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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Former President Ronald Reagan Dies At Family Estate In California

Aired June 5, 2004 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Now, former President George Herbert Walker Bush is likely going to be making a statement in about 15 minutes from now from Kennebunkport, Maine, and of course, you know he and Ronald Reagan, worked closely together, being very good friends, and as vice president and then Ronald Reagan then campaigning for him on his behalf to eventually become the president of the United States.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: It is the top of the hour right now, 6:00 Eastern Time. I'm Carol Lin at the CNN Center. Fredricka Whitfield joining me on set as we talk about the breaking news this afternoon. As we have been reporting, the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, died this afternoon in his Bel Air home. He was with his wife, Nancy Reagan and his surviving children, Ron Jr., Patty Davis. Michael Reagan shortly after following. He had been long suffering for about the last 10 years from Alzheimer's when he made the announcement back in 1994. And shortly there after withdrew from public life as he and his family coped with this disease and certainly brought more awareness about this disease. Nancy Reagan most recently lobbying for more funding for stem cell research to help Alzheimer's patients.

Frank Buckley has been standing by outside the Reagan home in Bel Air.

Frank, if you can bring us up to date as to who has arrived. It looks a lot more crowded behind you with security.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Carol. Right now, more members of the Los Angeles Police Department arriving on scene, trying to make sure that this area remains as clear as possible of cars so that those people who have to get into the estate can, come and go as easily as possible. It's as dignified as it can be with this many members of our news media being here. Everyone trying to stay off the road and trying to allow these vehicles to pass.

You were just talking about the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. And to talk about that just a little bit, you can say that we all know, of course, that President Reagan sent out a letter talking about that. When the letter went -- the letter went public on November 5, 1994. And I can quote you from the letter, President Reagan saying then that "we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition." He said back then that "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've always done." We know that this -- when he came back here to California after leaving the presidency in Washington, that he had a routine and was very involved in going every day to the Fox Plaza and Century City. He had an office there. I had a chance once to see him in his office when President Clinton, the newly elected President Clinton went to meet President Reagan there. That was quite a scene. The moderate Democrat Clinton meeting with President Reagan in his office. But in recent years, of course, and since the diagnosis, we have not seen President Reagan in public.

We do know, of course, Nancy Reagan was with him all the time. Nancy, who called President Reagan Ronnie, and President Reagan calling Nancy Mommy throughout the years. We know they were together until the end. She was largely involved in taking care of President Reagan, of course, with the staff of people, but the report that we all had suggested that Nancy Reagan was always with him.

Right now, here, as you said, Carol, more police arriving on the scene. Police have asked the media to move as many of their vehicles as possible off the street. And so that's what is happening here right now.

LIN: Frank, it's getting difficult to hear you. But I'm just wondering if you can give me a sense of the scene around you. I know you briefly described it and you need to move because of security purposes. And I don't know if your camera can swing around, but can you give us a sense of what is going on because the helicopters are starting to drown you out?

BUCKLEY: OK, Carol, what I will do is I'll get out of the way here and I'll have Wes just show you what is happening here. Again, you can see the police at the gate. And as we look over, there are -- Wes, if you'll just continue to pan over and show them what you have to the side there and by the tree there. You can see there are cameras and reporters and vehicles parked on the side here. They're down -- the vehicles have been moved and there is a significant police presence here right now --Carol.

LIN: All right. All right, thank you very much. Frank Buckley giving us a sense of the scene and the security and the crowds beginning to gather at the Reagan home in Bel Air where President Reagan passed away this afternoon -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: We have been told that it is just after midnight in Europe where President Bush is now and his visit to Europe a day before the D-Day celebrations. We are told that he would have a written statement momentarily. Well, apparently, he is making a statement there and when we get that, we'll be bringing that to you. And just to encapsulate briefly what he has said already, he says this is incredibly sad day in America. It was just a month ago when former first lady Nancy Reagan, at a fund-raiser, said -- quote -- "Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him. Because of this, I'm determined to do whatever I can to save other families from his pain." She was calling for increased funding for stem cell research, a promise that is potentially very controversial. But one she says that she wanted to stick with.

Our Wolf Blitzer is in Normandy where tomorrow President Bush is expected to attend the commemoration ceremony.

We heard from our John King a little while ago, Wolf, who said as far as he knows it doesn't appear as though President Bush will be changing his plans. Even though the news has come rather abruptly today about the former president, Ronald Reagan -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Fredricka. John King, our senior White House correspondent, in Paris tonight traveling with the president reporting that it looks like the president will continue as scheduled to come here early in the morning. It's now after midnight. It's already June 6 here in Normandy, France six hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States. The president will be coming here with his entourage, with the entire presidential delegation. They'll be commemorating the 60th anniversary of the D- Day, 1944 -- June 6, 1944. They'll be here with President Jacques Chirac, the German chancellor, Gerhardt Schroeder, Tony Blair of Britain, Vladimir Putin of Russia. Most of the European leadership will be here as well. No doubt the Ronald Reagan death will clearly hover over this 60th anniversary of D-Day.

The presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley, is here in Normandy with us.

Doug, you were just in Simi Valley at the Reagan library. We understand the body, at least this was the schedule, this is what was planned, will be taken from Bel Air -- from the home in Bel Air to the presidential library in Simi Valley before it's flown to Washington where it will lie in state, where there will be a funeral service at the National Cathedral, eventually returning to the plot of land in Simi Valley at the presidential library. But you learned some fascinating new details about this president, this 40th president of the United States.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I did, Wolf. First off, when you hear of the Bel Air, that is the home, of course, Nancy Reagan and Ronald Reagan had been living at, but most people think of Reagan, they think of Santa Barbara, California, the great ranch that's there. And today the ranch is -- you can go and take appointments and see it and world leaders used to come to the ranch and it's a symbolic place. Where he's going to be buried is overlooking this great valley in California. There's a great hunk of the Berlin Wall that's there, as a symbolism for his famous speech -- "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

When you go through the library and talk to -- what's becoming most interesting to historians is what a great writer Ronald Reagan was.

BLITZER: A lot of our viewers don't know that, but there's a book that recently came out with that writing. He used to write in his own hand.

BRINKLEY: There were incredible speeches he gave in the 1960s. Of course, he was governor of California from '67 to '74, but he did a lot of radio and would write these anti-communist, thoughtful, you know in his own handwriting, you can look at them. That book has come out. There has a book of his letters. He was an incredible letter writer, including challenging Hugh Hefner of "Playboy" on whether, you know, he should be publishing his magazine to writing old friends and writing common people. There is one woman, Lorraine Wagner in Philadelphia, a member of his fan club, he wrote about 250 letters to. But the thing that's really interesting is going to come in the next few years. And ex-Governor Pete Wilson and Fred Ryan, and others are trying to make this happen...

BLITZER: Fred Ryan was his California chief of staff.

BRINKLEY: That's right -- or the White House diaries. Ronald Reagan kept regular diaries when he was in the White House. They have not been published. And these are in his own distinctive scroll. And I think when the White House diaries are published, along with the speeches and these letters; we're going to have to rethink Reagan as a conservative intellectual in a way. We can't just write him off as the Death Valley day guys.

And then finally...

BLITZER: Well, let's talk a little bit about these handwritten diaries that he kept. During the eight years he was president of the United States, he wouldn't dictate into some sort of recording machine, but every day, very disciplined, he would go back and in his own words, in his own hand, he would write some reflections of what happened on that day. You've recently had some access to those diaries.

BRINKLEY: Right. And that's -- these diaries, I think when they're published; they're going to be very, very interesting because up until now, it's only been the letters that people have been reading. He got incredible reviews last year. "The Los Angeles Times" picked Reagan's letters as one of the books of the year. I think the diary diaries, when they're published, are going to shed a new light. What you really is -- and I think the Reagan and the White House is just how good-natured he is and how much he's connecting to everyday people and how much he loves Nancy.

BLITZER: Well, let's talk about that as well because one of the things that really comes through is that love affair that he has with Nancy Reagan.

BRINKLEY: Absolutely. I mean, you know, you just -- there was even another book coming out, just some of his writings to her. And he was deeply in love with her and she was his -- she was his alter ego. She really ran his life and she's the one who has been really making the Reagan library such a first rate institute and working there very hard. And so everybody in the world that's going to be going to Simi Valley and watching now, for the funeral and Nancy Reagan has done one remarkable job of dealing with her husband's Alzheimer's.

BLITZER: What an incredible woman she is, Nancy Reagan, and what a love affair that has been.

Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is in Washington. She's watching. She's learning. She's beginning to reflect on the sad news of Ronald Reagan dying at 93.

Candy you covered him. I covered him. What goes through your mind?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wow! So many things. I mean first of all, just looking, you know, watching here, thinking this was a man born in 1911. I mean, he spanned almost an entire century. He came into office at a time, you know, we heard the word malaise. I remember on his inauguration day, news that the hostages in Iran were going to be released. I think of the time he sent planes to bomb Libya, obviously his famous speech about "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." So there are so many kind of historic moments that not only were interesting at that time, but really changed the shape of both Washington and the world.

I mean, when Ronald Reagan came into office, there were not that many conservatives. A conservative wing of the Republican Party was sort of a tepid bunch. I mean he made conservative cool again. He made the "L" word liberal a bad word that's only just now coming back into fashion.

I think about Bill Clinton coming up as a new Democrat and saying to Congress, "The era of big government is over." That was started by Ronald Reagan. So in ways both big and small this was a man that not only was, yes, optimistic, and certainly contrasted at the time to Jimmy Carter, whom he was running against at the beginning, talking about malaise. Reagan came in with a big smile on his face, this upbeat -- you know shining cities on a hill.

He was a very optimistic guy and very easy to be around. That was the other thing I thought. He was a -- bit of an old school gentleman in some ways. At least in my dealings with him, you always knew that he was the gentleman. You were -- when we used to have after work drinks with him and he would seat everyone around, but he always would have the ladies by his side. He was very solicitous of you, so very much from that world.

I think a lot of times when the Marines were bombed in Beirut and we were him down -- he was golfing some place -- I can't remember where, but it was some place down south. And I remember in the middle of the night, coming back, thinking he won't be re-elected. This is -- this was a horrible -- and you know, Marines by the hundreds were killed in Beirut. He came back. There was an invasion of Grenada not too long after that. And he was able to sort of lead the country through all these horrible times, including the shuttle disaster and the Marines in Beirut, any number of things.

But people just liked him. He had this aura around him that even if he was doing things that Democrats disagreed with, and there were plenty of things that Democrats disagreed with, he did it in such a way that they weren't mad at him. They disagreed with him, but it wasn't that bitter kind of struggle because he was simply too engaging a character really to despise. So while in the large picture, Democrats thought oh, he was horrible and he was throwing people off welfare and he was hurting the poor, you never heard too many bad words about him because he was such a charming guy with a big heart -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A big heart indeed, very likable. Even his adversaries in Washington, as all of us remember, had a tough time disliking Ronald Reagan.

Candy, stand by.

We're here in Normandy, France. It's already June 6, the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the day that began to end World War II. Eleven months later, the Nazi empire would be over with, World War II in Europe would be over with. Ronald Reagan was here exactly 20 years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-Day and delivered one of his most memorable speeches. Our Jim Bittermann was here as well, our long time Paris correspondent. Let's bring in Jim Bittermann.

You remember that day, Jim, almost as if it were yesterday, 20 years ago, Ronald Reagan's speech here in Normandy.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I do, Wolf. That was, in fact, one of the most striking moments, I think, of the '80s as far as I was concerned among Europeans.

You were talking earlier to Doug Brinkley about his common touch, and that speech that he delivered on quite -- a very short speech, but it had that common touch to it. It had a lot of quotes from people who were rangers that had climbed the cliffs of Point du Hoc, young children that remembered the rangers and the military coming ashore and freeing -- and there are some of the pictures from Point du Hoc. We, in the press corps joked it almost sounded like Reagan was there, but of course, he wasn't. But he had that way of making it sound like he was part of the operation.

And I think for Europeans, that was a very good sign indeed. It was a time when they needed to feel some support from the United States. The United States, if you remember back then, was pressuring the Europeans to install Cruise and Pershing missiles, intermediate range missiles, to balance the Soviet threat, the SS-20s. And the pressure was strong and hard for the Europeans to stand up to the Soviets not unlike it is right now, a lot of pressure being put on the Europeans.

And he was particularly adept with this likable quality, this likable personality he had, of a very adept -- and especially with his aides, Casper Weinberger and George Schultz, adept at convincing Europeans they should go along and stand up and mount a common defense against the Soviets. Francois Mitterrand was convinced and so was Chancellor Kohl over in Germany, so I think that he did a great deal in terms of having the balance the power kept in Europe and eventually leading, of course, to the bringing down of the Wall that separated Europe. So I think he'll be remembered that way.

He worked consistently to stand by the Europeans. He worked closely with the Pope, for instance, as we came to find out later in terms of the Pope's efforts to galvanize east Europeans through solidarity and Poland and other operations, in Czechoslovakia and other places, to begin the kind of popular movements that eventually led to bringing down the Wall.

So he was very well liked in Europe. I think probably there was one of the more positive times although he started out not being very well liked. He was started off being made fun of, much in the way George Bush was made fun of at the beginning, too. The fact the Europeans sort of felt that he was a one note candidate, that he -- that basically he had very simplistic ideas. But when they saw the way he put the ideas into motion with the intermediate missiles, for instance, they liked the idea that there were missile restriction treaties that were negotiated at the same time. They were bringing in missiles and at the same time you're also reducing arms. That was a good idea as far as the Europeans were concerned. So he was very popular here and I would say one of the more popular presidents that Europe has ever seen --Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, stand by because we're going to be getting back to you.

Those were memorable days, exactly 20 years ago when Ronald Reagan was here in Normandy, delivered that very, very moving speech to the boys of Point du Hoc here in Normandy, recalling what was going on now 60 years ago on the D-Day liberation, the start of the liberation of France and Europe.

Douglas Brinkley is still with us here in Normandy. Remind our viewers, Doug, when we talk about Point du Hoc, the cliffs that those U.S. Army Rangers had to scale as Nazi gunfire and artillery shells were raining down on them, why that was so important for Ronald Reagan to talk about that on that D-Day anniversary 20 years ago.

BRINKLEY: Well, right behind us is Omaha Beach. And there are five beaches: Gold, Sword, Juno, Omaha and Utah Beaches, but Omaha is where the bloodiest action was mainly -- per, as you said, you had to climb these scale -- you'd land on a Higgins boat, you'd have to rush to the shore and then climb up these cliffs 100 foot high to get to the German encampments. And yes, you had paratroopers behind, but these guys of D-Day were -- particularly in Omaha, showed a kind of valor and courage so rare. And, of course, it's been made famous in movies like, you know, "Saving Private Ryan," those opening scenes which are so unforgettable. But Reagan, before there was a "Saving Private Ryan" felt the drama here at Omaha Beach and just wanted to inspect everything he could here. This was a sacred spot where we're at for Ronald Reagan.

He was in the Army. He served as a lieutenant during the World War II. And he was most known for making the "Knute Rockne" movie in 1940, but he had bad eyesight so he never saw combat. He had continued working for the U.S. Army making films and so, by the end of the war in 1945, he became a captain. He was Captain Reagan although he was in the Reserves and that meant a lot to him that -- and he always wished that he could have been, in many ways, with some of the men here at Point du Hoc in -- on the beach at Omaha. BLITZER: And there's no doubt that his participation 20 years ago in the 40th anniversary of D-Day played such a significant role in bringing to a new generation of Americans and indeed people all over the world the historic importance of D-Day, what happened here on June 6, 1944.

Once again, President Bush and other world leaders, the French president Jacques Chirac, the German chancellor, Gerhardt Schroeder, and others, Tony Blair, will all be here on Sunday in a few hours. It's already June 6 here in France. They'll be coming here and no doubt in addition to commemorating the 60th anniversary of D-Day; they'll be remembering Ronald Reagan as well.

Our special coverage is going to continue now. CNN's Paula Zahn is standing by in New York -- Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Wolf. We're getting a better sense now of what is taking place outside former President Reagan's home. We're going to try to show you a picture to give you an idea of what the Los Angeles Police Department is up against at this hour. You have dozens and dozens of news crews rolling into the neighborhood. It has just been confirmed by the Reagan's chief of staff that Mrs. Reagan, Patty Davis and Ron were at the Reagan home in Bel Air when President Reagan passed away. Michael Reagan, a son by a previous marriage, we are told, has also just recently showed up at the house.

We're going to turn now to Frank Buckley who has been standing by there all this afternoon, pretty much at the time that the word reached the White House that the health of the 93-year-old former president had seriously deteriorated. Frank, describe the scene to us now.

BUCKLEY: Paula, I was just having a conversation with some of the officers here. They're trying to make sure that everyone stays off the road so that there -- anyone who does need to come through can get through. Right now, you can see there's a fairly significant police presence here in front of the gates of the Bel Air estate of the Reagans. The police have been coming and literally putting the police tape up to make sure that all of the cameras stay behind it.

As you said dozens of journalists here and very little information. Someone did just come out a moment ago to tell us that there will be a statement made shortly but not -- it won't be coming from here. So very little information expected to come out of this location. It's just where family members have gathered and so of course, a natural place for everyone to come to see what has happened.

We can tell you at least one person has come; one private citizen just came a few moments ago, didn't want to talk on camera, but came with a bouquet of flowers to pay respects. I suspect the first of hundreds of such displays that we'll see in the days ahead -- Paula.

ZAHN: Frank, as you're standing by there, we just want to bring our audience up to date on what we can expect over the next couple of hours. Former President Reagan's vice president during his term, George Bush, is expected to make a statement to reporters shortly from Kennebunk, Maine, where he summers. His son is on his way -- in Paris -- excuse me, is in Paris right now, the second stop on his trip to Europe. I think that Wolf Blitzer was talking a little bit earlier on of how this is very tricky timing on the White House part as Mr. Bush gets ready to address people about the D-Day celebrations going on.

Just a reminder that there had been a number of reports over the last 72 hours or so that President Reagan's health was deteriorating. In fact, his office's chief of staff confirmed that some 300 calls had come in just in the last 24 hours alone; giving rise to many rumors that in fact he was losing his battle. The -- we are told that Nancy Reagan last spoke with Michael -- excuse me, with Mike Wallace. And that is the only reporter we know of that she's spoken to recently and she pretty much said to him -- quote -- "This is it." And Mike Wallace apparently said to her, "Is it conceivable that it could happen this weekend?" And she said, "Yes, yes." Mike Wallace will be joining "LARRY KING LIVE" at 9:00 to talk a little bit more about his conversation with Mrs. Reagan.

Let's go back to Frank Buckley for a second, one more time, to talk -- excuse me, I guess Wolf Blitzer is up now from France. Let's go back to him.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Paula. I want to bring our viewers up to date on President Bush. He's in Paris. He's getting ready to sleep for a few hours. He'll be getting up very, very early. It's now past midnight here in France. He'll be coming here to Normandy for the 60th anniversary commemoration of D-Day.

We're told that a few minutes ago, the president did speak with a pool of White House reporters. We are going to be getting that statement from the president and bringing it to our viewers around the world momentarily. So stand by for that. The president expressing his sadness over the death of Ronald Reagan as are so many other people in the United States and around the world.

Once again, our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is in Washington getting reaction to the sad news that the 93-year-old former president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, is dead --Candy.

CROWLEY: One of those reactions, Wolf, just recently from Senator John Kerry, of course, the presumptive Democratic nominee, who said in a paper statement, "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." Kerry went on to say, "Despite the disagreements, Reagan lived by that noble ideal that at 5:00 p.m. we weren't Democrats or Republicans, we were American and friends." Further along he said "he was the voice of America in good times and in grief. When we lost the brave astronauts in the Challenger tragedy, he reminded us that nothing ends here. Our hopes and our journeys continue."

So once again, talking about -- and I suspect we will hear that a lot, Wolf, over the next couple of days about the optimism of Ronald Reagan, about -- really giving, you know, humanity to that phrase, the bully pulpit. This was a man who used the presidency to infuse the country with some optimism and with his upbeat nature. So that being recognized, of course, by politicians and others who have known Reagan over the years or even those now, of course who read about him in history. He is not just the oldest man to have been elected president; he is the only president that has survived to the age of 93.

So always in good health as you know, Wolf. I remember watching him a lot up at his ranch in Santa Barbara, which he so loved, riding horseback, clearing brush. It got -- he did that so often and we got so many press releases about his clearing brush that it got to be sort of a joke among the press corps. He loved to be active. He was in just great shape, never looked his age. Really only after leaving office in those final few pictures that we have seen of him did he even begin to look old.

So as you say, reaction beginning to come in. So much of it is surrounded by this sense of Ronald Reagan's optimism and the feeling that he -- while he disagreed a lot with Democrats and sometimes with Republicans it was never a disagreeable disagreement -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect, Candy, that presidents, prime ministers, kings and queens will gather in Washington, all of the political leadership of the United States, the major leadership of the United States will gather in Washington for that memorial service that will be scheduled in the next few days as his body is brought from California to Washington where it will lie in state. The major memorial service taking place in Washington.

Candy, you say he was in such good physical shape and he certainly was and all of us who watched him and covered him, especially when he was out at the ranch in Santa Barbara could see that, but remind our viewers how close to death he actually came when he was almost assassinated in 1981.

CROWLEY: You know what's interesting is here was a case where we really didn't find out how very close he was to dying on that day when John Hinckley opened fire outside the Hilton here in Washington. In fact, you know what we got and what we suspected were pushed by the White House were reports about this joke, honey, I forgot to duck. He walked into the emergency room. We did not know until much later and then learned from his doctors that he was indeed very much in danger of losing his life but a lot that helped him, of course, was the fact that he was in such good physical condition.

BLITZER: And thank God he survived that tragic, tragic assassination attempt. Candy, stand by. We'll be getting back to you for more reaction from throughout the United States on the death of Ronald Reagan.

Let's, once again, go to Paula Zahn. She's standing by in New York -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Wolf. For those of you just joining us, we want to confirm to you that the oldest man ever elected president has lost his life. Former President Ronald Reagan dead at the age of 93 after a very long battle with Alzheimer's. We haven't seen much of him over the last 10 years. In fact, he hasn't written much that we've been exposed to since November of 1994 when he confirmed he had been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer's, an incurable illness that destroys brain cells. And it was that time that he panned the poignant letter to the American public where he said he had "begun the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life."

It has been heartbreaking over the last several months to hear his family members talk about his battle and what he had to endure physically after a fall several years ago where he required a hip replacement surgery. But more recently Nancy Reagan made a heartfelt plea for stem cell research as she watched the ravages of this disease tear her husband down physically. And she gave her first indication yesterday to reporter Mike Wallace that indeed she thought her husband was losing this very long battle.

We're going listen to Bruce Morton now where he shares with us some of the Reagan legacy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The motto by his picture in his high school yearbook was "Life is just one grand, sweet song, so start the music." Ronald Reagan believed that always. He loved the music, loved his life at school, as a lifeguard, at little Eureka College where he made the football team. Loved being an announcer for the Chicago Cubs, loved Hollywood. Maybe he really was the Gipper after all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you hear me yelling you ran back that kickoff?

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF United States: Sure I did, Bill, that's why I kept running.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gee, wait until I tell the kids that.

R. REAGAN: That a boy.

MORTON: If he succeeded, and he did, it was because he was happy in all the roles he played. He was the kid. He used to talk about who knew, faced with a barn full of manure, that there had to be a pony around somewhere. He was married twice, didn't always get along with his children, but was deeply in love with his wife.

R. REAGAN: I met Nancy Davis 33 years ago in California. She had been my first lady since long before the White House.

MORTON: And they were partners. She worried for him, planned for him, sometimes even fed him a line.

NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: Doing everything we can.

R. REAGAN: Doing everything we can.

MORTON: Some presidents yearn for the job; need it to find out who they are. Ronald Reagan always knew who he was. Politics came to him. Debating Jimmy Carter, he asked a question, people remembered.

R. REAGAN: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

MORTON: But Americans remembered the humor from that debate, too.

R. REAGAN: There you go again.

MORTON: He loved one-liners and so did the voters. Badly wounded by would be assassin John Hinckley, Reagan joked to his wife, "Honey, I forgot to duck" and to the doctors, "Please tell me you're Republicans." One liners, grace under pressure. Remember...

R. REAGAN: Go ahead, make my day. You ain't seen nothing yet. And you can tell it's working because as I've said several times already, they don't call it Reaganomics anymore.

MORTON: When the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up, killing its crew, he gentled the country.

R. REAGAN: They prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.

MORTON: To a country haunted by Vietnam, he offered easy wins, Grenada. Force could work.

R. REAGAN: Under this administration, our nation is through wringing its hands and apologizing.

MORTON: It didn't always work, of course. Marines died in Lebanon. And the president who cared deeply about the hostages there traded arms for them. He said he wouldn't and then convinced himself that maybe he hadn't done that after all.

R. REAGAN: I have to say I don't recall that at all.

MORTON: He got to be good at not hearing the questions he didn't want to hear. People loved his politics or hated them, but mostly they liked Reagan the man. He left office on a high.

R. REAGAN: George, just one personal request. Go out there and win one for the Gipper.

MORTON: He didn't need the presidency when he was president, didn't seem to miss it much once he left -- a visit to Japan, a stroll with Mickey Mouse. Life was a grand, sweet song and the music played for a long time.

Bruce Morton, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So not only the oldest American ever elected the presidency, the longest living president ever here in the United States. Ronald Reagan has lost his battle with Alzheimer's, almost a 10-year fight. The White House says President George W. Bush was informed of his death around 4:10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. And within an hour, the U.S. flag over the U.S. -- or over the White House was actually at half-staff.

Let's turn to Frank Buckley who has been standing by the family compound in Los Angeles, in Bel Air, as he's watched a tremendous amount of activity over the last couple of hours.

Frank, I know that CNN has confirmed that at least two of Ronald Reagan's children were at his bedside and we believe that Michael Reagan showed up shortly after the very bad news. What else have you learned?

BUCKLEY: Well, we can tell our viewers, Paula, what is expected to happen during the next several days, in the days ahead, as the observance of Ronald Reagan's death is marked by Americans across the country. We can tell you that the first, of course, the casket will be -- will leave this location. The body will leave this location, go a mortuary. From there, the body will repose in the home state, the home state being California. After a period of repose here in California, the casket is moved to Washington, D.C. That should take place on the second day. On the third day, the casket will be involved in a main funeral procession to the capital where there could be a lying in state period of 17 to 24 hours. Day four, the casket is moved to the funeral location in Washington, D.C. It could be the National Cathedral for that. Also, the casket would then be moved with the president to Andrews Air Force Base for transportation back to California where on the fifth day there would be a service, a funeral service of some of kind here in California and final burial services. These are all the things that could take place.

We -- the caveat is that the family can veto this. The next of kin can decide at any moment that this is what we have decided to do. Yes, this is a former president of the United States, but also is a family member. So at the end of the day, Nancy Reagan and others could decide exactly what is going to happen to former President Reagan, but that's what we expect in the days ahead.

Right now, we can just tell you that the police are here and in fact they're just -- they're making an announcement. They've asked to make it off camera. But I will just -- they're just trying to give us a briefing, Paula so if you'll permit me, I'll throw it back you to. I'll quickly find out and I'll come back to you.

ZAHN: All right, Frank. And we are standing by for former President Bush to talk about serving under Ronald Reagan as his vice president during two terms. As we await to get that live shot up out of Kennebunkport, I wanted to share with you some of what Nancy Reagan has said recently. She, obviously, fiercely protected president Reagan's privacy but she had let people know that his mental condition had deteriorated terribly. And just last month she said in a poignant way -- quote -- "Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him."

Two of his children, Maureen Reagan, when she was alive, and more recently Patty Davis, has written extensively about the impact of President Reagan's illness, not only on him physically and mentally, but on family members as well. And I remember shortly before Maureen Reagan lost her battle with cancer, she told me what it was like to spend time with her father at a point where he still recognized her and she said he never lost his sense of humor. She said she was quite struck by the fact that he was tickled by the fact that she wore red nail polish. That was amusing to him. And she described how they often did children's puzzles together, that that was something that he found stimulating at that point of his journey.

We are going check in now with Wolf Blitzer who is standing by in Normandy.

Wolf, as I understand it, President George W. Bush, who is in Paris right now, has spoken with some reporters standing by and we hope to get an audio portion of that. And we continue to wait for his father, George Bush, the former president of the United States, to talk about the long relationship he had serving under Ronald Reagan.

BLITZER: That's right, Paula. We're expecting statements from both the presidents. President Bush has already spoken with a pool of reporters. We're standing by to get the tape. We'll bring that to our viewers around the world as soon as we get that. We're also expecting a statement from the former President Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Paula, I know -- like me, you covered that Reagan administration. Reflect a little bit on the relationship as we await the statement from the former President Bush when he was vice president of the United States during those eight years under Ronald Reagan, the nature of the relationship between Ronald Reagan and George Bush, the president, and the vice president.

ZAHN: Well, I think they shared a lot in common when it came to the war on communism. And I've spoken with a couple of people over the last hour who said while you can't wholly credit Ronald Reagan for bringing the Soviet Union down, certainly much of what he said contributed to the end of the Soviet Union. So I think they shared views on that.

They were not always lock, step and barrel when it came to issues of the economy. But from everything I've been told, why they didn't share the closest personal relationships, there was a great deal of respect that they had for each other. And it'll be interesting to see what former President Bush has to say about their relationship. He has been very careful over the last couple of years not to say a whole lot as everyone held out hope that Ronald Reagan would live for a long, long time.

BLITZER: You know it's amazing when we think about that relationship between the former President Bush as vice president and now, the late Ronald Reagan, they were rivals going into that presidential race. They were bitter rivals, yet when all was said and done, Paula, Ronald Reagan selected George Bush to be his running mate. You remember those days. ZAHN: I remember them vividly. I think you were covering the White House at that point. I was actually working in local news at that point and actually covered that 1988 race pretty closely. It did take a while, as I understand it, for some of that contention to be erased. As you mentioned when you're, you know, out there on the campaign trail, stealing each other's microphones, and trying to grab for air time, it takes a while to erase some of the wounds.

BLITZER: All right.

ZAHN: And I believe...

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We just spoke to Nancy Reagan...

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: Here is the president speaking just a few minutes ago.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BUSH: Laura and I offered her and the Reagan family our prayers and our condolences. Ronald Reagan won America's respect with his greatness and won its love with his goodness. He had the confidence that comes with conviction, the strength that comes with character, the grace that comes with humility and the humor that comes with wisdom. He leaves behind a nation he restored and a world he helped save.

During the years of President Reagan, America laid to rest an era of division and self-doubt. And because of his leadership, the world laid to rest an era of fear and tyranny. Now, in laying our leader to rest, we say thank you. He always told us, that for America, the best was yet to come. We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that this is true for him too. His work is done and now a shining city awaits him. May God bless Ronald Reagan.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush speaking in Paris tonight on the death of Ronald Reagan. The president saying he spoke by phone with Mrs. Nancy Reagan just a little while ago, shortly after confirmation that Ronald Reagan at 93 years old had passed away, expressing his admiration, his deep affection for the 40th president of the United States.

The president is in Paris right now, but in a few hours, he'll be coming here to Normandy to remember not only Ronald Reagan, but he'll remember the 60th anniversary of D-Day together with other world leaders who have gathered here in France.

Our senior White House correspondent John King is in Paris. He's traveling with the president. He's joining us now live as well.

John, the president was just speaking live on -- that we heard on CNN. Is that right?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, that feed arranged via cell phone from one of our reporters in the travel pool. The president just spoke. That message was on camera. You heard the live audio feed. He is here in Paris. The tape of that -- and we will be able to see and hear from the president. The tape of that statement in just a few minutes. It will be brought to us and we will, of course, bring it to air.

Mr. Bush, in his statement, remembering the optimism of Ronald Reagan, calling -- remembering his legacy in the United States but also as you noted on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landing, Mr. Bush recalling Ronald Reagan's role in ending the Cold War and in bringing down communism. He said his job is now done and he is going to a shining city. Ronald Reagan, of course, used that term in one of his speeches. Mr. Bush, in paying tribute to a man whose politics he often tries to emulate, recalling again Ronald Reagan's optimism. That, I think, will more than anything is the impact Ronald Reagan had.

And Democrats didn't like him, but they liked his company. And this president today saying farewell to a man, of course, that his father served as vice president and again, who this president, George W. Bush, models much of his political career, particularly his optimistic style of campaigning, on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, how actively involved in the '80s, during the eight years of the Reagan administration when his father was the vice president of the United States, is the current president? Was the current president in politics, specifically getting involved in preparing for his own political career and perhaps being influenced by the Ronald Reagan legacy?

KING: Well, two years before Ronald Reagan was elected, George W. Bush, the current president, ran for Congress and lost but he was frequently in Washington and often at the White House when his father was the vice president. He was known as his father's unofficial enforcer both when George H.W. Bush was vice president and then again when he was president.

This President Bush was much more active politically once his father became president, especially in his campaigns in 1988 and in 1992, the campaign his father lost. This president learned many lessons from the campaign his father ran and lost in 1992 and in many ways would concede the point that his father needed to be more like Ronald Reagan and campaign more optimistically and more upbeat. So he was very active. He says he learned a lot from watching Ronald Reagan first hand. And we see those lessons from this President Bush, even now, Wolf, as he tries to campaign for re-election in a very tough contest back home in the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A very tough contest indeed. John King will be covering the president's trip to Normandy. He's in Paris with the president right now. We'll be getting back to you, John. Thanks very much.

Paula Zahn has been watching and listening and reflecting on all of this as well. She's in New York.

Paula, when you heard what the current president said about Ronald Reagan and that brief statement that he we just aired here on CNN, and we'll get the videotape shortly and replay it for our viewers, he was clearly influenced by this president.

ZAHN: Absolutely. And I think that the one thing that he has emphasized in that statement is something that a number of our guests have reflected on today and that was the goodness of this man. I thought it was poetic when the president said that Ronald Reagan has "grace that comes with humility, humor that comes with wisdom." And I guess if there's one thing that I'm told the current President Bush is inspired by is Reagan's view of the best is yet to come here in America. Now that's a hard argument to make given what this whole nation has gone through after 9/11. But when you talk to anybody who worked in the Reagan administration, what they will tell you is that Ronald Reagan never lost his optimism no matter how things got dark in the Soviet Union, no matter how fiercely the Democrats took him on the issues of tax cuts.

One of the things that's been happening, Wolf, while you have been talking with John King is that some of the details surrounding the burial of Ronald Reagan are becoming clearer at this hour. Let's turn to Frank Buckley who has been standing by in Bel Air, which is where Ronald Reagan has spent most of the last 10 years of his life as some of this information is becoming a little clearer.

Frank, first of all, before you get to that, describe for us the level of security in place now and the number of reporters and camera crews in place.

BUCKLEY: Well, in terms of who is here, in terms of the police, you can get a sense of it over my shoulder here. But I'll ask Wes as well -- I'll try to step out of the way here and Wes, show the viewers exactly the scene over here, with the media that has gathered. This is just a sampling of it. And you can see that we are literally in the trees here across the street from the estate. The police have asked us to please stay off the street so that the vehicles can come and go as they have been.

In fact, just a moment ago, Paula, I was -- I apologize for having to leave to hear what the police chief said over here. But it was Deputy Chief Mike Hillman who thanked the media for the way the media has conducted itself so far in this -- in following their directions and staying off the road and keeping this dignified, as he put it. He said that they would like it to continue in that matter. And he told us that during the next 60 to 90 minutes, so that would be approximately 4:30 to 5:00 p.m. local time, the body of the former president will be leaving this location. He didn't specify where to, but we believe that the body will be moving to a mortuary from this location.

We can also tell you that just a few moments ago, we saw a departure of one of the Reagan children. Michael Reagan leaving in the Jeep that he came to this estate in this afternoon. As he left, he thanked the police and thanked the media. He just quickly -- I can hear him saying, "Thank you, thank you" as he left and left unmolested as he left this location. So that's what we know right now and that's the scene here at the Bel Air estate -- Paula.

ZAHN: And Frank, what I would like to reflect on now is just some of what the Reagan family has been through since Ronald Reagan made it public in 1994 that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. And it's something that Mrs. Reagan has focused on recently and that is the toll this disease takes on family members. And I think anybody who watched her a couple of weeks ago when she made an impassioned plea for stem cell research, realize -- and that's an issue, obviously that is extremely controversial within the Republican Party -- one realized just how desperate she was to make life better for those who are diagnosed with this disease. A lot of people feel that that is the only avenue scientifically, which might bring people relief who are diagnosed with the disease.

Mrs. Reagan giving an indication to Mike Wallace of CBS News just yesterday that she believed the end was near. And I think part of the wear and tear on this family has been that he remained physically strong until just very recently. It was the mental deterioration that was so hard to accept. And I had a number of conversations not only with Maureen Reagan, who lost her life to cancer, but also with Michael Reagan who now is doing a radio show in San Diego. And he just talked about the trauma of being family member and watching someone you love just slowly slip away. And they both described walking into situations where their father -- where he no longer recognized their faces, nor their voices.

Let's go back to Wolf Blitzer who is standing by in Normandy for his reflections as a man who covered the White House very carefully -- Wolf.

BLITZER: An incredibly sad moment, Ronald Reagan. All of us who knew Ronald Reagan, who covered Ronald Reagan, Paula, I'm sure I speak for you, very, very sad that he has passed away though he lived a full 93 years. The last several years of his life plagued by Alzheimer's as all of us know, but during his lifetime, he had accomplished so much. This Hollywood star who went on to become governor of California, served two terms there, then went on to become the president of the United States, served two terms there. Despite some controversy at the end of his second term involving the so-called Iran-Contra Affair, he still emerged, when he left office, with the highest job approval rating of any president leaving office. The president leaving with such a high job approval rating, despite the controversy of Iran-Contra since the modern public opinion polls were going forward.

Douglas Brinkley, the presidential historian is here with us as well here in Normandy, getting ready for the 60th anniversary coverage of the D-Day invasion.

Why was he so popular?

BRINKLEY: I think what a couple of the commentators said, Wolf, this optimism. It was his oxygen for him. He would never get down no matter what happened to him. He seemed to always be in a good mood. And when he did get angry, he'd blow steam for a minute. It was almost staged anger and then he would -- he'd just sort of shrug it off.

I mean I think he really saw himself as America's president. I know a number of people who might have talked about him being a leader of the Republican Party and a conservative, but remember his early hero was Franklin Roosevelt, who also used optimism as an oxygen...

BLITZER: He was a Democrat in those days.

BRINKLEY: He was. He was a Democrat all the way through until 1962. In fact, Ronald Reagan campaigned in 1948 for Harry Truman. He liked Adlai Stevenson. And his breakthrough in the Republican Party really came in 1964 when he gave this famous speech on behalf of Berry Goldwater in San Francisco for the GOP convention.

But I think the key to Ronald Reagan was his years with General Electric, when he traveled the country and talked to blue collar workers. And the more these people -- he talked to, the more he sympathized with workers. And they were -- he thought that they needed to have their taxes cut, for example. He thought that they needed to get the federal government off their back and so he sort of really adopted this conservatism slowly as he traveled the country. So by 64 -- and he gave -- giving this tremendous speech, he became the darling of the Republican Party, but he always saw himself as America's president and loved the fact that there was a category called Reagan Democrats.

BLITZER: And he also had the 11th Commandment, as he would call it, never speak ill of fellow Republicans. That was so important to him and it certainly influenced the whole generation of current Republican leaders.

BRINKLEY: Absolutely, and nobody more than President Bush. I mean, you know whether he is having his cowboy boots on or you look at President Bush in Crawford, Texas, with stacks of hay behind him, he really is somebody who is in the shadow of Ronald Reagan much more so than his own father the president. I think because he became friends with Lee Atwater, our current president, and he started learning the optimism and the way that Reagan was so popular, that this -- our current president really is sort of a kindred spirit to Ronald Reagan and not George Bush, who was more -- his father was more of an international diplomat. Ronald Reagan was a rough and ready American, so is George W. Bush.

BLITZER: All right, Douglas Brinkley stand by. We're going get back to you. We're going to continue our special coverage, our reflection of Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, who is now dead at 93 years old.

Paula, when you think about this, when you think about Ronald Reagan, when you think about the current generation of Republican leaders around the United States, you have to admire what Ronald Reagan did to bolster this Republican party and to get it where it is today, not only in control of the White House but in control of the House of Representatives, and in control of the United States Senate. ZAHN: It is a stunning political legacy. And Wolf, while you were speaking, I was handed some statements by two former presidents, one of these from Gerald Ford. And I want to share it with the audience now.

He has said late this afternoon, "Betty and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our long time friend President Reagan. Ronald Reagan was an excellent leader of our nation during challenging times at home and abroad. We extend our deepest condolences and prayers to Nancy and his family."

And then this late statement from former President Bill Clinton: "Hillary and I will always remember President Ronald Reagan for the way he personified the indomitable optimism of the American people and for keeping America at the forefront of the fight for freedom for people everywhere. It is fitting that a piece of the Berlin Wall adorns the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington."

There is a great deal of reaction to this news coming from all over the country today and in particular, on Capitol Hill, a place where many fractious battles were fought during the Reagan administration and particularly over the issues of taxes. Let's turn to Ed Henry, who has a sense of the pulse in Washington now.

Good evening, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Paula. A soft rain is falling right now on the capital where just a short while ago the flag was lowered to half-staff to signify the death of Ronald Reagan, the nation's 40th president. This is where he will lie in state.

Information is just coming in to CNN now. We've confirmed a little bit about how this will play out. The formal details, we understand, will not be announced until at least tomorrow. That's our expectation at this point. But the details are being work out by the House and Senate, sergeant at arms. We're expecting that decision tomorrow but here's what -- how it will basically play out: whenever the family decides to bring the body of Ronald Reagan to the Washington area, it will arrive late in the evening at Andrews Air Force Base in the Washington area. Then it will be taken to Washington National Cathedral where it will repose overnight. And the next day at about 11:00 a.m., they will take the body to the corner of 16th Street and Constitution Avenue just near the White House, of course where Ronald Reagan served for two terms. They will then put the casket on a horse drawn caisson and there will be a procession led eastward on Constitution Avenue towards the capital of the United States. There are expected to be thousands of people, of course, lined up along both sides of Constitution Avenue. This procession will take about an hour for the casket to arrive from 16th and Constitution all the way to the capitol. There, it will be received, we understand -- waiting for the casket will be the president of the United States, of course, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Congressional leaders, members of the cabinet, some former presidents, diplomats from around the world. And then for about an hour, the president and Congressional leaders will talk. They will give some speeches. That will last about an hour. And then the body will lie in state for about 24 hours for the public, Paula.

ZAHN: And Henry, thanks so much for the update.

For those of you just joining us, Aaron Brown and I wanted to bring you up to date on the news out of California. The longest living president ever, the oldest American ever elected to the presidency, Ronald Reagan, has lost his very long battle with Alzheimer's. It became public around 4:10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. That's the point at which the White House was notified of his death.

President Bush, who was traveling in Paris, was immediately informed of it. And within a half hour, the White House was flying a flag over the White House at half staff.

Nancy Reagan has communicated to the American public over the last couple of weeks how she believed her husband...

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