Ronald Reagan became known as “The Great Communicator” as the President of the United States.
The Illinois native started as an actor and later turned to a career as a politician.
Reagan was considered a very popular President by many.
At the same time as he was eccentric and a happy man on the outside – both as a President as well as during his filming days – the truth might be something else.
His son, Ron Reagan, described a whole different side of his father, one that most people probably aren’t familiar with.
This is all you need to know about former President Ronald Reagan’s life.
Being the President of the United States is one of the world’s most famous – and stressful – jobs. One study even suggests it’s bad for your health, but not only does it affect yourself.
As President, there are no days off, which means it also can affect one’s relationship with family and friends.
While some former presidents might have only had a career in politics in mind, others have chosen a different path.
One of those presidents was Ronald Reagan. He started by heading to Hollywood to pursue his career as an actor, and for a while, it actually went pretty well.
As Reagan rose to fame, he was seen as a very eccentric, happy, and positive person that had a great social life.
But in reality, it seems like it was a whole different thing, as people have suspected in the past.
That, according to his son, Ron Reagan, who in his book My Father at 100 described a whole different side of his father.
A side which sometimes was very lonely. – where he didn’t have any close friends besides his wife.
Ronald Reagan was born Ronald Wilson Reagan in the small town of Tampico, Illinois, on February 6, 1911.
His father had a past of failed businesses, while his mother, Nelle, was a religious and charitable woman who taught young Ronald the importance of determination and self-reliance.
Ronald Reagan – parents, early life, childhood
“We learned from our parents that individuals determine their own destiny; that is, it’s largely their own ambition and hard work that determine their fate in life,” Ronald Reagan once said.
As a young boy, Reagan got a new nickname. His father called him “Dutch,” as he believed his son looked like “a fat little Dutchman” when he was born.
It stuck with him for many years, up until he left for Hollywood.
The Reagan family moved around plenty when Ronald was young. Eventually, they ended up settling down in Dixon, Illinois.
Later, he described it as being a place “where life was wholesome… people trusted each other, and nobody locked his door at night.”
During summers, Reagan worked as a lifeguard at the local beach in Rock River and later attended Eureka College for four years, studying economics and sociology.
He might not have been the most outstanding student, but the future president showed great talent on the football field – and as an actor.
When he graduated, Reagan became a radio sports announcer for WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1930s. Working in radio, especially in sports where things happen rapidly, sure seems hard. But Ronald Reagan had a fantastic ability to call the baseball games.
He recreated the action from “nothing but a slip of paper typed by a telegraph operator who was t transcribing plays sent by Morse code,” as described on the Reagan Library website.
Not only was Ronald Reagan a great announcer, he also decried segregation in the game of baseball.
He stated in 1981, “And I’m proud that I was one of those in the sports-reporting fraternity who continually editorialized against that rule, that baseball was for Caucasian gentlemen only. And finally, thanks to Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, baseball became truly the American sport.”
In 1937, however, Ronald Reagan’s life took a different turn. There was no more sports announcing; instead, he went to Hollywood to pursue his acting career.
After a screen test, he won a contract in Hollywood – and for two decades, he appeared in a staggering 53 films.
Ronald Reagan starred as the lead in Love is on the Air, portraying a radio announcer for the B lot – meaning films not running as long as the big Hollywood productions.
Moreover, he gained wide recognition when getting the role of George Gipp in Knute Rockne All American and Drake McHugh in Kings Row.
Reagan was actually cast several times as himself – but one role would become very, very crucial for his life, literally.
As Reagan starred in the 1939 film Code of the Secret Service, a young boy named Jerry Parr watched the future president act. He decided that he wanted to work in the secret service once he got older.
He later did— and Parr and Reagan’s paths would cross at the White House. But we’ll get to that in a second.
Ronald Reagan – marriages, Nancy Reagan, children
Reagan joined the Army Air Force Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, California, as World War II approached. At that point, he had married actress Jane Wyman and welcomed their daughter, Maureen. In 1946, the couple adopted a son, Michael.
Jane and Ronald divorced in 1949, and at that time, Reagan had returned to Hollywood to work in the Screen Actors Guild.
He was the president for five consecutive terms. He then became the host of General Electric’s G.E.
Theater, becoming the spokesperson and traveling to factories that had stopped all over the country.
It turned out that the Democratic Ronald Reagan was a great speaker and communicator.
He quickly became very recognized and more engaged within the Democratic party.
But he left the party as G.E. didn’t allow him to enter politics. So instead, he registered as a Republican.
“I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me,” Reagan once famously said.
In 1952, Ronald Reagan remarried. He and Nancy Davis tied the knot and became one of the most famous and successful couples. They welcomed children: Patricia, born in 1952, and Ronald, born in 1958.
Ronald Reagan – career in politics
After speaking on behalf of the conservative Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in a legendary national debut in 1962, Ronald Reagan became known all over the country.
Two years later, he entered the California gubernatorial race. However, it was pretty clear that he wasn’t a well-trained politician.
“I don’t know; I’ve never played a governor,” Ronald Reagan said when asked what kind of Governor he would be.
Nonetheless, he was elected Governor of California and later reelected as well.
From there, Ronald Reagan’s political career headed straight to the top.
On November 4, 1980, he was elected President of the United States.
Reagan became a popular president among the American people. He was largely credited with helping to bring a quicker end to the Cold War.
But not everyone was as pleased with him.
In 1981, President Reagan was shot and wounded by John Hinckley outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C. But things could’ve been much worse if not for Secret Service agent Jerry Parr.
He wanted to become a Secret Service agent after watching Reagan in the film Code of the Secret Service as a child.
Secret service agent Jerry Parr saved Ronald Reagan’s life
As soon as Parr heard shots, he grabbed President Reagan by his pants. The agent threw him onto the floor of the armored limo. Parr quickly ordered the driver to return to “The Crown,” the code name for the White House.
“Checking him for blood, I methodically worked my hands around his body from the belt line up, under each arm, along his back, neck, and head — looking for blood, feeling for a wound or a painful spot,” Parr wrote in his memoir In the Secret Service as quoted by the Washington Post.
“With immeasurable relief, I assessed that he had escaped unharmed, at least for the moment.”
At first, nobody realized that Reagan was wounded. But Parr noticed that Reagan was pale when breathing.
As the president wiped his lips with a napkin, they saw blood. When in the car driving towards the White House, Parr made a quick decision, telling the car to go to the hospital instead.
The bullet had lodged in his lung, but Ronald Reagan luckily survived, primarily thanks to Secret Service agent Jerry Parr, who later recalled it as “my best day and my worst day.”
“If Jerry hadn’t made the change, I wouldn’t have a husband,” Nancy Reagan later told Larry King.
Ronald Reagan – Alzheimer’s
Ronald Reagan served as the 40th president of the United States for two terms before leaving office in 1989.
Five years later, he announced to the world that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It’s an incurable neurodegenerative disease that destroys brain cells – and ultimately causes death.
“I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease,” Reagan wrote in a handwritten letter to the world.
“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.”
On June 5, 2004, Ronald Reagan died of complications related to Alzheimer’s at age 93. His daughter, Patti Davis, recalled his last days.
“Moments before that [last] breath, he opened his eyes, which he hadn’t done in nearly a week,” Davis wrote for Today. “That day, his soul burned through the damage to his body. He showed up – his eyes twinkling, his face alert. He looked at my mother, and then he was gone.”
Ron Reagan says father had “virtually no close friends”
Ronald Regan was adored by many, but in reality, it turns out that he was a different kind of man when it came to his private life.
In his book, My Father at 100, Reagan’s son Ron described his father in a very different way, saying that he was a “paradoxical character,” “warm yet remote,” “affable as they come” but with “virtually no close friends besides his wife,” as quoted by the New York Times.
Moreover, Ron wrote that his father was a man who “thrived on public display yet remained intensely private.”
“His children, if they were being honest would agree that he was as strange a fellow as any of us had ever met, Ron Reagan wrote in My Father at 100, “Not darkly strange, mind you. In fact, he was so naturally sunny, so utterly without guile, so devoid of cynicism or pettiness as to create for himself a whole new category of strangeness.
He added, “He was, in some respects, too good like a visitor from an enchanted realm where they’d never even consider inventing a Double Down sandwich or credit default swaps. I often felt I had to check my natural sarcasm and sense of absurdity at the door for fear of inducing in him a fit of psychological disequilibrium.”
At the same time as his father was very busy with his Presidential duties, Ron described that he never felt that his father didn’t love or care for him. But at the same time, he often seemed to be “wandering somewhere in his own head.”
Son suggested Reagan’s Alzheimer’s began in the White House
“Occasionally,” Mr. Reagan writes, “he seemed to need reminding about basic aspects of my life like birthdays, who my friends were, or how I was doing in school,” Ron Regan wrote. “I could share an hour of warm camaraderie with Dad, then once I’d walked out the door, get the uncanny feeling I’d disappeared into the wings of his mind’s stage, like a character no longer necessary to the ongoing story line.”
Ronald Reagan announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s years after his presidency ended.
However, according to Ron Reagan, the former president might have experienced troubles already in his first term.
In his book, Ron Reagan wrote that as he watched his father debate Walter Mondale – the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee – he began seeing signs of his father not doing too well.
“My heart sank as he floundered his way through his responses, fumbling with his notes, uncharacteristically lost for words. He looked tired and bewildered,” Ron Reagan wrote.
Further, Ron – the youngest of Reagan’s four children– claimed that his father probably knew something was wrong already in the mid-1980s and wasn’t surprised when he got the diagnosis.
“As far back as August 1986 he had been alarmed to discover, while flying over the familiar canyons north of Los Angeles, that he could no longer summon their names,” Ron Reagan said in the memoir.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation denied the claim from the former president’s son that he showed any signs of illness during his days in office and that Reagan showed signs of the disease while he was president.
“Ron was an embarrassment to his father”
“This subject has been well documented over the years by both President Reagan’s personal physicians, physicians who treated him after the diagnosis, as well as those who worked closely with him daily,” it said in a statement.
“All are consistent in their view that signs of Alzheimer’s did not appear until well after President Reagan left the White House,” the statement further read.
After Ron Reagan claimed his father was ill while in office, his half-brother, Michael Reagan, was furious. When Ron published the book, Michael publicly criticized him. He claimed that Ron only wanted to make money out of his father’s name.
“Ron, my brother, was an embarrassment to his father when he was alive and today he became an embarrassment to his mother,” he wrote on Twitter.
“My brother seems to want [to] sell out his father to sell books,” he added in another tweet.
“Pray for my brother,” Michael Reagan added.
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