Mon, Jun 07, 2004 - Page 1 News List

`Cold War victor' Reagan dies at 93

`AMERICAN HERO' The former US president, credited with defeating the Soviet Union in the 1980s, died of pneumonia after battling Alzheimer's disease

REUTERS , LOS ANGELES

As US president on June 12, 1987, Ronald Reagan speaks at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.

PHOTO: EPA

Former US President Ronald Reagan, who made an astounding career change by leaping from acting to politics and then forging a conservative revolution that reshaped American politics, died on Saturday after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

The man admired for his sunny optimism and skills as "The Great Communicator" died of pneumonia at age 93 at his home in the posh Bel Air section of Los Angeles.

Members of his immediate family were at his bedside, including his wife of 52 years, Nancy -- loved ones he was no longer able to recognize or speak to because of Alzheimer's.

The death ended a long, painful last chapter in a close marriage. Just last month, Nancy Reagan made a rare speech in which she described her husband's last days suffering from Alzheimer's.

"Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place, where I can no longer reach him," she said, urging support for stem cell research to help cure Alzheimer's.

The White House said the death of the 40th president was a sad day for the US. "A great American life has come to an end," US President George W. Bush said in Paris following talks with French President Jacques Chirac.

Bush, whose politics seemed modeled on Reagan's as much as on his own father, President George H. W. Bush, said, "He leaves behind a nation he restored, and a world he helped save."

He added that "now a shining city awaits him," a reference to a favorite speech line of Reagan's about America becoming a shining city on the hill.

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who became a close friend of his, praised Reagan for what she said was his greatest achievement -- ending the Cold War "without a shot being fired."

Thatcher added, "To have achieved so much, against such odds, and with such humor and humanity, made Ronald Reagan a truly great American hero."

Even Reagan's political enemies, the Democrats, were quick to offer praise. Senator John Kerry, the party's expected presidential nominee, said, "Ronald Reagan's love of country was infectious. Even when he was breaking Democrats' hearts, he did so with a smile and in the spirit of honest and open debate."

Opening his weekly national radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, in a live Saturday broadcast from Gilford, New Hampshire, Garrison Keillor saluted Reagan as "a great man who befuddled us old liberals for years, mainly with his great, shining charm, which never ever failed him."

Reagan's body was taken in a flag-draped coffin to a local funeral home to be embalmed later on Saturday.

Today, according to long set plans, he will lie in state at the Reagan library, north of Los Angeles, before being flown the next day to Washington to lie in state there.

Barring last minute changes, a funeral service will be held at the National Cathedral and his body will be flown back to California to be buried on a hillside at the Reagan library on Thursday.

It will be the first presidential state funeral in Washington since Lyndon Johnson's in 1973 and poses security problems for a city that was a target of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the funeral home where Reagan's body was taken and at the entrance to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, where they turned a stone entry gate into a flag-draped makeshift memorial.

Reagan had suffered from the brain-wasting Alzheimer's disease since 1994. The man who held five summits with Mikhail Gorbachev was reduced to playing children's games with his wife before his condition worsened and he entered the last stages of the disease, recognizing no-one.

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