a few feet from the site where Mr. Reagan is to be buried behind the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.

While Mr. Reagan was making progress in the field of foreign policy, his second term was marred by scandals, including one with roots in international affairs.


Under Mr. Reagan, the United States had dispatched military assistance to Central America, to prevent Nicaragua from becoming another Cuba and falling into the Soviet orbit. In August 1985, the United States also began making secret arms sales to Iran, then embroiled in a war with neighboring Iraq.

Under the "Reagan doctrine" of support for freedom fighters, profits from the arms deals were used to covertly provide aid to anti-Communist Nicaraguan "contra" forces. But Congress had attempted to ban such aid. Disclosure of the transaction in 1986 caused a storm of controversy.

Ultimately, three Reagan aides at the center of the covert deal - national security advisers Robert C. McFarlane and John M. Poindexter, and Lt. Col. Oliver North, an aide to both men - were prosecuted for criminal violations in connection with the Iran-contra affair. Mr. McFarlane pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges; the felony convictions of Mr. Poindexter and Mr. North were overturned on appeal.

The disclosure of the Iran-contra scandal fed growing doubts about Mr. Reagan's role in his presidency and added to a perception of him as inattentive and insufficiently involved in the running of the government.

"He thought of himself as the leading man, not the producer or the director, and he usually counted on his aides and sometimes on his wife to know what was best for him," biographer Lou Cannon wrote in 1991 in President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime.

"There have been times in this office when I've wondered how you could do the job if you hadn't been an actor," Mr. Reagan said shortly before leaving the White House.


The last years

As a former president, Mr. Reagan made occasional public appearances. A visit to Japan in 1989 generated negative publicity after it was reported that he had been paid a $2 million fee by his host, a Japanese media conglomerate, Fujisankei Communications Group.

In November 1994, at age 83, Mr. Reagan made public the fact that he was suffering from acute memory loss and other manifestations of the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. In a poignant, handwritten letter to the public, he said the diagnosis indicated that he had started on "the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life."

His final years were largely spent alone with his wife, who helped raise the public's awareness of the disease and its debilitating effects on both the victim and the victim's family.

In 2000, a long-awaited biography of Mr. Reagan finally reached bookstores. Despite more than 14 years of effort, historian Edmund Morris, who had been granted unprecedented access to Mr. Reagan during his second presidential term, failed to shed fresh light on his subject, whom he once called "the most mysterious man I have ever confronted."

A California journalist theorized that the official biographer had been looking too hard for the real Ronald Reagan.


"Reagan always was out front," wrote George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times. "You got what you saw: A sincere man of conviction and tenacity who could relate to common people and focused on a few goals that had lured him into politics - beating the Commies, cutting taxes and reducing government. He succeeded in the first two. He failed in the third because deficit spending was the price he paid for bringing the Soviets to their knees and ending the threat of nuclear annihilation."

Mr. Skelton, who covered Mr. Reagan for 20 years as governor and president, also took note of his upbeat personality.

"Reagan liked practically everybody. That was one of his secrets," he wrote. "But it was no mystery."

"I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Breen."

When someone tried to turn off his microphone at a Reagan-sponsored debate during 1980 New Hampshire primaries.

"We have to move ahead, but we are not going to leave anyone behind."


Republican National Convention, July 1980

"There you go again."

Responding to criticism during debate with President Carter, October 1980.

"Government is not the solution, it's the problem."

Inaugural address, Jan. 20, 1981

"All of us need to be reminded that the federal government did not create the states, the states created the federal government."


Inaugural address, Jan. 20, 1981.

"Honey, I forgot to duck."

To Nancy Reagan after he was shot by a would-be assassin, March 30, 1981.

"It's just plain common sense that there be a waiting period to allow local law enforcement officials to conduct background checks on those who wish to buy a handgun."

Endorsing the Brady handgun control bill in March 1991 .

"I was pleased last year to proclaim 1983 the year of the Bible. But, you know, a group called the ACLU severely criticized me for doing that. Well, I wear their indictment like a badge of honor."


January 1984.

"I've always stated that the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth is a government program."

April 1986

"A [nuclear weapons] freeze now would be a very dangerous fraud, for that is merely the illusion of peace. The reality is that we must find peace through strength.

Speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, March 1983. (He wrote six years later that "I could not ... today call the Soviet Union an evil empire")

"If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe ... come here to this gate ... open this gate ... tear down this wall."


June 1987 speech at Brandenberg Gate in Berlin, addressed to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev

"Sending the Marines to Beirut was the source of my greatest regret and greatest sorrow."

On the Lebanon bombing that killed 241 servicemen in 1983, in his 1990 book, An American Life

"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them ... as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.'"

After Challenger shuttle disaster, Jan. 28, 1986

"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."


Joke while testing microphone, Aug. 11, 1984

"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."

Nov. 5, 1994, announcing he had Alzheimer's disease