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Encore Presentation: Interview With Ronald Reagan

Aired June 13, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Thank you for joining us.
The world's grieving for a remarkable man tonight, Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th president of the United States. We were privileged to do two hour-long interviews with him. Tonight, the first of them, from January 1990. Mr. Reagan had been out of office for about a year, and I asked what he missed most.


RONALD REAGAN, 40th PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, really the people, the very fine people that you worked with and all of that. That was it. The...

KING: Don't miss the trappings? Don't miss the White House itself?

REAGAN: No. If I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) big places or anything like that. I have a great many happy memories of Camp David, where we lived in a normal-size house and could go out the door and take a walk if you wanted to or ride a horse.

KING: Those were disadvantages to the White House then?

REAGAN: Well, the thing is, there was a certain amount of bird- in-a-gilded-cage atmosphere there. You could look out the windows at the people walking Pennsylvania Avenue and so forth and you knew that you couldn't go out and do that. You were kind of in there for security reasons and so forth.


KING: And are you the kind of person who wanted to go out?

REAGAN: Oh, sure.

KING: Because Harry Truman liked going out. Those were different days.

REAGAN: Oh, yes. Yes. He used to walk consistently, I know. Well, it was a different time, though.

Incidentally, though, I have to wonder about, as we start here -- I've heard a great deal from Nancy about a little problem with a cold, metal microphone that wound up being against her flesh.

KING: Her body, yes. REAGAN: She didn't have clothes like this on, so...

KING: She was at our studio in New York and we put the microphone down and it went down her dress and then hit all sorts of parts of her and down, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- anyone in New York, they know your wife intimately.

She was a real -- she was a real trooper.

You were telling me something interesting before we went on I think the audience would really be interested in. We know that you're hard of hearing. But it's not due to the aging process.


KING: Tell that. This is really fascinating.

REAGAN: Well, I've began finding that, particularly with the one side, I was having a great deal of difficulty in hearing. And finally I went to the very distinguished Dr. House (ph). And he did find that, yes, the hearing was very low there. And so he started asking me about things that might have happened, because it was something that had taken place in the nature of an injury.

And I didn't know how far back he wanted to go, and finally when he said it, as far back as I could remember, I remembered a movie that I made many years ago. And me and another actor were running from the bad guys, and went to get behind a tree and start shooting at them. And I'm afraid that my fellow actor didn't know much about guns, because as we turned around the tree he was just behind me. He put that .38 right up on my shoulder and pulled the trigger. And, you know, it actually -- a concussion actually knocked me three or four feet to the side. And then Dr. House said, "Say no more. That's what did it." And it was a deterioration, then, of the nerves that took place over the years.

KING: Because you sure have handled the aging process well. Do you feel as good as you look? I mean, you look incredible.

REAGAN: Well, thank you very much. I feel just fine.

KING: You don't -- it seems that you are in -- you know, everyone's envious. Like the hair is real. It grows back, right?


KING: They have surgery and it grows back.

REAGAN: I can't take credit for that. That has to be by the genes, because my father died with a very handsome head of hair. And my mother also. So I guess I just inherited that.

KING: You know, you're very good at describing things, and something has fascinated me and I'm sure the audience.

What is it like to be shot? I mean, we all think about that. We've watched it in movies. You've played it in movies. You've been shot, and shot others.

What's it like...

REAGAN: Well, I'll tell you what it's like.

KING: be really shot?

REAGAN: What it was like was I didn't know I was shot. I heard a noise, and we'd came out of the hotel and headed for the limousine. And I heard some noise and I thought it was firecrackers.




REAGAN: And the next thing I knew, one of the Secret Service agents behind me just seized me here by the waist and plunged me head- first into the limo. I landed on the seat and the seat divider was down. And then he dived in on top of me, which is part of their procedure, to make sure that I'm covered.

Well as it turned out later, the shot that got me carroned (ph) off the side of the limousine and hit me while I was diving into the car. And it hit back here, into the arm and then hit a rib. And that's what caused an extreme pain, and then it tumbled, it turned instead of edgewise and went tumbling down to within an inch of my heart.

But when I got in the car, I hadn't felt anything. He landed on top of me and then the pain, which now I know came from the bullet hitting that rib -- that terrific pain, and I said, "Jerry (ph), get off, I think you've broken a rib of mine." And he got off very quickly. And just then, I coughed and I had a handful of bright red frothy blood. So I said, And I guess the -- evidently (ph) the broken rib has pierced a lung. Well, he simply turned and said, "George Washington Hospital" and we were on our way.

But -- and all the way, I used up my handkerchief and then I used up his. But when I got to the emergency entrance, I got out of the car and walked in. And the nurse met me, and I told her I was a little trouble breathing, and what I thought it was. And the next thing I knew, then when my knees began to turn to rubber and I wound up on a gurney. And I was wearing a suit like this -- for the first time I'd ever worn it; it was brand new. And they were taking scissors and cutting it off of me.

KING: And you were thinking, What are they doing?

Did you ever think you might die?

REAGAN: No, although I didn't just leave it to chance. I talked to my friend upstairs about that.

KING: But you never thought that this was the end? REAGAN: No.

KING: For some people in that situation, in a trauma situation, think it's over.

REAGAN: No, I found out afterward that a lot of those people at the hospital thought it could very likely be the end. They said that I was very near going into a state of shock. And I had also lost more than half the blood in my body. And -- so that...

KING: Were you angry?

REAGAN: Well, I didn't know for quite awhile, until they began to tell me about the young man that had done this, and what his problem was, that he was not exactly in a normal basis. And so then, I added him to my prayers, that...

KING: Did you?

REAGAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for myself -- well, if I wanted healing for myself, maybe he should have some healing for himself.

KING: The pope forgave the man who shot him. You forgive John Hinckley?

REAGAN: Yes, I found out he wasn't -- he wasn't thinking on all...


KING: Levels.

REAGAN: ..on all cylinders, yes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We interrupt -- there's been a late development. Shots reported fired outside the hotel where President Reagan spoke a short while ago. Here's Bernard Shaw in our Washington bureau.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bob, as you can understand, details are very sketchy. We don't know precisely what happened.

We know -- pardon me.

OK, my apology.



LYN NOFZIGER, REAGAN ADVISER: I can confirm that the president has been shot once in the left chest. The bullet entered from -- from his left side.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lyn Nofziger has told reporters at the hospital that the president was not wounded.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He WAS wounded! God! He was -- the president was hit...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In stable condition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is in stable condition. All this information!



ALEXANDER HAIG, SECRETARY OF STATE: As of now, I am in control here in the White House pending the return of the vice president.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States is quoted as telling his wife at his hospital bed, "Honey, I forgot to duck."





REAGAN: Someday when the team's up against it, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the boys, ask them to go in there with all they've got, win just one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then. But I'll know about it. I'll be happy.



KING: Our guest is the former president of the United States Ronald Reagan.

You've had two careers. Not many people have had that either, a full career in one profession, a full career in another.

All the time you were in the White House, did you read Variety? Did you keep up with the goings on out here? Did you stay aware of the business? REAGAN: Well, I never had a chance at any of the trade papers. I was always interested in what was going on. But I think maybe I could suggest that it was three careers, because I started out as a radio sports announcer.

KING: That's right. In fact, we're on the same -- you were on in Davenport, Iowa, right?

REAGAN: And then over to Des Moines.

KING: Des Moines.

REAGAN: Moved to Des Moines.

KING: So you had three careers. But you didn't stay in touch, while president, with the old career, the old...

REAGAN: Well, as I say, I try to keep interested but I never had any access to the -- the trade papers. And -- but I try to keep up with, you know, what was being made in Hollywood and so forth.

KING: Was there a good comparison between the two, politics and acting? Did you utilize one with the other? I mean, critics would say you did. Do you feel you did?

REAGAN: Well, I'll have to tell you there's one thing. I know that I took an awful lot of abuse when I as running because people said, What is the -- anyone had the nerve to be an actor and think they could be president of the United States?

I have to tell you, there were a number of times when I though, Could you do that job if you hadn't been an actor?

KING: You had to use it, right?

REAGAN: Well...

KING: It's a skill.

REAGAN: First of all, just like you have the reviewers that pan your pictures and so forth. And the constant publicity-seeking in that business -- well, there's much of that same thing in the business of being president.

KING: There is a comparison. There's a comparison between the two cities, isn't there? Hollywood and L.A. -- and -- and Washington?

REAGAN: And you're familiar with the -- the public and the people and so forth.

I think one of the things that probably was a help in the presidency was, you can't be an actor without liking people. They're your stock-and-trade. You are out to please them. And...

KING: Because if you don't please them, you don't make it.

REAGAN: That's right. And so the people are what you're thinking of in the presidency.

I told every Cabinet member and every staff member that I appointed that I wanted to hear from them, without any shading, on all the issues that we faced and the decisions that had to be made. I wanted their -- their thinking on it. But the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) thing -- I said, "There's one thing I don't want. I don't to hear anyone tell me what the political ramifications are of some decisions that has to be made. We will discuss only is it good or bad for the people."

KING: Bill Casey -- the late Bill Casey told me once at a lunch, "If Ronald Reagan has one fault, it's an inability to dress people down. He doesn't fire people well. He can't knock someone down well when they deserve it."

Is he right?

REAGAN: Well, I guess there was some -- some right in that. Yes, it is -- it is difficult for me to fire someone or to be mean to them in any way.

KING: I mean, you had to do it.


KING: But he thought you never liked it.


KING: Some presidents enjoyed it.

REAGAN: Well, no, not me. I...

KING: And you also don't bear grudges, do you? Do you have -- you seem not to have a meanness.

REAGAN: Well, thank you.

KING: Well, let's say, like Donald Regan. Do you have -- you don't seem to have animosity toward -- your wife has more.

REAGAN: Well, that's in my behalf. She feels a little bit about the same way you are in asking these things and saying these things. But she sometimes thinks that someone's taken advantage of me, and that fires her up more than if they were taking advantage of her.

KING: But it doesn't fire you up?

REAGAN: Well, I've sometimes -- I've had the staff tell me that they know I'm upset when I throw my glasses.

KING: You've thrown glasses? I can't picture that.

REAGAN: Well, yes. Sitting at the desk (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and thrown them across the desk, the reading glasses and so forth.

KING: Your dander does get up?

REAGAN: Oh yes.


KING: Coming up, a historic pair who began the end of a historic conflict. Reagan on Gorbachev when we return.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you still think you're in an evil empire, Mr. President?

REAGAN: I was talking about another time in another era.



REAGAN: We're not just grateful to both you and Mrs. Gorbachev, but want you to know we think of you as friends.



KING: The liking of Gorbachev, was that a real sense of affection? Did you "like" like him?


I'll have to tell you that, as you know, there were -- he was the fourth. There were leaders before him of the Soviet Union and I didn't have much to do with them; they kept dying on me. And -- but he was totally different than any Russian leader that I had met before. And I have to say I think that there was a kind of a chemistry there that set up.

Now on the other hand, I knew too much about communism to -- to believe in words. I said that I would make my decision as to whether we were getting along on the basis of deeds. Every meeting that we ever had I presented him with a handwritten -- my handwriting -- list of people that had been brought to my attention who wanted to emigrate, and for (ph) reasons to get out. And I would give it to him. And at every instance, very shortly that list, he would've...


KING: He came through.


KING: Do you think he would have been a successful politician in this country? Was he just good at it? REAGAN: Yes, because I think he is a likable person. You find yourself like -- but again, knowing the difference between our two systems, I had a -- I'm not a linguist, but I learned one little Russian phrase. And I used it so often I used to clap his hands over his ears.


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.

REAGAN: I like it.


KING: With all the changes that have occurred in this decade, especially the last year, this incredible year, do you feel a personal sense of accomplishment?

REAGAN: Well, I think that perhaps I had something to do with it, because I believed, number one, that in seeking peace with the Soviet Union it could only be done with strength, not just through words or pleading.

And I also believed in the necessity of being frank about how I looked at them and their expansion and so forth and the things that they were doing and have done here in our country. And that's why I used some terms like calling it the evil empire and things of that kind.

KING: You think that all paid off?

REAGAN: I think it did, yes. Because in talking about -- about peace and armament -- I remember in our first meeting, I thought -- I said to him that here was a very unique situation. Here probably were the only two men in the world that could start World War III or maybe bring about peace. And I said that I knew we were going to talk about could we reduce arms and weapons, but I said, I have to remember that we don't mistrust each other because we're armed. We're armed because we mistrust each other.

So maybe...

KING: Yes.

REAGAN: much as talking of reducing arms, maybe we should see if we couldn't find out ways to reduce the causes of the mistrust between us.

KING: Well, you did that.

REAGAN: Well, he accepted that and I think -- you see, there's one thing. He had a need for achieving something. He had discovered that he had inherited an economic basketcase. And much of that was due to the military build-up. So if he was going to fulfill the responsibilities of his new job, general-secretary of the Soviet Union, he had to find an answer to that basketcase, that terrible economic situation where they couldn't provide enough food for their own people.

KING: Mr. Gorbachev and Lithuania?

REAGAN: Well, he's there, because of the desire of those Baltic countries to have their nationalism reinstated. And I think that he has a great opportunity.

The only reason that Stalin and the Soviet Union seized those Baltic states was to save them from Hitler. But now there's no Hitler. And it just seems to me he has a great opportunity to call attention of the world to the fact that why they were taken over, and now there is no longer any need. And then, restore to them their nationhood.

KING: You think he might do that?

REAGAN: I don't know, but I think it would be -- I think it would be smart if he did.

KING: If he asked your advice, that's what you'd tell him?


KING: The Noriega situation -- would you have done what President Bush did? Would you have gone in?

REAGAN: I think on the basis of all that I know about it and all of the facts -- you know, I'm not at -- I'm not at privy to everything now that I'm not there. But, yes, I think the facts as they were. We had tried everything we could domestically and without force before. And we weren't able to -- to move him. And so I -- yes, I think that this the proper thing.

KING: Do you miss the privy? Do you miss the not being in on the know?

REAGAN: Well, no, because having been there, I know what the situation is and I know how difficult it would be to try and even -- someone like myself, who has been there, for them to try and keep me apprised.

Now I must say that they do -- I get reports from them, just as I sent reports to the previous presidents. But for making a decision -- no, I know how that comes up at such a time.

KING: So you don't personally miss it?


KING: How's, in your opinion -- you can be honest now. You don't need the job. How's Dan Quayle doing?

REAGAN: Well, I think Dan Quayle has been badly abused and -- by much of the media. I think they've ignored looking at his record as a senator. And he has a fine record. And he was looked up to and respected by a great many people. And now this just trying to find every misuse of a word or something, I think he doesn't deserve that.

KING: So he's acquainting himself well in your opinion, right?


KING: Is that a tough job?

REAGAN: Oh, sure. Yes. It has to be.

KING: Because all the power depends on what the president gives to him.

REAGAN: Yes, and I think that a vice president has to be aware that there's a limit to what they can say or do because of the presidency. But I have to tell you that -- and I think George is doing this same thing with him.

When I became governor of California, I had a feeling that the lieutenant governor was a position that had been abused. I thought it was like letting someone sit in the sidelines in case they were needed in the game, something happened to the -- to the player. And so, the same thing with the vice presidency. I thought that the vice president -- it was a waste of talent unless you used him like, say, the vice president of a corporation.

So George was a part -- a major part of everything we did.

KING: Ollie North said yesterday you are the man of the decade. Now is that -- how do you react when you -- I'm sure you heard that. How do you react?

REAGAN: Well now, I have to admit that gives you a warm feeling inside to hear someone say that who was particularly someone who was around when it was going on.

KING: Do you -- how do you feel about him?

REAGAN: About Ollie North?

KING: Yes.

REAGAN: Well, I had difficulty in talking about this situation that he directly involved in because (UNINTELLIGIBLE) before the law and all. And I could create some problems if I made statements...

KING: We have to take a break. Did you personally like him?

REAGAN: Yes, and he had a great military record of courage and certainly of taking care of the men.


KING: Of course, Oliver North was a major figure in the Iran- Contra affair. And in 1989, he was found guilty of obstructing Congress and destroying federal documents. That conviction was later overturned.

When we come back, Reagan on politics and politicians.


REAGAN: And anything that we tell about all the things that have been going on in trying to effect his rescue endangers the possibility of further rescue.



SAM DONALDSON, ABC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The polls show that a lot of American people just simply don't believe you; that the one thing that you've had going for you, more than anything else in your presidency, your credibility, has been severely damaged.



REAGAN: I did not know about the diversion of funds. Indeed, I didn't know there were excess funds. Yet the buck does not stop with Admiral Poindexter, as he stated in his testimony. It stops with me. I am the one who is ultimately accountable to the American people.



KING: Tonight, we're looking back at a very memorable 1990 interview with Ronald Reagan.

One of the biggest thorns in his presidential side was Nicaragua. The fight to restore democracy to that Central American country consumed the administration. In fact, it was the question of how to fund the contra rebels that led to the Iran-Contra affair, clearly one of the darkest hours of the Reagan presidency.

Despite the controversy, the administration stuck to its goal of toppling the Sandinista government. I asked President Reagan if he ever thought this aim would be achieved.


REAGAN: Well, I think it can, but I think some things have to be done.

Nicaragua, the revolution against the dictator -- the revolutionaries have one point in that. Ask the -- that dictator to step down in order to save lives and stop the killing. And he said, Well, what are the revolutionary goals? And -- well, incidentally I'm ahead of myself. He -- they asked the Organization of American States...

KING: Right.

REAGAN: ask him to do that. And this question then came back, and the Organization of American States asked the revolutionary goals. And they were listed as being everything that we had: pluralistic society, freedom of the press, all of these things that go for democracy. And these were promised by the Sandinistas.

Now, the Sandinista has that name because of a -- Sandini, a man. And it was a communist organization. When the -- he stepped down, the dictator stepped down, and the revolution was over, they were the only really organized group in the revolution. They took over. They even exiled him, got rid of some of the other leaders of the revolution. And they have not kept a single promise about this being a democracy.

KING: So you are not optimistic.

REAGAN: Well, I'm optimistic in the belief that if the Organization of American States -- if the -- all of the Central American countries and ourselves, if we will ensure that it can be -- there can be a team to watch this election and not just leave it to the Sandinista government, because then -- no, it's not -- it's not going to happen.

But if they are there and can ask it, I have confidence that the people of Nicaragua will vote for democracy.

KING: To Kalamazoo, Michigan, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. President. You're looking very good, sir.

REAGAN: Well, thank you.

CALLER: Do you think a black or a woman will ever be elected? And if so, will it be in your lifetime?

REAGAN: Well, I don't know whether it'll be in my lifetime or not. I would hope so.

But I think that both things can happen. You only have to look at the progress that has been made already. And one of the things that I could point out right now that I think should -- there should be more -- in looking for presidential candidates, there should be more looking at governors.

For a time in our history, that's where you found the presidents. And I can tell you, having been a governor and having been a president, the only job in the United States that is similar to the presidency -- and very similar -- is the job of governor.

KING: Is this a statement for the new governor of Virginia?

REAGAN: Well...

KING: Who is black?

REAGAN: ...what I'm saying is we now have had some experience with black governors, with women governors. And we can match them with anyone else. And if we set out to look at the records of governors with their states, we could judge by the -- on the basis of what they've done for their state as to what they could do for the nation. Because, as I say, I was surprised, as president -- in the first 48 hours, I was surprised to realize how un-different this new job was than what I had done in California.

KING: I know he's not in your party, but are you a little encouraged by the election of a black governor in Virginia? Is this a good sign?

REAGAN: Well...

KING: I know I'm taking you away from partisanship here.

REAGAN: Well, I would like to point out that race should no longer be the consideration. The consideration should be political philosophy.

Now, there I have to get into Democratic and Republican. And I have been both...

KING: I know.

REAGAN: ... in that regard. And I have to ask how many Democrats, if they really pin down the policies of their party, how many of them can still be supportive of them?

I didn't really leave the party I don't think. It left me.


REAGAN: The performer hasn't been provided with a script. As a matter of fact, I have been permitted to choose my own words and discuss my own ideas regarding the choice that we face in the next few weeks.

I have spent most of my life as a Democrat. I recently have seen fit to follow another course.


KING: To Santa Rosa, California, with former President Ronald Reagan, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry King.


CALLER: Hi, President Reagan. I'm so impressed that I got through. KING: You got through.


My daughter, when she was 18 months old and we were in a poster shop, she saw your face on a Van Heusen shirt commercial, a print ad. And she said, "Oh, there's President Reagan." And all the adults were, like, totally surprised that she even recognized you. But she did.

Anyway, my question is if you were interested in getting back into show business at all, commercials or movies or TV? And do you watch "Falcon Crest"?

REAGAN: Fair question. Fair question.

Let me start with the other. I happen to believe that to return to show business -- and I loved show business. But I happen to believe that returning to that now would seem as if I was trying to capitalize on the presidency. And besides, now that I'm out, I have some other things that I very seriously believe I should be doing and am trying to do. And that is to get back on the mashed potato circuit, the after lunch and after diner speaking, and speak up to the people for some of the things that we didn't get done, is -- while I was there.

KING: So you're going to continue to be active?


For example, this country needs a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

KING: Boy, you've been fighting for that for a long time.

REAGAN: Yes. And it needs the line-item veto. Forty-three governors have it. I had it. Where you can pick out of a big hodgepodge bill certain things that are simply costly and are just pork and shouldn't be done and veto them, and then the legislature would have to override your veto to get them back. Well, I was one of the 43 governors that had that when I was governor of California. I used the line-item veto 943 times and was never overridden once.

Now, for a president to not have that same authority -- and I have to tell you that the Congress, over a great many years, has continued to nibble away at the authority of the presidency, until, when I hear some of them accuse me of having the budget deficits -- the president of the United States can't spend a dime. Only the Congress can spent money.

So who's to blame for....

KING: Tip O'Neill mad again. Do you miss the Tipper?

REAGAN: Well...

KING: He misses you.

REAGAN: Well, yes.

I must say Tip was one who kept the politics and the personality separate. In other words, as he once said to me, when I caught him saying something pretty rough about me, well, he said, That's politics old fellow. He said, Old buddy, after 6:00 we're friends. So every once in awhile when I knew I had a meeting with him I set a clock ahead to 6:00.


KING: You want to answer the "Falcon Crest" question? It was asked. She asked if you watched that show.

REAGAN: I don't know that I've had time to watch that so much.


REAGAN: No. I -- other than the news and trying to follow the news, I can't say that...

KING: Do you watch films a lot?

REAGAN: Sometimes I like to turn to that channel that puts on the old ones, just in case they might be putting on one of mine.

KING: Do you watch it?


KING: Do you watch yourself?

REAGAN: Well, if I see the -- if I see the movie and think it would be interesting and -- because I'm surprised to learn how many movies I didn't see.

KING: Really?

REAGAN: Yes. You think living in Hollywood and then suddenly, you see a movie and say, I remember that title and all but I never saw that film.

KING: I like the one you did with Nancy. The Navy one.

REAGAN: Oh, yes.

KING: That's a good film.

REAGAN: Well...

KING: I like that movie. See that a lot.

REAGAN: That was from a book written by Admiral Nimitz. And it was about an operation that took place in World War II in which a whole flotilla of our submarines went into the Sea of Japan, went to the bottom, and laid there until a signal to come up. And then they came up to wipe -- virtually wipe out the Japanese merchant marine, which was getting the supplies for Japan from the mainland, from China. And it was a very...


REAGAN: ...operation.

Well, the title of the book was "Operation Hellcat." But the studio decided to change the name to "Hellcats of the Navy."

KING: "Hellcats of the Navy." Yes.

REAGAN: And I thought they should have stuck with the first title.


KING: "Hellcats of the Navy" was released in 1957. It was the only movie the future president and first lady made together.

Ahead, Mr. Reagan on famous voyages and favorite actors.


REAGAN: How do you know so much about the moon?

NANCY REAGAN, ACTRESS, FUTURE FIRST LADY: I know a lot about it. I spend all my time looking at it when you're away. That's how it still is with me, Case.

REAGAN: It's time for me to go now.




REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate.


REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.



KING: Now, you can't tell me figured that one out.

REAGAN: Well, I meant what I said when I said, "Tear down." It -- you know, it was such a -- how can you -- how would we feel if you want to put a wall down the Mississippi River from Canada to the Gulf?

KING: Do you think they're going to unify that country? REAGAN: I don't know, but I do believe it's up to them. And I don't think there should be too much interference from the outside with them.

KING: How did you react to the criticism of the Japan appearance and the fee?

REAGAN: Well...

KING: I don't think I heard your reaction.

Now, Nancy said she did a lot more than just two speeches.


KING: Your reaction.

REAGAN: Well, we were there nine days. And Nancy managed to set up an anti-drug program, as she has in this country.

I felt that in going to Japan I could help in bringing about a closer relationship. And I was amazed at how the Japanese people want to be a friend of the United States.

KING: Do you understand, though, why people were angered or upset about getting a fee for it?

REAGAN: Well, not when I realized an actor before me -- they have a different system and approach to things. I didn't ask for that. I didn't set a fee or anything.

KING: You didn't?

REAGAN: No, they offered this. But an actor that I happen to know of from here, he'd received $3 million just for doing a spot ad on television for an automobile company. Three million dollars. And...

KING: So in other words, you didn't request this fee, they offered this fee.

REAGAN: That's right. That was the offer.

KING: Tarzana, California, for Ronald Reagan, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. President. As a political science student, it is indeed an honor to talk to you.

My question is, Do you believe that the campaign Bush conducted in 1988 involving Willie Horton and Boston Harbor -- did you feel it was a little too negative, too personal? And how do you feel about negative ads in general?

REAGAN: Well, I think that he was goaded into this, and I think it was a case of trying to remind the people that Massachusetts -- first of all, their own people were calling it Taxachusetts, and many people were moving across the state line to live in another state because of their tax programs.

KING: You don't think it was at all dirty, on...

REAGAN: And -- well, I think you have to realize what the other man is saying, including your response. It isn't just an open attack on someone who has not opened the subject himself.

But I think, yes, to hold with a program in which a man is freed and then goes out and commits dastardly deeds and -- against his fellow human beings...

KING: Is fair game.


KING: Oslo, Norway, hello.

CALLER: Hello.

KING: What time -- what time is it in Norway?


KING: What time is it?

CALLER: Oh, it's nearly 4:00 in the morning.

KING: Wow, 4:00 in the...


KING: What's your question?

CALLER: I wonder very much about -- has it ever, during your time of presidency, been a chance of nuclear war between Soviet Union and America or -- I mean...

KING: Good question. Were we ever close?

REAGAN: I don't think so, because while I disagreed with the policy that was called the MAD policy -- M-A-D -- it at least had seen both countries armed to the point that neither one wanted to take the risk of starting that war, because each -- each of us knew how -- how well-armed we were.

But I did feel that we could not keep on doing that, and it was a foolish policy. And so when the opportunity came to get an intermediate-range treaty on the weapons, the missiles that the Soviet Union had aimed at the cities of Europe -- and we in NATO were asked to give NATO something to counter that. And we did, Pershing missiles and the Cruise missiles and started. And the Soviet Union protested.

Well, that led, then, to a meeting and thank heaven -- a meeting with Gorbachev where I said, Well, the answer, then, is zero-zero. You get rid of yours, and we'll get rid of ours.

KING: But we were never close to conflict, in your eight years?

REAGAN: I don't think so, no.


KING: President Reagan took a two-pronged approach to defense. On one hand, under his administration, U.S. defense spending reached its highest levels since the Korean War. Reagan also envisioned the Star Wars missile-defense program. A scaled-down version of that ambition plan is still in the testing phase.

On the other hand, Reagan signed the INF Treaty, which eliminated intermediate-range nuclear missiles, the first treaty ever that actually reduced the number of warheads in both the East and West arsenals.

The START Treaty also had its origins during the Reagan era. It finally was signed in 1992, and led to a 30 to 40 percent reduction in nuclear warheads.

Our final moments with President Reagan after this.


REAGAN: I said, Look, I know all the rules about saluting in civilian clothes and all, but if I'm the commander in chief, there ought to be a regulation that would permit to return the salute. And I heard some words of wisdom. He said, "I think if you did, no one would say anything."




KING: We are running out of time.

Couple of other things. AIDS -- did -- were we late on that?

REAGAN: I don't think -- no, certainly we -- it was a -- we were not unnecessarily so. It was a plain case of catching up with things, and I immediately appointed a commission to get into the whole problem of AIDS and come back with the recommendations of what we could and should be doing.

KING: Do you think Rock Hudson focused a lot of our attention on it?

REAGAN: Oh, I think that brought a lot of attention to it, sure.

KING: Did you know him well?

REAGAN: Well, I knew him as we knew each other in Hollywood as fellow actors and all. But not more than that.

KING: Are you hopeful about it?

REAGAN: Well, yes, I think we have to be hopeful about it, or we'll find ourselves back in those days of the plagues...

KING: Yes.

REAGAN: ...that wiped out millions of people.

KING: Sandusky, Ohio, for Ronald Reagan, hello.

CALLER: Hi. Real quick, Ron, I just want to tell you I love you, and I just want to know what your favorite actor or actress was that you worked with. And I wish you could run again for many more years.

REAGAN: Well...

KING: Not a bad call.

REAGAN: Thank you for your call, and appreciate it. And obviously, I have to tell you that my opportunity with an actress Nancy Davis...

KING: Didn't turn out too bad.

REAGAN: No, and she was a nurse and I was a naval officer and so forth. And we went home together because we were married.

KING: Stay well.

REAGAN: All right.

KING: Thank you.


KING: You've been watching a very special interview we did with Ronald Reagan in January of 1990. And it was a privilege and a pleasure to talk with the former president.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Nancy and the rest of the family at this very sad time.

I'm Larry King. Good night.


REAGAN: My friends, we did it. We weren't just marking time; we made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer and we left her in good hands.

All in all, not bad. Not bad at all.

And so, good bye, God bless you and God bless the United States of America.



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