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Authors: Bill O'Reilly

Killing Reagan

BOOK: Killing Reagan


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This book is dedicated to all those who are caring for an elderly person. You are noble.



The usual suspects helped me get it all down on paper: my assistant for more than twenty years Makeda Wubneh, literary agent to the stars Eric Simonoff, perspicacious publisher Steve Rubin, wise editor Gillian Blake, and my TV boss Roger Ailes. Thank you, guys!


Thanks to Eric Simonoff, the world's greatest agent and the man who made the O'Reilly/Dugard team a reality. To the calm and very organized Makeda Wubneh. To Steve Rubin and Gillian Blake at Holt, for their wit, insight, and quick reads. To Al and Rosemary Dugard. To my boys: Devin, Connor, and Liam. And as always to Calene, who makes me a better man.



God had a divine purpose in placing this land between two great oceans to be found by those who had a special love of freedom and courage.





, C

5, 2004


The man with one minute to live is no longer confused.

Ronald Reagan lapsed into a coma two days ago. His wife, Nancy, sits at the side of the bed, holding the former president's hand. Emotionally and physically exhausted by the ordeal, she quietly sobs as her body rocks in grief. Reagan's breathing has become ragged and inconsistent. After ten long years of slow descent toward the grave due to Alzheimer's disease, a bout of pneumonia brought on by food particles caught in his lungs has delivered the knockout blow. Nancy knows that her beloved Ronnie's time has come.

Counting the former president, six people crowd into the bedroom. There is his physician, Dr. Terry Schaack; and Laura, the Irish nurse whose soft brogue the president is known to find soothing. Two of his grown children stand at the bedside. Ron, forty-six, and Patti, fifty-one, have been holding vigil with their mother for days. They have a reputation for conflict with their parents, but on this day those quarrels have vanished as they lend their mother emotional support. An adopted son from Reagan's first marriage, Michael, has also been summoned, but he is caught in Los Angeles traffic and will miss the president's final breath.

Outside the single-story, three-bedroom house, the foggy Pacific marine layer has burned off, replaced by a warm summer sun. The hydrangea and white camellia bushes are in full bloom. A media horde has gathered on St. Cloud Road in Reagan's posh Bel-Air neighborhood,
waiting with their cameras and news trucks for the inevitable moment when the fortieth president of the United States passes away. The former actor and college football player is ninety-three. Even into his seventies, he was so vigorous that he rode the hills of his Santa Barbara ranch on horseback for hours and cleared acres of thick hillside brush all by himself.

But years ago his mind betrayed him. Reagan slowly lapsed into a dementia so severe that it has been a decade since he appeared in public. The root cause could have been genetic, for his mother was not lucid in her final days. Or it might have been the result of a near-death experience caused by a gunman's bullet twenty-three years ago. Whatever the reason, Reagan's decline has been dramatic. Over the past ten years, he has spent most days sleeping or looking out at the sweeping view of Los Angeles from his flagstone veranda. His smile is warm, but his mind is vacant. Eventually, he lost the ability even to recognize family and friends. When Reagan's oldest child from his first marriage, Maureen, was dying of melanoma in a Santa Monica hospital in 2001, the former president was in the same hospital being treated for a broken hip—yet was too confused to see her.

So now, the man who lies at home in a hospital bed, clad in comfortable pajamas, is a shell of his former self. His blue eyes, the last time he opened them, were dense, the color of chalk. His voice, which once lent itself to great oration, is silent.

Another breath, this one more jagged than the last. Nancy's tears fall onto the bedsheets at the onset of the death rattle.

Suddenly, Ronald Reagan opens his eyes. He stares intently at Nancy. “They weren't chalky or vague,” Patti Davis will later write of her father's eyes. “They were clear and blue and full of love.”

The room hushes.

Closing his eyes, Reagan takes his final breath.

The former leader of the free world, the man who defeated Soviet communism and ended the Cold War, is dead.




, O

28, 1980


The man with twenty-four years to live steps onstage.

Polite applause washes over Ronald Reagan as he strides to his lectern for the 1980 presidential debate.
The former movie star and two-term governor of California is striving to become president of the United States at the relatively advanced age of sixty-nine. His jet-black pompadour, which he swears he does not dye, is held in place by a dab of Brylcreem.
His high cheeks are noticeably rosy, as if they have been rouged—although the color may also have come from the glass of wine he had with dinner. At six foot one and 190 pounds, Reagan stands tall and straight, but his appearance does not intimidate: rather, he looks to be approachable and kind.

The governor's opponent is incumbent president Jimmy Carter. At five nine and 155 pounds, the slender Carter has the build of a man who ran cross-country in college. In fact, the president still makes time for four miles a day. Carter is a political junkie, immersing himself in every last nuance of a campaign. He has made a huge surge in the polls over the last two months. Carter knows that with one week until Election Day, the race is almost dead even. The winner of this debate will most likely win the presidency, and if it is Carter, his comeback will be one of the greatest in modern history.
In another reality, a Carter loss would make him the first president in nearly fifty years to be voted out of office after just one full term. Still boyish at fifty-six, but with a face lined by the rigors of the presidency, he now stands opposite Reagan, a man he loathes.

The feeling is mutual. Reagan privately refers to the current president of the United States as “a little shit.”

*   *   *

As President Carter stands behind the pale-blue lectern, he makes a sly sideward glance at his opponent. Carter is all business and believes that Ronald Reagan is not his intellectual equal. He has publicly stated that Reagan is “untruthful and dangerous” and “different than me in almost every basic element of commitment and experience and promise to the American people.”

At his acceptance speech at the August 1980 Democratic National Convention, Carter made it clear that the upcoming election would be “a stark choice between two men, two parties, two sharply different pictures of what America is and the world is.”

The president concluded by adding, “It's a choice between two futures.”

Indeed, Carter appears to be the smarter man. He graduated fifty-ninth in a class of 820 from the U.S. Naval Academy and spent his military career onboard nuclear submarines. The Georgia native with the toothy smile possesses an easy command of facts and figures. He has hands-on experience in foreign and domestic policy and often speaks in soothing intellectual sound bites.

Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan shake hands as they greet each other before their 1980 presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio.

In 1976, Carter defeated his Republican opponent, Gerald R. Ford, in their three debates, and he is sure he will do the same tonight. Political pollster Pat Caddell, the nation's leading authority on presidential elections and a member of the Carter campaign, predicts that Carter will clinch the election with a decisive debate victory.

Two months ago, Reagan's lead in the polls was sixteen points. But if the election were held today, polls indicate Carter would garner 41 percent of the vote and Reagan 40. However, Caddell has strongly warned Carter against debating Reagan. The biggest knock against Reagan politically is the perception that he is a warmonger. Caddell believes that a debate would allow Reagan to counter those fears by appearing warm and collected rather than half-cocked. Once it became clear that Carter was intent on a public debate, his advisers pressed for the long, ninety-minute format that will be used tonight, hoping that Reagan will wear down and say something stupid.

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