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Encore Presentation: Classic Interviews With Nancy Reagan

Aired June 12, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, Nancy Reagan. As America mourns President Ronald Reagan, we'll spend an hour with the woman he so dearly loved. Classic interviews with former first lady Nancy Reagan on a very special LARRY KING LIVE.
KING: Good evening. During a week filled with sadness and reflection following the death of President Reagan, our thoughts are naturally also with the woman who stood by his side without fail, his wife, Nancy.

Tonight, one day after President Reagan was laid to rest, we give you our favorite moments with the woman he loved so very, very much. It's really just a simple love story played out on a global stage.


KING: Were you friends from the start? Did you hit it off right away?

NANCY REAGAN, FMR. FIRST LADY: Right away. Right away. Right away.


N. REAGAN: It was a blind date, as you know. It was a blind date, and I knew right away. Took him a little bit longer.

KING: Did you have to work on it?

N. REAGAN: I had to push him a little bit.

KING: But you knew right away?

N. REAGAN: I knew right away.

KING: What was it, in retrospect?

N. REAGAN: I don't know. He was so unlike any actor I'd ever known. He wasn't talking about himself all the time -- my last picture, my next picture. Let's talk about me -- what did you think of my last picture? You know. He was interested in so many things. And he was nice-looking also. Didn't hurt.

KING: He, extraordinarily -- even his severest critic would admit -- had an absence of ego, right? He was able to...

N. REAGAN: Absolutely. KING: Put ego somewhere.


KING: How do you explain that? Especially in someone not only in the public eye politically, but in the public eye in every way you could be.

N. REAGAN: Yes. Yes. Never had an ego. He's the same -- I never knew him in -- when he was in radio, but they say that he's exactly the same now as when he was in radio, which I believe, because he's exactly the same now as when he was in pictures. He's just -- he is a man absolutely devoid of ego or...

KING: What are your -- what are your arguments like? Because it's hard to picture this. I mean, we all know you so well, it's hard to picture the two of you having a fight.

N. REAGAN: We don't really have a fight. We disagree. I mean, there's nobody you agree with all the time. It's impossible.

KING: But you've never said, "Get out!"?

N. REAGAN: No. No. What if he did? I'd be, "Oh no."

KING: Why did you write "My Turn?"

N. REAGAN: Well, I thought after eight years that I'd try and give my side of the things that had been said. And I thought a lot of things were misunderstood about me and what I did or what I didn't do. And so I did.

I was surprised at the people who said it was vindictive. I never meant it to be vindictive. I -- you know...

KING: Like a lot of the reviews, even many that praised it, titled it "Getting Even."

N. REAGAN: I know. I know. And I didn't mean that. I didn't mean -- I didn't mean it -- I didn't write it in the "get even" sense.

KING: Was it a set-the-record-straight sense?


KING: That turned out to be getting even in some senses though, right?

N. REAGAN: I guess -- I guess it did.

KING: But in other words, you didn't say, I'm going to -- boy, this guy was a bad guy and I'm going to...

N. REAGAN: No, I didn't.

KING: ...tell you why he was bad. N. REAGAN: No I did not. No.

And, you know, the letters that I got, the ones that really pleased you were the ones that started out by saying, I owe you an apology because I believed everything I read about you. And now I know, after reading your book, that I was wrong and I apologize.

KING: As I've told you personally, I did too.

And I -- by the way, program aside, Nancy Reagan is a -- you're a terrific lady. And there's a lot -- but where did you read you wrong, and do you think, honestly, that you might have played a part in us reading you wrong?

N. REAGAN: I could have. I could have. I...

KING: This had to be at the start, right?

N. REAGAN: Right at the start. But I didn't know anything about Washington. I didn't know any of the people, I didn't know any of the players. I didn't know how -- I didn't know the town.

KING: It wasn't Sacramento.

N. REAGAN: It wasn't Sacramento.

KING: A lot different.

N. REAGAN: A lot different. And I -- I have -- if I get hurt, and I tend to pull back -- and some people, you know, they translate that into being snobbish or whatever. And I don't know, it just all got off on the wrong foot.

And then after the gridiron, I thought, Well, now, we're back -- we're back to what it always was. I mean, it was always -- I was used to, Isn't it wonderful about that nice Nancy Reagan marrying that nice Ronald Reagan? Or Nancy Davis marrying that nice Ronnie.

KING: The Californian style.


KING: Yes.

N. REAGAN: That's all I was ever used to. And then suddenly, I don't know. It all changed.

KING: And even with your illness and recovery, it still -- it came back. That kind of grind.

Was -- do you look back, therefore, on Washington with mixed feelings?

N. REAGAN: Well, it was a wonderful eight years in many ways. It was not so wonderful in other ways. I mean, there were...

KING: Mixed a good word?

N. REAGAN: Yes, mixed is a good word.

KING: Do you ever miss it?

N. REAGAN: I miss my friends. You know, I'm sorry I didn't get to know you better in Washington.

KING: We'll do something about that.

N. REAGAN: All right.

KING: Now don't start rumors.

N. REAGAN: I have no comment.

KING: Do you miss the city at all?

N. REAGAN: Yes, I do. Uh-huh. Yes.

KING: Camp David. Do you miss that life?

N. REAGAN: Oh, I liked -- I miss Camp David a lot. I miss Camp David a lot.

But -- and I miss the staff at the White House. I hear from them a lot, which is very nice. I love -- and I hear from the staff at Camp David.

KING: How about the life? Do you miss the life of everybody -- I mean, life of a former first lady isn't too terrible. But I mean when you do nothing, right? You -- I mean, you pick up the phone, and everything is done. Do you miss that?

N. REAGAN: There are times I miss it. For instance, last night.

KING: What happened, Nancy?

N. REAGAN: Last night, there -- the -- we suddenly had no hot water. Now, if it had been at the White House, all I would have had to have done was to pick up the phone and say, we have no hot water, and there would have been hot water right away, right?

KING: Damn right.

N. REAGAN: Well, that's not the way it works in private life. We went through last night with no hot water.

KING: So at those times you miss it.

N. REAGAN: At those times I miss it, yes.

KING: What don't you miss?

N. REAGAN: I don't miss the -- I don't miss the rumors. I don't miss the back-biting. I don't miss the -- always, always on display. I don't miss that.

But I do miss -- I miss my friends. I do miss my friends.

KING: It's a never-ending -- there's no pressure cooker like that pressure cooker, right?


KING: We can only fathom it.


KING: And there's very few people who have known it.

N. REAGAN: And you know, when we were there -- we were there -- well, for -- you know, Ronnie was shot two months after we were there, and almost died, which -- which they never really got. I don't think most people knew that, press included.

KING: That he was that close to dying?

N. REAGAN: He was that close to dying.

KING: When you say close to death, did they tell you how close to death?

N. REAGAN: Oh, yes. Three times. Three times.

KING: Did you ever think you were going to lose him?

N. REAGAN: Mm-hmm. I did.

KING: In other words, you were starting to imagine life without him?

N. REAGAN: Well, yes. I've -- yes.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: During his career, Ronald Reagan passed through a thousand crowded places. But there was only one person, he said, who could make him lonely by just leaving the room. America honors you, Nancy, for the loyalty and love you gave this man on a wonderful journey and to that journey's end. Today, our nation grieves with you and your family.




RON P. REAGAN, RONALD REAGAN'S SON: Our cares are no longer his. We meet him now only in memory. But we will join him soon enough. All of us. When we are home. When we are free.


KING: Last night, Ronald Reagan was laid to rest at his presidential library in Simi Valley, California.

In 1995, Nancy gave us a tour of that beautiful place. The first stop -- President Reagan's boyhood home, Dixon, Illinois.


KING: Obviously, this is typical, Midwest, small, poor...

N. REAGAN: Yes. Yes. Yes.

KING: ...rural Illinois.

N. REAGAN: Yes. Makes me feel a little sad.

KING: Yes. For what was.


KING: Is he someone who, like, never got that out of him? Was it always, Dixon went with him, wherever he went?

N. REAGAN: Oh, yes. Oh my, yes.

His parents and his brother.

KING: Dixon High. Ah ha!

Now come on, would a young Nancy have flipped for that?

N. REAGAN: You bet.


KING: This was still at Dixon?

N. REAGAN: Still at -- yes.

KING: He's jumping in the water?

N. REAGAN: Yes. Mm-hmm.


N. REAGAN: He was very good, and is a very good swimmer and diver. Taught his kids -- our kids to swim.

KING: The letter.

N. REAGAN: That's his letter sweater that he got, and that was when he was going to get ready for Knute Rockne.

KING: There he is in "Our Racket."


KING: Sportscaster.

N. REAGAN: Doesn't he look great?

KING: Is this a very happy phase of your life?

N. REAGAN: Oh, yes.

KING: The movie phase.

N. REAGAN: Yes, I -- yes, I liked it. I knew I wasn't going to keep on doing it forever and ever.

KING: Why? How did you know what? Why didn't you want to be an actress? I mean, full time.

N. REAGAN: I did want to be an actress, but I knew that when I found the person I wanted to marry, that that would be it.

KING: You mean you were that goal-oriented that you told yourself, when I meet Mr. Right, it's...

N. REAGAN: I just...

KING: The rest is over.

N. REAGAN: Well, I'd seen so many marriages, Larry...

KING: Yes. Go.

N. REAGAN: this business, go. You know, you're always told when you're an actress, from the minute you hit the set how dear and darling you are. And you expect that to carry through at home. Well, when it doesn't carry through at home and everybody doesn't kowtow to you, you get pretty upset.

KING: Did you like -- did it make it easier the fact that you knew movies to make your marriage a success? In other words, the fact that you understood the business.

N. REAGAN: I suppose.

KING: Do you think?

N. REAGAN: I suppose.

KING: Did you like the fact he was an actor?

N. REAGAN: I thought he was a good actor. He was a....


KING: Underrated actor. Why isn't -- you know... N. REAGAN: I don't know.

KING: I've had some critics tell me that a very underrated actor...

N. REAGAN: I -- he was.

KING: Great player of light comedy.

N. REAGAN: He was. He was.

KING: Do you think maybe the features were too strong, or he was just...

N. REAGAN: I don't know. I...

KING: Nice guy.

N. REAGAN: I think -- I think -- well, he says that it was because of his involvement with the Screen Actors Guild.

KING: What's the closing with Chasen's? You mentioned how you didn't like the fact that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- that's your -- there it is.

N. REAGAN: We wet there...

KING: That's your restaurant.

N. REAGAN: We went there. That was part of our courtship. There and at the Holdens' house because we never wanted to go out. As soon as we got through the part of the beginning of a courtship where you have to go out and go to clubs...

KING: Roses and...

N. REAGAN: You know, all that. Then we decided we both really like to stay home. So we'd go to Chasen's or we'd go to the Holdens'.

KING: And early evenings -- lots of early evenings in the letter.

Chasen's is also a place you went a lot to after the presidency, when you got back, wasn't it?

N. REAGAN: Yes. Yes. But Chasen's was a place, and they -- and I don't what they're going to do with his picture -- but over one of the booths, they have our picture with Maude Chasen. And that was the booth where we decided what church we were going to be married in and when we were going to be married.

KING: Who proposed? Did he propose?

N. REAGAN: Of course. He called my father.

KING: Before he asked you? N. REAGAN: Mm-hmm.

KING: And?

N. REAGAN: And my father said, "Fine."

KING: And how did he ask you and where?

N. REAGAN: He asked me at home. We were at home.

KING: His house or yours?

N. REAGAN: My home. My apartment.

KING: And he said, casually, "I called your dad...

N. REAGAN: Yes. And it's all right with your family. Is it all right with you?

KING: Were you coy?

N. REAGAN: No. And I don't think he thought I would be.

KING: You worked in how many movies with him?

N. REAGAN: I only worked in one movie with him.

KING: The Navy movie.

N. REAGAN: Yes. But I did some television shows with him.



N. REAGAN: Oh, it's not.

RONALD REAGAN: Oh, but delicious. Everything's just right, isn't it, Patti?


N. REAGAN: Well, it's the easiest meal to make. My electric servants do everything.

RONALD REAGAN: Well, that's part of living better electrically.


KING: Do you like acting with him?

N. REAGAN: Oh, sure. Sure. It was fun. But I -- but...

KING: The movie was "Hellcats of the Navy," right?

N. REAGAN: Uh-huh. And that could have been a better movie than it was.


N. REAGAN: You knew I was fresh out of a bad marriage when we met. I wanted to be sure this time. So I played it safe until I knew that you were Mr. Right. Then you gave me that line about wartime marriages.

RONALD REAGAN: I wanted a wife and kids, not a widow and orphans.

N. REAGAN: Sure. And I began to think maybe you were playing the South Seas circuit.

RONALD REAGAN: You knew better.

N. REAGAN: How could I know? Did you give me a post-dated check?







UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out of the way! Get out of here!


KING: Now we show and this is the famous -- shooting occurs, down he goes, down. Rainy day in Washington.

N. REAGAN: There's Tim.

KING: There's Tim. Shot.


KING: Where were you, Nancy?

N. REAGAN: I -- I had been at a luncheon, and for some reason I felt I had to leave. I've never felt that way before or since.

KING: You mean you got up and you just...

N. REAGAN: And I said, I'm sorry, I have to leave. And I went back to the White House. And about five minutes after I got back, George Allfor (ph) said there's been a shooting, and told me that Ronnie had not been hit. Well, at that time, you know -- but I was halfway down to the car. And he said, No, no you don't have to go. He's all right.

KING: Was there a period of time you think you'd lose him?

N. REAGAN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

KING: Early hours?

N. REAGAN: The -- the -- you know, the press dwelled on the funny things that he said.

KING: I hope you're a Republican.

N. REAGAN: Yes. All in all, I'd rather be in Philadelphia. Or coming home there.

But they didn't -- not on how serious it was. I mean, they couldn't...

KING: It was a lot more serious than we thought it was, right?

N. REAGAN: Oh, much. Oh, much.

KING: I mean, he was -- how close, would you say? I mean, time has evolved. Now how close? Touch and go?

N. REAGAN: Yes. Oh, yes.

KING: Loss of blood?

N. REAGAN: They couldn't find the bullet. When they did find it, it was a quarter of an inch from his heart. He had lost so much blood, he was so close to going into shock. And if he had, of course, that would have been it.

It was...

KING: He recovered so quickly though.

N. REAGAN: Yes, I know. But that's...

KING: You never forget that. That's....

N. REAGAN: No, that you don't. That you don't.

KING: You've had an interesting life, Nancy.

N. REAGAN: It hasn't been dull.

KING: So I'm going to let you take it from here.


KING: But what -- ah! -- is this?

N. REAGAN: Well, that's a Cruise missile.

KING: This is an actual Cruise missile?


KING: And when he signed this -- we were talking -- when Ronald Reagan got this signed, they took them out, right? This wasn't just, we're not going to build more.

N. REAGAN: No. His whole -- whole purpose was to get them out, to get rid of them.


KING (voice-over): The United States and Soviet Union were able to get rid of them, after historic summits in places like Reykjavik, Iceland, and Geneva, Switzerland, Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev eventually met in Washington to order these weapons of mass destruction.

RONALD REAGAN: Mr. General Secretary, though my pronunciation may give you difficulty, the maxim is, Doveriyai no proveriyai, "trust, but verify"

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, PRESIDENT OF THE SOVIET UNION (through translator): You repeat that at every meeting.


KING: But this is American-Soviet relationships during your husband's presidency, dated according to major events...

N. REAGAN: Yes. Yes.

KING: Very well done, by the way.

N. REAGAN: Thank you.

KING: And that -- there's the meeting.

N. REAGAN: This is a wonderful meeting, yes. That everybody -- I think Gorbachev had only arrived. You can see the relationship between the two.

KING: Look at the two smiles.

N. REAGAN: Yes. It was a very cold day, and everybody thought that -- Ronnie had said to him, why don't you and I just go down to the boathouse, and sit and talk. And everybody said, oh, no, no, no. Don't do that.

Well, of course, when they left, much, much later, and everybody -- not everybody, but a few people -- I think we should go down there and break it up. And I think it was George Shultz who said, if you do that, you don't deserve to have the job that you have. And when they came out, they had arranged for two more summits.

KING: They -- you could tell -- that's a great picture, because you absolutely -- the picture being a thousand words.

N. REAGAN: Yes. Yes.


N. REAGAN: Yes. Yes. Yes.

KING: This...

N. REAGAN: I think this is on Arbat Street. We had arranged to go and visit a family. And then we were told that if we went, they wouldn't let them out.

So, of course, we don't go. So we had a little time in there. And our son had said to me, Now, mom, don't let them keep you locked up. Try and get out on the street. So I said, Fine. This is the time. We'll go to Arbat Street. And we went out and everything was wonderful.

I mean, the people were so nice and so glad to see you. And then the KGB arrived, and didn't become so wonderful.

And Helen Thomas, I remember -- they got a hold of Helen and they were going to drag her off somewhere, and I -- I saved her life. And I said -- I said to her afterward, "Helen, you owe me one now."

KING: She owes you. That's a great picture.


KING: They really liked him and he them.

N. REGAN: The people -- yes, the people, were...

KING: He liked the Russian people, didn't he?

N. REAGAN: Yes he did.

These are fascinating, because they...

KING: Tell us.

N. REAGAN: ...are all in Ronnie's handwriting.

We -- all of the leaders in Russia died off on us, you know, when we wanted to make contact.

KING: So, my dear Mr. President -- my dear Mr. Andropov, dear General Gorbachev, dear Mr. General Secretary. He...

N. REAGAN: But these are all -- this is all Ronnie's writing. You know, this is all...

KING: Now, I know this from personal experience when I spoke here at your wonderful library when you invited me to speak. It was one of the great days and we had lunch. And then I got this wonderful letter from the president, Sorry, I couldn't be here.

Was he fond of writing letters longhand?

N. REAGAN: Oh, yes -- well, he wrote -- he used to write all of his own speeches.

KING: Yes. So I mean, you don't often see personal letters from heads of state to heads to state.

N. REAGAN: No, I know. But he -- no, he liked to. He liked to.

KING: Did he write love letters?


KING: I mean, that's the way he communicated. He communicated his illness by personal letter. That's a gutsy thing, you know? That's a -- was that your idea, Nancy?


KING: No? All his idea.

N. REAGAN: It was the two of us.




RONALD REAGAN: The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored for the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.


KING: Now, folks, this is semi-incredible because we're in Simi Valley, California...

N. REAGAN: However...

KING: But we're not.

N. REAGAN: No, we're not.

KING: The Oval Office.

N. REAGAN: Isn't this amazing? It's exactly -- everything Ronnie had in the Oval Office is here.

KING: This is unreal.

N. REAGAN: I know. KING: This picture here is his last day.

N. REAGAN: His last day, yes. It looks kind of sad, doesn't it?

KING: Yes, it does. He looks sad in it. Looks sad.

I'm also told this was the room where he learned that you had cancer.

N. REAGAN: Yes, he was sitting there and Dr. Hutton, who was our White House doctor, told him. He had gone out to the hospital with me.

KING: Now what was brought? What did you bring? The desk is the desk.

N. REAGAN: The desk is the Kennedy desk.

KING: Yes.

N. REAGAN: But all of these things Ronnie had on his desk.

KING: Pictures behind as well.

N. REAGAN: Pictures behind as well.

And then we -- then we recreated this. That is the view...

KING: Right.

N. REAGAN: ...that you had from the Oval Office. And as it gets nighttime, we have it so that you -- it dims down.

KING: This has got to be one of the more popular things on the tour of the museum.

N. REAGAN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

The -- the saddles there, Walter Annenberg donated. And we had those. Everything. Everything. The rug.


N. REAGAN: Everything.

KING: But how does this feel? I mean, to you -- really, how does it feel?

N. REAGAN: The first time it felt very strange.

KING: Weird.

N. REAGAN: Every -- very, very strange. Very strange.

KING: They did a perfect job. N. REAGAN: They did. They did. And that's why I keep saying for children -- particularly for children -- who might not -- well, say they get to Washington and say they get on the tour. Chance are they're not going to get into the Oval Office.

KING: Correct.

N. REAGAN: And...

KING: Here's your chance.

N. REAGAN: Here's your chance.



KING: The phone is even the phone?

N. REAGAN: Yes. Everything.

KING: Wonderful desk.


KING: A thought for today, "You can be too big for God to use, but you cannot be too small." And the Bible of Nellie Wilson Reagan.


KING (voice-over): Also recreated, state dinners -- those special evenings for very special guests. The library specifically examines this one, honoring Anwar Sadat, held in 1981, just months before his death.

(on camera): Is that a place setting for the state dinner for Sadat?

N. REAGAN: Yes. Yes. With the china.

KING: Tell us about that china.

N. REAGAN: Well, the china that never -- it was donated by a foundation to the White House, and they kept saying that I had bought the china or I don't know what. I never bought the china. I accepted the donation because the White House needed china very, very badly.

And the first person -- I'll never forget it -- to come to my defense when all of this brouhaha was going on was Margaret Truman. And she said, "She's absolutely right. She needed it. The White House needed it. I know how badly they needed it."

You have a lot of breakage.

KING: Oh, yes.

N. REAGAN: You know.

KING: But it's also beautiful china.

N. REGAN: It is.

KING: It's gorgeous.

N. REAGAN: It is pretty.

KING: This is -- that's a classic picture of Bob Hope...

N. REAGAN: Bob Hope.

KING: ...making you laugh.


KING: There's Nancy in the kitchen.

N. REAGAN: Putting the last little touches on.

And that's one of the outdoor dinner that I dearly loved because it was -- we had all the trees lit, but then you had the monument in the background, and I'd try to pick a night when there would be a good moon.

KING: Outdoor state dinner. Beautiful.

And the TV trays.

N. REAGAN: Yes, we did that anytime we could. We stayed home.

KING: And lunch, right?

N. REAGAN: And lunch.

KING: The president reads the Washington Post at lunch.


KING: Do you always feel like a renter, like you're there in the public's house?

N. REAGAN: Well, I -- I never -- it felt like home to me.

KING: You did feel like home?

N. REAGAN: It really felt like home to me. Ronnie kept saying, "I've been given temporary custody of this."

KING: But Nancy wanted...

N. REAGAN: But I felt at home. I mean, and he felt home too. But he always wanted to remind people that he knew he wasn't going to be there forever.

KING: The day you left it was a very sad day.


N. REAGAN: Elena (ph) said I should say something, but I'll never get through it. See. I can't. Thank you.


N. REAGAN: Eight years is a long time, and we'd had a lot of things happen to us there. And -- you know, everybody had been so...

KING: Sad day leaving people.

N. REAGAN: Sad day, yes.


RONALD REAGAN: There just aren't any -- aren't enough words to thank you for all that you've mean to all of us, and how hard it is to say goodbye and how -- how much of a team we did become. And God bless you all, and as I say, there just aren't words enough to express our appreciation to all of you.

Thank you and God bless you all.





REV. MICHAEL WENNING, BEL AIR PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (RET.): We commend into your hands the spirit of your servant, Ronald Wilson Reagan. We commend him into your care and keeping now and forever more, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


KING: Welcome back. Tonight, we're sharing some special moments with Nancy Reagan.

In 2001, she joined us to mark the president's 90th birthday. Her visit also followed the release of a book containing some emotional love letters that he wrote to Nancy.


KING: I mean, we all know about love affairs, but yours is different. That book showed us how different, the letters, which -- I hope, if you don't, I'm going to read a couple.

N. REAGAN: No, I'm not.

KING: Did you -- how do you explain that? Is this just fate? You and him.

N. REAGAN: I don't know. I don't know.

I've had letters -- I've found the letter that was written to me from a girl who was getting married, and she wanted to know the secret of a happy marriage. I said -- and I wrote back and said something to the effect that I couldn't -- I had no magic formula. And I never sat down and thought about it.

But everything just fell into place with Ronnie and me. We completed each other.

KING: Did you ever fight?

N. REAGAN: We disagreed, but we never yelled or slammed doors.

KING: Never had none of those, "Get out of here" or...

N. REAGAN: No, no. No, But do you -- there's nobody that you agree with all the time.

KING: So you -- but by completing each other was, where you weren't whole, he made you whole.

N. REAGAN: Mm-hmm.

KING: And you the same for him?

N. REAGAN: Mm-hmm.

KING: And that continues now?

N. REAGAN: Oh, yes.

KING: Except you are faced with something now -- and you've helped so many people by getting -- the tragic way that someone has to have affected by someone first to be focused on it.

When did you first notice?

N. REAGAN: I didn't.

KING: You never noticed the Alzheimer's coming on?

N. REAGAN: I didn't. No. No. We went to Mayo's in August of that year.

KING: Was it the normal memory slippages that older people have?

N. REAGAN: Well, yes.

KING: You know, I forgot his name.

N. REAGAN: Yes. I mean, you forgot -- you forget names. I forget names.

KING: Forgot what I had for lunch today.

N. REAGAN: So, no, I didn't notice anything.

KING: And then what happened at Mayo?

N. REAGAN: Well, they diagnosed it as Alzheimer's.

KING: And they came and told you?

N. REAGAN: Mm-hmm.

KING: Did you get second opinions? Did you -- what...

N. REAGAN: No, I...

KING: How do you react to something like that?

N. REAGAN: Well, we had been going to Mayo's for so long, and I know all the doctors so well I accepted what they said. But of course, nobody can ever know what it's like until you're there.

KING: What was it like for him to write that letter, that now famous -- what is it, '94?

N. REAGAN: '94. Uh-huh.

He went into the library and I was with him, and he just sat down at the table and wrote it.

KING: Now we have learned subsequently, through letters, how good a writer he was.

N. REAGAN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Very good writer.

KING: Wonder if he doctored scripts ever, because he could have.


KING: He had a way with words.

N. REAGAN: Yes, he did. But there's a book that's coming out by Marty Anderson called "Reagan in His Words." He found a lot of speeches and radio shows and...

KING: He wrote his own radio shows.

N. REAGAN: Yes, uh-huh.

KING: Oh, and that's coming -- yes, I saw somewhere that that's coming.

N. REAGAN: Yes, and it's wonderful. I mean, you can't believe the things that he wrote about.

I remember when he first ran for governor and people criticized him because he was talking too much about foreign affairs. And then when he ran for president, they were criticizing him for the opposite. I mean, you know...

KING: He liked to write.

N. REAGAN: He liked to write, yes.

KING: So he just sat down and wrote that letter to the public?

N. REAGAN: Mm-hmm.

KING: Because he knew what was coming. So, as they say -- what did Hemingway say -- class is grace under pressure.


KING: He had that.

N. REAGAN: He sure had.

KING: Did he express fears to you?

N. REAGAN: Nope.

KING: He didn't say....

N. REAGAN: No, it...

KING: ...this is going to be terrible, or...

N. REAGAN: No -- well, all he said, which is in the letter, that he knew it would be hard on me, and that he hoped that with people's support and faith that I'd get through. And that he was sorry to put me in this position.

KING: What should people know who hear this news about a relative, a wife, a husband, a mother, a father? What -- what advice can the caregiver give another caregiver?

N. REAGAN: Well, that's hard to answer, Larry.

You just get up each day and put one foot in front of the other and go, you know? Each day is different.

KING: But it is a...

N. REAGAN: It's a progressive disease.

KING: That's right. So Monday is not going to be better than Sunday.

N. REAGAN: Mm-mm.

KING: What about new drugs we hear about?

N. REAGAN: I -- as I understand it, they have two new drugs that will delay the onset, which I would have been very happy to have used. KING: The toughest part for the caregiver, I guess, is you don't get back what you give, right? Isn't that the hardest? To keep giving when someone is not responding, not through any fault of their own.

N. REAGAN: No, that doesn't bother you. At least, it doesn't bother me. It -- it's sad to see somebody you love and have married for so long, and you can't share memories. That's the sad part.

KING: You know, I never thought of that. Couples sit down and say, "Remember when...."


KING: ...little Fergie broke his foot."

N. REAGAN: Right.

KING: Here was the picnic.

N. REAGAN: Right, right. We can't do that.

KING: So you share them with yourself? How important are your friends?

N. REAGAN: Oh, very important, very important. But you know, you don't want to -- if somebody calls you, you don't want to unload on them every time they call.

KING: Well, you're not a complainer by nature, right? You don't sit around and talk about...

N. REAGAN: I hope not.

KING: But you have, you know, helped a lot of people?

N. REAGAN: I hope so.

KING: You've raised a lot of money?

N. REAGAN: Yes, I hope so.

KING: For this disease?


KING: For a while you weren't talking about it?

N. REAGAN: Mm-hmm.

KING: What made you change?

N. REAGAN: I guess being with Ronnie.

KING: And I guess he would have wanted you to, wouldn't he?

N. REAGAN: Mm-hmm.

KING: Because he would have wanted...

N. REAGAN: That's why he wrote the letter because he wanted to help people. And he made it public and you know, the same thing that he did with colon cancer, prostate cancer.

KING: He's had them all?

N. REAGAN: He's had them all.

KING: What do with frustration? Because you must have that. It must be frustrating when you're with someone who's not cognitive.

N. REAGAN: Well, you just learn to live with it. I mean, what is there to do?

KING: Well, some people -- there are hospitals that specialize in just treating Alzheimer patients. You would never do that?

N. REAGAN: Oh, no. Oh, no, never, never. No, no. He's going to stay at home.

KING: Do you ever hope that maybe the end comes? I mean, do you ever say you know that maybe it isn't such a life?

N. REAGAN: No, I never...

KING: Because he's not in pain?

N. REAGAN: No, he's not in pain.







KING: I want to discuss some things first we're going to be showing some clips from. And I want your thoughts on them.

When you sang "Our Love is Here to Stay" at that White House gala, what was that moment like?

N. REAGAN: Well, that's our song, you know.

KING: Gershwin to you?

N. REAGAN: Yes, mm-hmm. And I sang it to Ronnie.

KING: Did he know you were going to do it?

N. REAGAN: No, no. He was so surprised.

KING: We've just seen an inaugural. I guess one of the inaugural -- there are some inaugurals that remain implanted in our minds, certainly John F. Kennedy's in the snow. And your inaugural, the red hat, the red coat, looking up. What do you remember?

N. REAGAN: I remember mostly that it was very overcast, gray. But when Ronnie came forward, the clouds broke and the sun came out. Same thing happened in Sacramento.

KING: Really?

N. REAGAN: Mm-hmm.

KING: On his first term as governor?

N. REAGAN: Mm-hmm. And as a matter of fact when he was shot, the next morning, there was a rainbow over the White House.

KING: What were you thinking then? Were you then the girl who grew up in Silver Spring or the little girl from Chicago -- what were you, standing up there? Your husband is about to become president?

N. REAGAN: Well...

KING: You made movies together.

N. REAGAN: Well, we just made one together, but...

KING: "Hellcats of the Navy."

N. REAGAN: Yes. Well, it's so overwhelming when you're really doing it that I don't remember thinking anything, except, "My gosh, here he is and he's president."

KING: My Ronnie.

N. REAGAN: My Ronnie.

KING: You just celebrated the anniversary of Challenger. And we will never forget your husband that day.

N. REAGAN: I know.

KING: What was that like for you?

N. REAGAN: Well, about like it was for everybody else.

KING: You went down there.

N. REAGAN: Yes, yes. Terrible, terrible, sad.

KING: Is that one of the hardest things of executive things that people have to do, tragedy? N. REAGAN: Oh, I think so, yes. Seeing -- trying to give people support and -- yes, it's very hard. And they're crying and you're crying, which I can do pretty easily.

KING: How about his farewell speech? He said goodbye. Is that a sad day for you or were you happy to leave? You did a little spin around Washington.

N. REAGAN: Yes, we did. The helicopter took us over the White House. And he looked down and he said, "Look, honey, there's our little cottage."






KING: During the past 15 to 20 years, I've become very close friends with Nancy Reagan. My entire family have spent many times together. She's been at her home. We've shared very, very intimate luncheons together and I've been at the house of the Reagans. So this has been a very personal evening for me, a very week as well.

Tomorrow night, we'll close it all out with a repeat of my 1990 interview with then-former President Ronald Reagan.

Thanks for joining us. Stay tuned for more news around the clock on your most trust name in news, CNN.

Good night.


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