Reagan's son: Father showed signs of Alzheimer's in White House
January 14th, 2011
08:32 PM ET
11 years ago

Reagan's son: Father showed signs of Alzheimer's in White House

(CNN) - Former President Ronald Reagan's youngest son suggests in a new book that his father showed signs of Alzheimer's disease while he was in the White House.

In the book titled "My Father at 100," which is due out next week, Ron Reagan writes, "Three years into his first term as President … I was feeling the first shivers of concern that something beyond mellowing was affecting my father."

He writes about watching his father's first debate with Walter Mondale, the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee.

"I began to experience the nausea of a bad dream coming true," Ron Reagan writes. He adds: "My heart sank as he floundered his way through his responses, fumbling with his notes, uncharacteristically lost for words. He looked tired and bewildered."

But the younger Reagan also admits, "I've seen no evidence that my father (or anyone else) was aware of his medical condition while he was in office." He then questions: "Had the diagnosis been made in, say, 1987, would he have stepped down? I believe he would have."

Former president Reagan disclosed he had Alzheimer's disease in 1994, five years after he left the White House. Questions have been raised in the past about whether he developed the disease while he was still in office, but suggestions that he did have been widely dismissed.

In an effort to set the record straight, four of the president's White House doctors spoke to the New York Times in 1997 to say the president didn't show evidence of the disease until 1993 and that he was mentally sound while in office. The newspaper reported the doctors said, "they had taken the unusual step of discussing their former patient's medical history publicly because neither they nor Mr. Reagan had covered up any illness, and because they did not want history to see them as having done so."

Reagan biographer Lou Cannon who interviewed the former president more than 100 times said he interviewed him after he left the White House and did not see a difference.

“I think I would have noticed,” Cannon said in a statement. “There’s simply no evidence he had Alzheimer’s while in the White House.”

Cannon said Reagan was “lucid” during their last interview in 1991.

Some people who served in the Reagan administration also are dismissing Ron Reagan's new claims.

Kenneth Duberstein, who served as Reagan's chief of staff at the end of his second term, told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King: "I think Ron these days is mostly in the business of trying to sell books. That's what I think." About the older Reagan, Duberstein said: "Day in, day out, from beginning to end, he was in command. He was fully in command."

Bill Bennett, a CNN contributor who served as education secretary under Reagan said, "In all my interactions with the president, I never witnessed anything in him to give me any concern."

CNN's Senior Political Analyst David Gergen, who was director of communications for Reagan, told Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "The Situation Room:" "I'm sure Ron has written a good book. I look forward to reading it, but I'm surprised he's revived these claims." Gergen added, "I think (Ron Reagan) got this wrong, but he's a good fellow."

Filed under: Ronald Reagan
soundoff (112 Responses)
  1. Honest

    He did have it in office ... Of course everyone having anything to do with him in a official capacity will deny this. Can't make "The Gipper" look bad .... he's the last superstar the GOP's got, ever had.

    January 15, 2011 04:23 am at 4:23 am |
  2. JusticeJustice

    His mind was just restin' y'all! That's why he hated travellin' to Panama, the humidity would make it leak from his ears a lilbit!

    January 15, 2011 04:25 am at 4:25 am |
  3. TiSC

    Family members have known the person a very long time and notice such changes in a way that "hangers on" aren't prepared for. While the disease couldn't be diagnosed back then and thus the doctors didn't recognize it, I have no doubt someone like your own child would be stunned by sudden unexpected changes as Ron describes. He's making an observation. Lighten up people. It was his father; he ought to know.

    January 15, 2011 04:50 am at 4:50 am |
  4. Howard in Alexandria, VA

    The President of the U.S., suffering from Alzheimer's? Who among his staff would want to be the pariah to be the first to admit to suspecting that while he was in office? And after Reagan left office, who would want to be the pariah to be the first to admit having suspected it and done nothing about it? This is a truly unfortunate situation because nobody has a lot of credibility when it comes to speaking to this issue.

    January 15, 2011 05:04 am at 5:04 am |
  5. Posers

    Did Reagan show Alzheimer's signs?

    Is Palin dumb? Is Newt a con artist? Should Chimpy and Cheney be in prison? Does the bear crap in the woods?

    January 15, 2011 05:52 am at 5:52 am |
  6. hux

    It's pretty disgusting what a son will do to sell a book. This shows no respect ,that we all know already what your about. Your track record proves that. Remember , what goes around ,comes around.

    January 15, 2011 06:06 am at 6:06 am |
  7. Jeffrey

    That Reagan suffered from Alzheimers while in office was obvious. Some of his ramblings concerning trees & pollution, his performance in Iceland, & his eyebrow raising comments to students in Russia, etc., were alarming. If his doctors are saying he was fine they are doing nothing less than covering up the facts, or are showing their professional incompetence by not having noticed the obvious. There was a lot of speculation at the time that something was wrong, but Alzheimers awareness was not what it is now & a lot of people were relating Reagan's "miscues" to his age. His "handlers" were constantly explaining what Reagan "really meant to say".

    January 15, 2011 06:07 am at 6:07 am |
  8. Grog

    I don't think it is "if Reagan showed signs of Alzheimers" because aI can remember he did. It is the fact that he was a far better President than the current and former Presidents put together with early onset Alzheimer's. Pretty incredible and amazing to me.

    January 15, 2011 06:51 am at 6:51 am |
  9. Grammar Man

    Grammar Man says that Mr. Reagan did not have a youngest son. He had four children - two boys and two girls - which means that son Ron could have been the youngest child or the younger son but not the youngest son. The world is now safer as Grammar Man has spoken.

    January 15, 2011 07:15 am at 7:15 am |
  10. joyost

    Alzheimer plays out in a DAILY pattern of being perfectly okay in the mornings, and the signs of the disease showing up later in the day. At least in the early years of the disease. So it is understandable that some people can honestly say that he was always okay everytime they saw him. And it's understandable that other people can honestly say that they did see the signs of the disease. It all depended upon what TIME OF DAY, that they always saw him. For the public, we did the signs that he was losing it at times. But the disease was there EVERYDAY, just for the later part of EACH day.

    January 15, 2011 07:32 am at 7:32 am |
  11. slenon

    I had a close relative developing Alzheimer's at the same time, at approximately the same rate. There was never any doubt in my mind that Reagan was showing signs of the disease while in office.

    January 15, 2011 07:35 am at 7:35 am |
  12. Matt

    I don't know about the US, but the rest of the world knew by 1984 that Ronny was not 100% and was making fun of it. How did nobody see that here?

    January 15, 2011 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
  13. Posers

    Did Reagan show Alzheimer's signs?
    Is Palin dumb? Is Newt a con artist? Should Chimpy and Cheney be in prison? Does the bear crap in the woods?

    January 15, 2011 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
  14. Katy Hill

    There are a few in office now I suspect are in early stages of Alzheimers . I don't know why elected officials aren't held to the same employment standards that they hold us working stiffs. Try getting and holding a job if you they find out you are ill. Yet we keep re-electing the same sick, old and senile back in office over and over. Elected officials should be subjected to the same random drug testing they require of us. Even 6th gradel students in some areas have to agree to random drug testing if they want to participate in sports and other activities yet we don't hold our officials to the same standards as our children. I think a breatalyzer test should be given before each Congressional vote . Elected officials should also be required to take the same physical and MMPI tests that we have to take to see if they are in good physical and mental health. Try getting a regular job if you aren't .

    January 15, 2011 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  15. William A. Schaedler

    Reagan put on a great performance while in the Whiute House as any actor should do. But as a president he was one of the worst. However, we must remember that the voting public put him in office. People in this country like to be fed a lot of boloney. The more the better. And Reagan could really serve it up.

    January 15, 2011 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  16. Peter

    Minds Wide Open:
    Holy God is showing us by the words of 2 Peter 3:8 that he wants us to know that exactly 7,000 years after He destroyed the world with water in Noah's day, He plans to destroy the entire world forever. Beause the year 2011 AD is exactly 7,000 years 4990 BC, when the flood began, the Bible has given us absolute proof that the year 2011 is the end of the world during the Day of Judgment, which will come on the last day of the Day Judgment.

    There are four months remaining.

    January 15, 2011 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  17. informed voter

    I remember, very clearly, during the whole Iran-Contra mess, when Reagan had no clue what was going on within his administration (that was his defense against culpability in the drugs for arms deal) that I thought he had Alzheimer's disease. It's amazing how the history revisionists have manipulated this bungling president's legacy, and whitewashed his ineptitude, now making him some sort of hero who ended the Cold War. What a bunch of baloney. Those of us who were there, and lived through Reagan's misguided, trickle down lies, know the truth.

    January 15, 2011 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  18. Bingo

    So that's why he couldn't remember Iran-Contra. Makes sense to me.

    January 15, 2011 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  19. Seattle Sue

    I guess Reagan was telling the truth when he would say, Gee I don't recall when he was asked a question.

    January 15, 2011 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  20. kuewa

    Anyone who doubts Ron Reagan might also read Mark Green's "Reagan's Reign of Error"- written as factual humor but concerning nonetheless.

    January 15, 2011 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  21. Star

    Ronald Reagan was a good President period. May not have been perfect but he did his best.

    January 15, 2011 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  22. Albo58

    I don't think we can fully trust Ron Jr because he has always been against the policies of his father AND, more importantly, how could a child make an accusation like this after a parent has been dead for several years?

    January 15, 2011 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  23. NVa Native

    That would explain a few things. But I'm sure the fox/neo-con machine will attack any idea of a percevied weakness in their poltical idol no matter how factual or obvious. Facts, science and history mean nothing to the fox followers.

    January 15, 2011 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  24. cuzinvinny

    If President Reagan knew the political opinions his son is now espousing he would turn over in his grave. It would be like George Bush Jr. suppoting his father's opponnents.

    January 15, 2011 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  25. GI Joe

    Might explain why he let Nancy and her Tarot-Card-reading buddies make decisions for him/us in that time-period. Doesn't explain why Nancy let that stupid dog drag her across the lawn all the time.

    Just saying ....................

    January 15, 2011 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
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