Ronald Reagan facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
(Redirected from Presidency of Ronald Reagan)

Ronald Reagan
Official Portrait of President Reagan 1981.jpg
40th President of the United States
In office
January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989
Vice President George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Jimmy Carter
Succeeded by George H. W. Bush
33rd Governor of California
In office
January 2, 1967 – January 6, 1975
Preceded by Pat Brown
Succeeded by Jerry Brown
President of the Screen Actors Guild
In office
November 16, 1959 – June 12, 1960
Preceded by Howard Keel
Succeeded by George Chandler
In office
November 17, 1947 – November 9, 1952
Preceded by Robert Montgomery
Succeeded by Walter Pidgeon
Personal details
Ronald Wilson Reagan

(1911-02-06)February 6, 1911
Tampico, Illinois, U.S.
Died June 5, 2004(2004-06-05) (aged 93)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting place Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, California, U.S.
34°15′35.5896″N 118°49′11.301″W / 34.259886°N 118.81980583°W / 34.259886; -118.81980583
Political party Republican (1962–2004)
Other political
Democratic (Before 1962)
Spouse(s) Jane Wyman
(1940–1949; divorced)
Nancy Davis
(1952–2004; his death)
Children With Wyman:
Maureen Reagan (dead)
Christine Reagan (stillborn)
Michael Reagan (adopted)
With Davis:
Patti Davis
Ron Reagan
Alma mater Eureka College
Signature Cursive signature in ink
Military service
Branch/service United States Army
United States Army Air Forces
Years of service 1937–45
Rank US-O3 insignia.svg Captain

Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was an American actor and politician. He was the President of the United States from 1981 to 1989. He was the Governor of California from 1967 to 1975. Reagan was President of the Screen Actors Guild twice, from 1947 to 1952 and again from 1959 to 1960. Reagan was a movie, television and radio actor before he began his career in politics.

Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois. Reagan had a successful career in Hollywood. He appeared in 53 movies. He married actress Jane Wyman in 1940. The couple divorced in 1949. They had three children. Reagan then married Nancy Davis in 1952. They had two children. Their marriage would last until Reagan's death in 2004.

Before winning his president election in 1980, Reagan ran for president two times in 1968 and in 1976. At 69 years old, he is the second oldest person elected president of the United States, just under Donald Trump who was elected at age 70. He is known as the "Great Communicator" because he was a good public speaker. Reagan was also known as the "Teflon president" because any criticism or scandals against him never stuck or affected his popularity. Reagan still remains one of the most popular presidents in American history because of his optimism for the country. Reagan was the first president of the United States to have been divorced.

Reagan was inaugurated in January 1980. As president, Reagan helped create a new political and economic idea. He created the supply-side economic policies. It was later called Reaganomics. Reagan's economic policy lowered tax rates. It created an economic growth and lowered inflation. In his first term he also survived an assassination attempt. Reagan also declared a War on Drugs. Reagan ordered an invasion of Grenada to end a Communist coup.

He was re-elected in a landslide victory in 1984. During his second term, Reagan worked on ending the Cold War. He also ordered the 1986 bombing of Libya. In 1987, the Reagan administration faced a political scandal. It was the Iran–Contra affair. Reagan worked with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev during his second term. This led to the signing of the INF Treaty. It decreased nuclear weapons in the United States and the Soviet Union. Reagan left office in January 1989.

Reagan was originally a Democrat. In 1962 he changed to the Republican party. He is ranked high in presidential opinion polls.

Reagan died on June 5, 2004 at his Bel Air, Los Angeles home from pneumonia after a ten year battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 93 years old.

Early life

Photograph of Ronald Reagan (with "Dutch boy" haircut) Neil Reagan (brother) and Parents Jack and Nelle Reagan - NARA - 198605 (cropped)
Reagan as a toddler, 1914

Reagan was born to Jack and Nelle Reagan on February 6, 1911 in a small apartment building in Tampico, Illinois. He had an older brother named Neil. His father was a Roman Catholic of Irish descent. His mother was a Protestant of English and Scottish descent.

The family moved to different places in Illinois when Reagan was a child. They moved to Monmouth, Galesburg, and Chicago. His family finally settled in Dixon, Illinois. They lived in a small house in Dixon. His family was very poor. Reagan did not have much as a child. In high school, Reagan enjoyed acting. Reagan was athletic. He became a lifeguard. He saved 77 lives.

Reagan graduated from Eureka College in 1932. He became a sports announcer at news radio station WHO. Reagan was also a broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs. He was good at recreating baseball games. He made them interesting. At this time, the radio station would get only the scores. He was fired for not mentioning the show's sponsors. Reagan was soon re-hired. Station executives could not find anyone as capable as Reagan to re-create baseball games.

Acting career

His first screen credit was the starring role in the 1937 movie Love Is on the Air. He then starred in many movies such as Dark Victory with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart. Before the movie Santa Fe Trail with Errol Flynn in 1940, he played the role of George "The Gipper" Gipp in the movie Knute Rockne, All American. From his role in the movie, he got the lifelong nickname "the Gipper". In 1941, experts voted him the fifth most popular star from the younger generation in Hollywood.

Ronald Reagan in Cowboy From Brooklyn trailer
Reagan in the Cowboy from Brooklyn trailer, 1938

Reagan's favorite acting role was as a double amputee in 1942's Kings Row. In the movie, he says the line, "Where's the rest of me?". It was later used as the title of his 1965 autobiography. Many movie critics thought Kings Row to be his best movie. Even though the movie was popular, it received bad reviews by New York Times critic Bosley Crowther.

Ronald Reagan and General Electric Theater 1954-62
Reagan in a photo for General Electric Theater

Although Reagan called Kings Row the movie that "made me a star", he was unable to keep up on his success. This was because he was ordered to active duty with the U.S. Army at San Francisco two months after the movie's release.

During World War II, Reagan was separated for four years from his movie career. He served in the 1st Motion Picture Unit. After the war, Reagan co-starred in such movies such as in, The Voice of the Turtle, John Loves Mary, The Hasty Heart, Bedtime for Bonzo, Cattle Queen of Montana, Juke Girl, This Is the Army, The Winning Team, Tennessee's Partner, and Hellcats of the Navy, in which he worked with his wife, Nancy. Reagan's last movie was a 1964 movie The Killers. Throughout his movie career, his mother, Nelle, often answered much of his fan mail.

Reagan was also a spokesperson. He hosted the General Electric Theater since it was first shown in 1953. He was fired in 1962.

President of the Screen Actors Guild

Reagan was first elected to the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild in 1941. After World War II, he quickly returned to Screen Actors Guild. Reagan became the 3rd vice-president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1946. Reagan was nominated in a special election to become president of the Screen Actors Guild. Reagan was elected in 1947. Reagan was re-elected president in 1959. He served only a year before resigning in 1960.

Secret FBI agent

During the late 1940s, Reagan gave the FBI names of actors whom they believed were communists. Reagan even spoke at a special meeting at Congress on communism in Hollywood as well.

Reagan wedding - Holden - 1952 (cropped)
Ronald and Nancy Reagan on their wedding day, 1952


Reagan met Jane Wyman while filming Brother Rat in 1938. He asked Wyman to marry him at the Chicago Theatre. They were married on January 20, 1940 in Glendale, California. They had two children: Michael (adopted) and Maureen Reagan. They had a third child, Christine Reagan, but was stillborn. With Reagan's growing political career and the death of their child, Wyman filled for divorce in 1948. The divorce was official in 1949.

In 1949, months after divorcing Wyman, Reagan met Nancy Davis. Davis was an actress who was accidentally listed as a communist and asked Reagan to help. After Reagan helped Davis, the two began dating. Three years later, Reagan asked Davis to marry her in Beverly Hills, California. They were married on March 4, 1952 in Hollywood, California. Together, they had two children: Ron and Patti Reagan.

Wyman died of natural causes on September 10, 2010. She was aged 90. Nancy outlived her husband by eleven years. She died on March 6, 2016 of heart failure. She was aged 94.

Entrance into politics

Goldwater-Reagan 1964
Reagan speaking at a campaign ceremony for Goldwater, 1964

Reagan was very active in politics near the end of his acting career. Reagan used to be a Democrat. He strongly supported the New Deal. He admired Franklin D. Roosevelt. Over time, Reagan became a conservative Republican. This was because he felt the federal government had too much power and authority. He made a famous speech speaking out against socialized medicine (government run health care).

Reagan endorsed Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon for the United States presidency. The last time Reagan supported a Democrat was when Helen Gahagan Douglas ran for the United States senate.

A Time for Choosing

During the 1964 presidential election, Reagan supported Republican candidate Barry Goldwater. He made a famous speech called "A Time For Choosing" to support Goldwater. In the speech he spoke against government programs and high taxes. Even though Goldwater did not win the election, Reagan gained popularity from it. In his speech, Reagan said,

You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness.

After Reagan gave this speech, many businesspeople thought that Reagan could run for Governor of California.

Governor of California, 1967-75

HD.3C.075 (10842901326)
Governor Reagan with scientist Norris Bradbury, 1967

After giving a speech of Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign in 1964, he was persuaded to run for governor. Reagan ran as a Republican against the then governor, Pat Brown. Reagan was inaugurated on January 2, 1967. During his first term, Reagan stopped hiring government workers. He did this to slow the growth of California's workforce. Reagan also approved tax increases to balance the state budget.

Reagan was elected to a second term in 1970. Governor Reagan worked with the Democratic Party majority in the state legislature to help create a major reform of the welfare system in 1971. The reform helped give money to the poor and increase the pay of the rich. During his term as governor, Reagan served as the President of the Republican Governors Association from 1968 to 1969.

During his term as governor, he played a major role in California's educational system. He raised student loans. This caused a massive protest between Reagan and the college students. Reagan would soon be criticized of his views of the educational system.

Reagan left office on January 6, 1975 when Jerry Brown, Pat Brown's son, succeeded Reagan as governor.

Failed presidential campaigns

Reagan ran for president in 1968. He was not nominated by the Republican Party at the 1968 Republican National Convention. He ran again in 1976, but he lost his nomination by a small amount to then-President Gerald Ford at the 1976 Republican National Convention. Despite not being on the ballot, Reagan received one electoral vote from a "faithless voter" during the 1976 elections.

Presidency, 1981–89

First term, 1981–85

The Reagans waving from the limousine during the Inaugural Parade 1981
The Reagans waving from the limousine during the Inaugural Parade, 1981

Reagan ran again for president in 1980 after two failed attempts. This time, Reagan's run for president was successful. Reagan ran under the promise of "Making America Great Again". He won the 1980 Republican National Convention. He was nominated by the Republican Party. When he won the election, Reagan defeated Democrat Jimmy Carter to become president. Reagan won 44 out of the 50 states. Reagan was first sworn in as president on January 20, 1981.

Assassination attempt

President Reagan waves to crowd immediately before being shot 1981
Reagan walking to his limousine moments before being shot by John Hinckley

Reagan was nearly killed in an assassination attempt that happened on Monday, March 30, 1981. 69 days after becoming President, he was leaving after a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. He was shot by John Hinckley. Hinckley shot six bullets.

White House Press Secretary James Brady was shot in the head. Brady later recovered, but was paralyzed. Two other bullets shot officer Thomas Delahanty in the back, also paralyzing him, and Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy in the chest. McCarthy took a bullet for Reagan. No one was killed during the event.

Reagan was taken to the George Washington University Hospital, which was nearest hospital from the hotel and White House. He suffered a punctured lung and a broken rib bone. He lost about 3/4 of his blood. Reagan soon made a fast recovery after doctors performed surgery. It was later said that the bullet was one inch away from his heart.

This made Reagan the only President of the United States to have been shot and survive afterwards.


Ronald Reagan televised address from the Oval Office, outlining plan for Tax Reduction Legislation July 1981
Reagan gives a televised address from the Oval Office about his economic plan, Reaganomics, July 1981

Reagan believed that the government should be small, not big. This means that the government should not interfere in people's lives very much or interfere with what businesses do. He believed in supply-side economics, which was also called Reaganomics and Voodoo economics (by people who didn't like it) during his term. He lowered everybody's income taxes by 25% and cut spending in many government departments.

He also lowered inflation from 14% to 4% and he vetoed 78 bills. Reagan's economic plan resulted in a bad economy during the year 1982, but the economy turned around in 1983. The economy soon recovered. Reagan called it "Morning in America". During his presidency the United States declared a "War on Drugs".

Air traffic controllers' strike

In the summer of 1981, the union of federal air traffic controllers went on strike. They broke a federal law that does not allow government unions from striking. Reagan said that if the air traffic controllers "do not report for work within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated". They did not return and on August 5, Reagan fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored his order, and used supervisors and military controllers to handle the nation's commercial air traffic until new controllers could be hired and trained.

Visit to USS Constellation (CV-64)

On August 20, 1981, Reagan was the honorable guest of Captain Dennis Brooks, commanding officer of the USS Constellation (CV-64). President Reagan arrived on the USS Constellation (CV-64) by helicopter. He spoke to the ship's crew, ate lunch with them and watched a United States Navy tactical display at sea.

President Reagan then re-enlisted some US Navy personnel. He then was introduced to Special Agent Craig Goodwin of the Naval Investigative Service (NIS). He was the Special Agent who was assigned aboard the USS Constellation (CV-64). Special Agent Goodwin was later awarded one of the highest civilian medals for his intelligence work, the Meritorious Civilian Service Medal.

Evil empire

Photograph of President Reagan addressing the Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals( "Evil... - NARA - 198535
Reagan addressing the National Association of Evangelicals, 1983

Reagan's "Evil empire" speech was delivered to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida on March 8, 1983. It is his first recorded use of the phrase. Speaking about the nuclear arms race he said that the Soviet Union as evil.

In your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride, the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.

Audio and text of this speech is available here [1].

Lebanese Civil War (1983)

In 1983, Reagan sent forces to Lebanon to stop the threat of the Lebanese Civil War. On October 23, 1983, a group of American forces in Beirut were attacked. The Beirut barracks bombing killed 241 American servicemen and wounded more than 60 others by a suicide truck bomber. Reagan withdrew all the Marines from Lebanon.

Korean Air Lines Flight 007

In September 1983, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down by the Soviet Union. It killed one politician and many more Americans. Reagan was angry at the Soviets. Reagan addressed the nation. As a result, Reagan proposed that the American military's GPS would be allowed for civilian use. In his address, Reagan said,

I'm coming before you tonight about the Korean airline massacre, the attack by the Soviet Union against 269 innocent men, women, and children aboard an unarmed Korean passenger plane. This crime against humanity must never be forgotten, here or throughout the world.

Reagan and George Shultz meets with Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica in the Oval Office about the events in Grenada, November 1983

Operation Urgent Fury (Grenada, 1983)

On October 25, 1983, Reagan ordered U.S. forces to invade Grenada, code named Operation Urgent Fury. Reagan said that there was a "regional threat posed by a Soviet-Cuban military build-up in the Caribbean" in Grenada.

Operation Urgent Fury was the first major military operation done by U.S. forces since the Vietnam War. Some days of fighting started, but it resulted in a U.S. victory. In mid-December, U.S. forces withdrew from Grenada after a new form of government was created there.

1984 election campaign

Reagan was once again nominated for president at the 1984 Republican National Convention. He was re-elected in 1984 in a landslide victory. Reagan defeated Democrat Walter Mondale, former vice president to Jimmy Carter. Reagan won 49 out of the 50 states. He carried more electoral votes than any other president in American history.

Second term, 1985-89

President Reagan being sworn in for second term during the private ceremony held at the White House 1985
Reagan being inaugurated as president at the White House, January 1985

Reagan was sworn in as president once again on January 20, 1985 at the White House this time due to cold weather. In the coming weeks, he changed his staff by moving White House Chief of Staff James Baker to Secretary of the Treasury and naming Treasury Secretary Donald Regan to Chief of Staff.

Cold War and Soviet relations

Gorbachev and Reagan 1986-1
Reagan with Mikhail Gorbachev at the Reykjavík Summit, October 1986

Reagan became friends with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher. Both of them held meetings about the Soviet Union's threat and how to end the Cold War. Reagan became the first American president to ever address the British Parliament.

In foreign policy, Reagan ended detente (the policy of being friendly to the Soviet Union) by ordering the largest peacetime military buildup in American history. The U.S. government had to borrow a lot of money to pay for it. He had many new weapons built. Soon, the U.S. began to research on a missile defense system which would destroy missiles. It was to prevent a nuclear war from happening. The program was called Strategic Defense Initiative. It was nicked named "Star Wars".

He directed money to anti-communist movements all over the world that wanted to overthrow their communist government. He ordered multiple military operations including the invasion of Grenada and the Libya bombing.

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became the new leader of the Soviet Union (which was in bad shape and soon to collapse). Reagan had many talks with him. Their first meeting together was at the Reykjavík Summit in Iceland. They became good friends.

The War on Drugs

Reagan announced a War on Drugs in 1982, because of concerns about the increasing number of people using crack. Even though Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs during the 1970s, Reagan used more militant policies.

In 1986, Reagan signed a drug enforcement bill that budgeted $1.7 billion to fund the War on Drugs. It created a mandatory minimum penalty for drug offenses. The bill was criticized for created racial inequalities and mass imprisonment of African-Americans. As a result, First Lady Nancy Reagan created her "Just Say No" campaign to promote anti-drug usage to children.

Libya bombing

Libya Bombing Reagan Meeting 14 March 1986
Reagan meeting with members of the United States Congress about plans to attack Libya after the bombings, April 1986

During the Reagan presidency, relations between Libya and the United States were mixed. In early April 1986, relations were escalated when a bomb exploded in a Berlin discothèque. It resulted in the injury of 63 American military personnel and death of one serviceman. In the late evening of April 15, 1986, the United States launched many attacks in Libya.

The UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher allowed the U.S. Air Force to use Britain's air bases to launch the attack, only if that the UK was supporting America's right to self-defense supported by the United Nations. The attack was done to stop Gaddafi's "ability to export terrorism", offering him "incentives and reasons to alter his criminal behavior". The president addressed the nation from the Oval Office after the attacks started, he said

When our citizens are attacked or abused anywhere in the world on the direct orders of hostile regimes, we will respond so long as I'm in this office.

Many countries and the United Nations did not like Reagan's decision to bomb Libya. The United Nations said that Reagan violated "the Charter of the United Nations and of international law".

Iran-Contra affair

President Ronald Reagan receives the Tower Commission Report with John Tower and Edmund Muskie
Reagan listens to the Tower Report at the White House, February 1987

Reagan's reputation was badly hurt by the political scandal Iran-Contra Affair. It was about the government illegally selling weapons to Iran. It would later use the profit to support a Nicaraguan terrorist group called the Contras. Reagan told the American people he didn't know anything about the scandal. Soon, he told the American people that it was his fault. After Reagan told the truth, he became more popular. In his apology, Reagan said,

Let's start with the part that is the most controversial. A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.


Early in his presidency, Reagan started wearing a hearing aid, first in his right ear and later in his left as well. In 1985, he had colon cancer and skin cancer removed. In 1987, Reagan had surgery to remove nose cancer. Also in that year, Reagan went into surgery for an enlarged prostate.

Space Shuttle Challenger

In 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded killing everyone onboard. The entire country was shocked. Reagan postponed his 1986 State of the Union Address as a result of the tragedy. It was the first time that a President of the United States postponed a State of the Union Address. Afterwards, Reagan addressed the nation. Reagan famously said,

Reagans attend Challenger memorial service
The Reagans at a memorial service for the Challenger crew, 1986

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

Immigration Reform

In November 1986, Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. It helped some immigrants to get jobs and become legal citizens. In that same years, the Statue of Liberty was just re-opened after being renovated. Reagan was at the opening ceremony when he said,

The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.

Berlin Wall

Reagan speaks at the Berlin Wall's Brandenburg Gate, challenging Gorbachev to "tear down this wall"

In 1987, Reagan travelled to Berlin to give a speech at the Berlin Wall. That is where he gave one of his greatest speeches of his presidency. Referring to the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall he said,

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev...Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Audio and text of this speech is available here [2].

End of the Cold War

During his term as president, Reagan saw the change in the direction of the Soviet leadership with Mikhail Gorbachev. Months after his Berlin Wall speech, Gorbachev announced his plans to work with Reagan for a big arms agreements. Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty which banned nuclear weapons being launched between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Reagan farewell salute
Reagan says goodbye on Marine One shortly after George H. W. Bush was inaugurated president, January 1989

When Reagan visited Moscow for the fourth summit in 1988, he was seen as a celebrity by the Soviets. A journalist asked the president if he still considered the Soviet Union the evil empire. "No", he replied, "I was talking about another time, another era". In November 1989, ten months after Reagan left office, the Berlin Wall was torn down, the Cold War was officially declared over at the Malta Summit on December 3, 1989, and two years later, the Soviet Union collapsed.

End of the Reagan presidency

Reagan left office with high rankings on January 20, 1989 when his Vice President George H. W. Bush became president. Reagan and his wife, Nancy, soon returned back home in Bel Air, Los Angeles, California. In the years after he left office, Reagan's time in office was seen as one of the best and is compared to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

Post-presidency, 1989-2004

Reagans early 1990s
Ronald and Nancy Reagan in 1992 in Los Angeles after leaving the presidency.
GHW Bush presents Reagan Presidential Medal of Freedom 1993
Former President Ronald Reagan returns to the White House to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H. W. Bush in 1993

After leaving office, Reagan and his wife Nancy lived in Bel Air, Los Angeles. They also visited their ranch, Rancho del Cielo. Reagan gave a speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention giving his support for Bush's re-election campaign in the 1992 presidential election.

In November 1991, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library was dedicated and opened to the public in Simi Valley, California.

In June 1989, Reagan was honored with Honorary Knighthood and received the Order of the Bath presented by Queen Elizabeth II. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993 by President George H. W. Bush. He was the first former living president to receive the honor. Soon afterwards the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation created the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award for people who made a big change for freedom.

In 1990, Reagan wrote an autobiography titled, An American Life.

Even after when he left office, Reagan had a close friendship with both Thatcher and Gorbachev. They would often visit him at his home.

In May 1994, Reagan, along with former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, wrote to the U.S. House of Representatives in support of banning "semi-automatic assault guns."

Alzheimer's disease

In 1994, Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

On November 5, 1994, Reagan wrote a public letter about having Alzheimer's disease, writing:

I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease... At the moment I feel just fine. I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done... 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.


Reagan and Gorbachev in western hats 1992
Reagan with Gorbachev at Reagan's ranch, Rancho del Cielo, 1992

After announcing his disease, many people sent supporting letters to his California home. There was also an opinion based on unfinished evidence that Reagan had showed symptoms of mental decline while still in office.

In 1995, the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute was dedicated in Chicago, Illinois. It is an institution that can help people with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

White House correspondent memoirs

In her memoirs, former CBS White House correspondent Lesley Stahl remembers about her final meeting with the president in 1986,

Reagan didn't seem to know who I was. ... Oh, my, he's gonzo, I thought. I have to go out on the lawn tonight and tell my countrymen that the president of the United States is a doddering space cadet.

But then, at the end, he regained his alertness. As she described it,

I had come that close to reporting that Reagan was senile.


Five presidents
The Reagans (center) in Richard Nixon's funeral, 1994

As the years went on, the disease slowly destroyed Reagan's mental capacity. He was only able to recognize a few people, including his wife, Nancy. He remained active during his last years. He took walks through parks near his home and on beaches, played golf regularly, and until 1999 he often went to his office in nearby Century City.

Reagans with USS Ronald Reagan model 1996
The Reagans with a model of the USS Ronald Reagan with CEO William Frick, May 1996

Reagan suffered a fall at his Bel Air home on January 13, 2001. The fall resulted in a broken hip. The fracture was repaired the following day. Reagan, 89 years old, returned home later that week, although he faced difficult physical therapy at home.

On February 6, 2001, Reagan reached the age of 90, becoming the third former president to do so (the other two being John Adams and Herbert Hoover, with Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter later reaching 90).

Reagan's public appearances became much less frequent with the progression of the disease. His family decided that he would live in quiet semi-isolation with his wife Nancy. Nancy Reagan told CNN's Larry King in 2001 that very few visitors were allowed to see her husband because she felt that "Ronnie would want people to remember him as he was." In that same year, Reagan's daughter, Maureen Reagan, died from melanoma at the age of 60.

The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) was finished in 2001. A ceremony was held in March 2001. Reagan's wife, Nancy lead the ceremony. She christened the ship. Reagan could not go because he was very sick.

Following her husband's diagnosis and death, Nancy became a stem-cell research advocate. She urged Congress and President George W. Bush to support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. President Bush opposed the idea. In 2009, she praised President Barack Obama for lifting restrictions on such research. Mrs. Reagan has said that she believes that it could lead to a cure for Alzheimer's. Nancy died on March 6, 2016 at the age of 94.

Death and funeral

On June 5, 2004, Reagan died at the age of 93 of pneumonia, a complication from Alzheimer's disease, in his home in Bel Air, Los Angeles, California.

Reagan's casket lies in state June 9 '04 (cropped)
Reagan's casket lying in state in the United States Capitol Rotunda on June 9, 2004

Reagan was granted a state funeral. Reagan's state funeral was the first in the United States since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973. It was held at the Washington National Cathedral on June 11 and presided by former Missouri United States senator John Danforth. President George W. Bush and former presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton went to the funeral. First Lady Laura Bush and former first ladies Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, and Barbara Bush also went.

Former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson did not go to the funeral because of poor health. Reverend Billy Graham, who was Reagan's first choice to lead the funeral, could not go because he was recovering from surgery. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor also went to the funeral and delivered a passage from the Bible. The funeral was led by Reagan's close friend and pastor Michael Wenning.

Foreign leaders also went to Reagan's funeral, Mikhail Gorbachev, Prime Minister of United Kingdom Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and interim presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Ghazi al-Yawer of Iraq. Former Prime Minister of United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and both presidents Bush gave eulogies.

Reagan was buried later that day in an underground vault at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. His tomb reads,

I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And that there is purpose and worth to each and every life.


In 1984, while serving as president, Reagan got a Marine recruiting letter asking him to enlist in the Marines. Reagan jokingly decided not to enlist because of his physical health and preferred to be president.

In 2000, Ronald and Nancy Reagan received the Congressional Gold Medal in "recognition for their service to their nation".

In August 2004, a tribute to Reagan was shown at the 2004 Republican National Convention presented by his son, Michael Reagan.

In June 2007, Reagan received the Order of the White Eagle from Poland's president, Lech Kaczyński, for Reagan's work to end communism in Poland. Nancy Reagan travelled to Warsaw to accept the award on her husband's behalf.

Ronald Reagan Coin
Reagan on the 2016 edition of the Presidential $1 Coin Program

On June 3, 2009, Nancy Reagan unveiled a statue of her late husband in the United States Capitol rotunda. The statue represents the state of California in the National Statuary Hall Collection. Following Reagan's death, both major American political parties agreed to place a statue of Reagan instead of that of Thomas Starr King.

Also in June 2009, President Obama signed the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act into law. It created a commission to plan activities to mark the upcoming centenary of Reagan's 100 birthday.

Independence Day 2011 saw the unveiling of another statue to Reagan. This time, it was in the British capital of London. It is located outside of the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square. The unveiling was supposed to be attended by Reagan's wife Nancy, but she did not attend. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took her place and read a statement on her behalf. British Prime Minister during Reagan's presidency, Baroness Thatcher, was also unable to attend due to frail health.

A statue of Reagan was unveiled in November 2011 in Warsaw, Poland with President of Poland Lech Wałęsa in attendance. In 2011, Reagan was added to the National Radio Hall of Fame. Since 2011, February 6 is known as Ronald Reagan Day in 21 states across the United States in honor of his birthday.

In 2016, Reagan along with his wife Nancy were honored in the Presidential $1 Coin Program in August 2016. He was the last president honored in the program.

Culture portrayal

Alan Rickman Dec 2009 cropped lighting corrected
Late British actor Alan Rickman played Reagan in The Butler (2014)

In 2001, Richard Crenna played Reagan in the Oliver Stone television movie The Day Reagan Was Shot. In 2007, the edited version of his diary was published entitled The Reagan Diaries. It became the New York Times Best Seller.

Voice actor Hank Azaria voiced Reagan three times (1993, 1994, and 2012) in The Simpsons. Harry Shearer said that Simpsons character Mr. Burns is inspired by Reagan. Seth MacFarlane voiced Reagan in American Dad! and on Family Guy for special episodes.

During the history of Saturday Night Live, Reagan has been played by Phil Hartman, Randy Quaid and Robin Williams. In a 2010 short comedy video, Presidential Reunion, actor Jim Carrey played the spirit of Reagan trying to speak to Barack Obama about bank companies and the media.

In 2014, Reagan was played by British actor Alan Rickman in Lee Daniels' The Butler.

In 2015, Bill O'Reilly published Killing Reagan, the fifth book of his Killing series. It covers the assassination attempt on Reagan in March 1981. A year later, National Geographic Society announced they were making a television movie based on the book. Killing Reagan was premiered on National Geographic on October 16, 2016, with actor Tim Matheson playing Reagan. In late 2015, actor Bruce Campbell played Reagan in the second season of Fox's criminal suspense drama series Fargo.


President Reagan speaking in Minneapolis 1982
Reagan in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1982

Reagan, by public opinion, is one of the most popular American presidents. His legacy is strongly admired among many conservatives and Republicans. Those who do admire Reagan are sometimes called Reagan coalitionists.

Reagan is even admired by people of the opposite party, the Democratic Party. Democrats who support Reagan are called Reagan Democrats. His presidency is sometimes called the Reagan Era because of the changes it brought during Reagan's time as president. In his home state of California, Reagan is seen as a hero. Reagan is known for his witty charm and his warm optimism.

The legacy of his economic policies is still divided between people who believe that the government should be smaller and those who believe the government should take a more active role in regulating the economy. While some of his foreign policies were controversial, many thank Reagan for peacefully ending the Cold War.

Related pages

More reading

  • Holden, Kenneth. Making of the Great Communicator: Ronald Reagan's Transformation From Actor To Governor (2013)
  • Putnam, Jackson K. "Governor Reagan: A Reappraisal." California History (2006): 24-45. in JSTOR

Books by Reagan

Images for kids

Ronald Reagan Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.