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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Encore Presentation: Interview With Ron Reagan Jr., Tribute To Mattie Stepanek
Aired June 26, 2004 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Ron Reagan, a prime-time interview, the first he gave since the death of his father, former President Ronald Reagan, the history-making leader that he knew as dad.
How's Nancy doing, waht about the rest of the family? We'll cover it all with Ron Reagan next on LARRY KING LIVE.
KING: A great pleasure to welcome our return visitor, Ron Reagan, son of the late president and Nancy Reagan, contributor to MSNBC and "HARDBALL," he's hosted dog shows for Discovery's Animal Planet.
Are you a television personality in Seattle, is that what you do?
RON REAGAN, JR.: Well, not so much in Seattle. I travel all over the place to work. There's not all that much going on TV-wise in Seattle.
KING: Why do you live in Seattle?
REAGAN: Because it's not Los Angeles or New York, first of all. I've lived in both those places. My wife and I just prefer Seattle. It's a beautiful city. Great setting. You open your front door in the morning and the air smells like pine and the sea, as opposed to bus exhaust.
KING: It rains a little.
REAGAN: Rains a little.
KING: Anyways, lets get an update. I spoke to your mom the other day. She seems to be carrying on pretty well.
REAGAN: She's doing pretty well. Yes, I've got to hand it to her. Boy, she's 83-years-old now. She doesn't get around as well as she used to. A little glaucoma. So, she wears those big old glasses and all.
KING: Looks good with them, though.
REAGAN: Yes, she does. But she was a trooper the last couple of weeks.
KING: Were you surprised? REAGAN: No, not really, because she's a professional. And she just is. I know that she would have done anything to do right by my father. And she wanted to do that whole thing right for him.
KING: She's stronger than she looks. You know, that little...
REAGAN: Oh, she's tough, yes. She's...
KING: The impact of the death on you, you were with him at the death, right?
REAGAN: Yes. Yes, I was. Yes.
KING: What was that like?
REAGAN: Well, you've probably heard the story. My sister Patti wrote about it.
REAGAN: Yes. And it was really quite beautiful and peaceful. He...
KING: He opened his eyes.
REAGAN: He did open his eyes. He had written my mother once that he wanted her to be the first thing he saw every morning and the last thing he ever saw. And that's how it turned out. He...
KING: Had the eyes been closed for a long time?
REAGAN: He hadn't opened his eyes for three days at all. Then just a little bit. You know, it was clear that, you know, this was the end. But literally, with his last breath, he turned his head, opened his eyes wide, and they were blue again like I remember seeing them. And looked right at my mother, and then he was gone.
KING: Was it very sad? Well, in way.
REAGAN: Yes, I mean, of course it is. You know, it was touching and that was a beautiful moment.
KING: But a blessing in a way.
REAGAN: But, yes, he wouldn't have wanted to go on longer like that. He was 93-years-old, he had Alzheimer's now for, you know, 10 years or whatever it was. And if would have been able to ask him, do you want to continue like this, he'd had said no.
KING: How tough -- how was it for you when he didn't recognize you the youngest boy.
REAGAN: Well, I mean, I think I saw it as more of a milestone for him and his illness as opposed to something that...
KING: You didn't take it personally? REAGAN: I didn't take it...
REAGAN: Of course not, no. You understand what this disease is about, you know. You know, people get frustrated because their loved ones who have Alzheimer's, oh, he doesn't recognize me anymore, how can I recognize this person, if they don't recognize me? They're not the same person. Well, they are the same person, but they've got a brain disease. And it's not their fault they've got this disease. And what happens to the brain and their behavior as a result, it's not their fault.
KING: What were visits like?
REAGAN: Well, that would depend. You know, through the years, initially, things don't change too much. A little forgetfulness and that kind of stuff. But then gradually as the years went on, you know, there's less and less communication. Ironically, tragedy for him really is that one of the first things to go was his ability to speak. You know, he was such a great story teller and loved to tell jokes and amuse people that way. And -- and it's not atypical of Alzheimer's victims.
KING: To stop talking?
REAGAN: Well, sort of aphasia sets in where you can't, they can't make sense.
KING: Make sounds?
REAGAN: He'd -- for a while he would think he'd be talking but he wasn't saying anything. In his head I'm sure he was, but -- and sometimes you could sort of tell by the cadence what he was saying. You'd heard the story often enough, you could sort of tell, oh, he's telling that one.
KING: So much has been written about the family.
But now that we go on and this is history, was he a good dad, and were you close?
REAGAN: Yes. Like a lot of people, from his generation, born in 1911. I think Babe Ruth was 16-years-old when he was born. The Titanic was in dry dock. You know, Queen Mary was on the throne of England when he was born. And like a lot of men of that generation, he hasn't been Oprah-ized, not comfortable sort of spilling his guts to everybody and kind of emoting all over the place. So, there was a little reserve there for him. Even my mother spoke about that. That little compartment that he had that was just very hard to reach. You know, he kind of kept to himself. All of us at one time or another I think have complained to some degree about that. That we didn't feel...
KING: Couldn't you go to him with problems? REAGAN: Yes. Sure you could. The outstanding thing about my father to me anyway was just what a good and decent person he was. He was good and decent to everybody.
KING: Everybody. Had no enemies?
REAGAN: None that I'm aware of any ways.
KING: What was it like to meet -- you meet Gorbachev -- you hadn't met him, right?
REAGAN: I had not meet him. I'd seen him, actually. I was in the building in the Geneva -- of the first Geneva Summit when he arrived. So I was inside the house, and in the room when he first met my father. But I hadn't seen him or met him officially. And it was at Blair House when we were there for the funeral, he came by to offer condolences to my mother.
KING: What did you make of the whole reaction, the whole week?
REAGAN: Well, it was unexpected, first of all. I mean, you figure there's going to be some to-do about this. He was president of the United States. And a somewhat beloved president of the United States.
KING: He'd been out of the limelight for 10 years.
REAGAN: And hadn't been in office for 15. So, a lot of things have happened since then.
KING: So, what do you make of it?
REAGAN: Well, like I said, we were surprised by it. We got to the mortuary the first day, there were a couple of hundred people who were outside there and we were impressed by that. Oh, look at that, a couple of hundred people showed up! And then we started driving to the library and every single overpass on the 405 and the Simi Freeway, now the Ronald Reagan Freeway actually, was jammed with people. Fire trucks, with hook and ladders with the ladders up and flags between them, and standing and saluting and everything. And it just kept on and on and on all the way up to the library. And you got the feeling that this is something different, you know?
I don't think I have to say, that it was entirely about my father. I think a great deal of it clearly was. And all credit to his character that that was the case. But I think it came at a moment when Americans were particularly hungry for someone they could perceive as honest, upstanding, a hero.
REAGAN: Yes. I mean, we've had all these awful pictures from the prison in Iraq and these sort of memos floating around about justifying torture, all this kind of stuff. And it makes you want to take a shower, you know? And now here's this guy who made you feel good about yourself. Made you feel good about your country. And you thought, he's -- this is a standup guy. When we were in Washington driving along the first day, I looked out at the crowd and there was somebody holding a sign, a picture of him, and the words said "Now there was a president." And that's, you know.
KING: Is your name a burden?
REAGAN: I don't find it one.
KING: No, you were named Ron. You're not junior?
KING: And you're not Ronald, right?
REAGAN: I'm Ronald Prescott Reagan. He was Ronald Wilson Reagan.
REAGAN: Do you at all feel that you have to be something special in life?
Some say it is a burden to be given the same name.
REAGAN: Well, I don't know. I never really thought about it that way. My father thought everybody was special in life. And I think I feel the same way. So I certainly don't feel I have to be president of the United States to make my life worthwhile.
KING: But you have to be successful? You have to be -- does it put an onus on you?
REAGAN: No, I don't -- not to me it doesn't. I'm aware that most people who meet me for the first time think of me in a certain way because of who my father is. That just comes with the territory. But that's been that way ever since I was a little kid as long as I can remember. I grew up that way.
KING: You've always been Ron Reagan.
We'll take a break and come back. Talk about his eloquence and speech at the burial. And we'll take your calls too for Ron Reagan. Bill Clinton tomorrow night. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: He will let the river carry him over the shining stones. He will rest in the shade of the trees. 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You remember him throwing you around the pool?
REAGAN: Oh, I remember very well. Throwing around the pool. Swimming was a big deal for us. It was sort of a bonding thing for my dad and I was the water and swimming in the ocean, swimming in the swimming pools.
KING: When did you write that eulogy?
REAGAN: The day before.
KING: In Washington?
REAGAN: Yes, sitting in Blair house. Thought about it a little before.
KING: You said, dad was also a deeply unabashedly religious man, but he never made the mistake of wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage. Were you referring to the president?
REAGAN: You know, it's interesting.
KING: Everyone thought that.
REAGAN: I know. I wasn't watching TV much after I delivered the eulogy for a few days. But after a couple of days I started getting calls from people saying, boy you really stirred something up, didn't you? I thought, well, what? Well, you know, the stuff you said about Bush. I said, I didn't say anything about Bush, why would I mention George W. Bush in my father's eulogy?
No, no, no, no, the stuff about the religion. I thought, ha, funny, you then everybody thought I was talking about George W. Bush. And then I heard -- everybody thought I was talking about George -- but people connected with George W. Bush thought I was talking about George W. Bush. And then I began to think, maybe I was, I just didn't know it.
KING: Do you think he wears his religion on his sleeve? He certainly refers to it more than your father ever did.
REAGAN: Well, you know, there was that answer he gave to the question about, did you talk to your father about going into Iraq? No, I talked to a higher father, you know, the almighty. When you hear somebody justifying a war by citing the almighty, God, I get a little worried, frankly. The other guys do that a lot. Osama bin Laden's always talking about Allah, what Allah wants, that he's on his side. I think that's uncomfortable.
KING: Do you have thoughts on the war?
REAGAN: Sure, I have thoughts on the war.
KING: And what do you think?
REAGAN: And I think we lied our way into the war.
KING: You think it's a mistake?
REAGAN: Absolutely, a terrible mistake. Terrible foreign policy error. We didn't have to do it. It was optional. And we were lied to. The American public was lied to about WMD, the connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam, which is virtually nonexistent except for fleeting contacts. But they're still trying to pull that one off now, Cheney and all are out there flogging that.
KING: Can I gather from that, that you will not support this president?
REAGAN: No, I won't.
KING: Will you support his opponent?
REAGAN: I will vote for whoever the viable candidate is who can defeat George W. Bush, yes.
KING: So, you might vote for Ralph Nader?
REAGAN: If he were a viable candidate I might.
KING: So the obviously you're going to vote -- what did you think your father would say, if he were here and listening to this?
REAGAN: I don't think he would have gone into Iraq. I think he would have been much more interested in going after Osama bin Laden, who after all planned the 9/11 transactions.
KING: Would he be mad at you for saying, I'm not going to vote for this Republican?
REAGAN: I can't imagine he would be. So long as I was telling the truth he'd be okay with that. And I am. So -- no, I don't think he'd be upset. Again, these are just my personal feelings you've asked, so I'll answer.
KING: You've answered.
REAGAN: I just think it's a terrible mistake. Terrible mistake.
KING: Ron Reagan's our guest. We'll talk, obviously, about stem cell. And take your phone calls for the son of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, the baby. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARGARET THATCHER, FRM. BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Let us give thanks today for a life that achieved so much for all of God's children.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FRM. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As his vice president for 8 years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life. I learned kindness, we all did. I also learned courage.
GEORGE W. BUSH. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the end, through his belief in our country and his love for our country, he became an enduring symbol of our country. May God bless Ronald Reagan and the country he loved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Ron Reagan. Your mother came out -- I was the master of ceremonies that night at that dinner where they honored her at the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. Wasn't too long, maybe two months ago, less maybe. She came out that night and strongly supported stem cell research, embryonic stem cell research. Everyone supports adult stem cell research. Where do you stand? What do you make of it?
REAGAN: I stand shoulder to shoulder with my mother on that. It's astonishing to me that we are even having the conversation about this. We're not talking about fetuses, human beings being killed, we're talking about collections of cells in a petri dish that are never, ever going to be a human being. This could be the biggest revolution in medicine ever, well, ever really. Bigger than antibiotics. Bigger than anything.
And you know what strikes me, too, is that you cannot be against embryonic stem cell research and be intellectually and therefore morally consistent, if you're not also against in vitro fertilization. Because the same thing results in in vitro fertilization. Thousands of blastocysts collections are discarded. Now you'll notice that most of the politicians who are against embryonic stem cell research don't say anything about in vitro fertilization. You might wonder why. Well, it's because what are they going to do, come out against people who want to get pregnant? That's a political non-starter so they're going not going to -- they are just going to shut up about that and go after stem cell research instead. They're playing politics with it and it is shameful. It is shameful.
KING: Do you expect your mother to be active?
REAGAN: Yes, I do. I don't know what form that will take. I've spoken to her about it already. This isn't a whim of hers.
KING: Oh, no. She's not a whim person.
REAGAN: No. She knows this is right. Flat out. There's no downside to this. is the right thing to do.
KING: Do you think she'll be invited to the convention? To speak?
REAGAN: I don't know if she would be or not. But I don't -- you'd have to ask her.
KING: They're on a thin line there if they invite her and she chooses to speak about stem cell research, in opposition to their platform.
REAGAN: Yes, that's true. And I imagine she might take that opportunity to do so if she were invited and chose to go. At this moment I'd guess, and I'm just guessing, she won't go.
KING: Do you ever think of running for office?
KING: You've got a pretty good name going in.
REAGAN: It seems to work for some people.
KING: Wouldn't hurt you.
REAGAN: No, I'm not really cut out to be a politician. You know that I sometimes don't know when to shut up. That could be a drawback. I'm an atheist. So there you go right there. I can't be elected to anything because polls all say that people won't elect an atheist.
KING: Being raised in a political household, didn't you ever have a tendency to want to hold back, to think, I can't say this. What would he say? What would his party say?
REAGAN: No, not really. That never occurred to me. My father used to just say what he meant. If he felt something, felt it strongly, he'd go out and talk about it. I never got the feeling that there were different rules for him and the rest of us.
KING: He never said to you, don't say, don't speak up?
REAGAN: Oh, no,, nothing like that. If he thought you were being rude to somebody, he might say, you need to be civil.
KING: How about your mom? Did she ever say...
REAGAN: No. , I think that she gets a little nervous sometimes when I go off on our -- the current occupant of the Oval Office but she just wants people to get along and be nice. But no, neither of my parents would ever stand in the way of any of their children speaking their minds.
KING: Because your brother is very opposite of view, is he not? Has a have a radio show, very outspokenly conservative.
REAGAN: Yes, he does.
KING: Does that cause friction between the two?
REAGAN: We avoid most political topic. I think we have an unspoken agreement, which I assume is still in place, Mike.
KING: Is Patti more toward your side?
REAGAN: I guess. Yes. , I think I can safely say that. But we don't really talk too much politics within the family now. that my dad's out of the picture, I'm not arguing with him over the dinner table. We don't talk that much about it.
KING: Before we take some calls, have you seen Michael Moore's film? REAGAN: I tried to get in but it was all sold out. Sold out at the local theater down here. I went at 3:00 in the afternoon, and the rest of the day was sold out. So I'll have to wait.
KING: OK, let's go to some calls. We go to Akin, South Carolina for Ron Reagan.
CALLER: Yes, Larry, you're a wonderful guy, I love your show. I have a question for Ron. Two short questions. First...
KING: Go ahead, I lost you. Hello? Let's try again. Are you there?
CALLER: I'm here.
KING: Go ahead.
REAGAN: We lost you for a second.
CALLER: First of all, Ron, do you get along with your brother Michael? Second, did your father have any grandchildren?
REAGAN: My father has -- well, actually, three grandchildren. There's Cameron and Ashley in Mike's family, and Rita, who is Maureen and Dennis Ravel's daughter. And as far as getting along with Mike, yes, I get along with Mike just fine.
KING: You have no children?
REAGAN: I have no children. We have three cats.
KING: Your wife is a psychologist?
REAGAN: She is a psychologist. She's the doctor in the family.
KING: Your father would not have been a candidate...
REAGAN: No, he would not. He would have been impossible on the couch. He wasn't an introspective, let's talk about me for the next three hours kind of guy. No,, that would have been tough for him.
KING: Were you close with Maureen? She's a special lady.
REAGAN: Yes, she was. There's an age divide in our family. There's sort of the two families. One, my father and Jane Wyman, and that's Mike and Maureen. And then Patti and I with Nancy. Maureen was, let's see, nearly 20 years older than me. So, you know, we didn't kind of grow up together so much but we got along fine.
KING: You liked her?
REAGAN: Oh, yes, sure.
KING: She was also gutsy and outspoken.
REAGAN: Yes, she was. She was also on the right. It's interesting that his first two children, Mike and Maureen, were conservative and his other two children, myself and Patti, are somewhat more liberal, I suppose is fair to say.
KING: Would you say your mother is in the middle somewhere?
REAGAN: I suppose she probably is. I don't think -- well, I don't think about it in terms of liberal, conservative, left and right myself and I don't think she does either. I think it's issue by issue. What's the correct thing, what's the right thing to do here? I don't care much for labels.
KING: Townsend, Tennessee for Ron Reagan, hello.
CALLER: Hello, Larry. Hello, Ron. I'd like to just, first of all, say, thank you very much for sharing your father with all of us. He was in politics before you were born and you didn't really have a choice. So, thank you. And my question for you is, what were your real thoughts while following the caisson down Constitution Avenue?
REAGAN: I think we were still just overwhelmed by the number of people that had turned out. In an odd way, this whole event took place on two different levels. On the one hand, it was this vast public event that became much bigger than anybody expected. On the other hand, it was still a very private event. We were kind of in a bubble the whole time. In a limousine or on a plane or in a room at Blair House, for instance. So it remained private in that sense. But there was something about the public turnout that I think made it easier for everybody. I don't quite know how. But it was -- you felt all that sort of goodwill coming your way. And it just helped.
KING: Did you have any feeling about -- we have a tough time as a society dealing with death. We don't want to become, we believe we're not going to die. To deal with the casket, flying with the casket, walking along with it, being in a room. And you're an atheist. So you don't think he's going anywhere.
REAGAN: He's returning to life itself, I suppose. I didn't have any real trouble with that. I mean, it was -- many moments were very moving. And the joke in our family is that we can cry reading the phone book. Boy, there were times when you really had to clench your teeth just to keep from breaking down. At the National Cathedral when George H.W. Bush spoke and he lost it just for a second there. And that -- I'm OK with my own emotions but other people's emotions just put me on the floor. And that was -- boy, that was tough. The music they played that they played us out which I was just asking about before, we think it might be Rachmaninoff but it's so beautiful and so soaring and that affects you. The individual people that we see along the way. There were the big crowds, of course, ten deep or whatever along the roads but there would be people standing all alone out in farm fields and stuff as we went to Point Mugu out in California with the casket, saluting, hand over their heart.
KING: How about coming back, you were held up an hour on that road coming back. They thought they would speed right up to the...
REAGAN: The entire side of the freeway was a parking lot because people knew the route and they drove their cars onto the freeway just to be able to stop, park and watch this motorcade go by for a few seconds.
KING: Now what is it, do you think people that wait for hours to go in a circle around the casket and walk out?
REAGAN: It's hard to say. I mean, it says something awfully good about people, I think, that they would, you know, be willing to put up with that kind of thing. Waiting in the heat for hours and all that, really for just two minutes walking around a wooden box. But I think it speaks volumes of both his character, and how that was perceived by people. And again, what they have to compare it with now. I think people have -- just feel like something's not right here in this country right now. You know, I hate to keep going back to the pictures of Abu Ghraib, but they're just, you know, they're emblematic of this, there's something wrong. And that the people in there right now are not like this guy we had then. This was a standup guy. This was an honorable guy. This is not a guy who would put the end run of the Geneva Convention so he could dunk somebody in the water until they thought they were drowning. You know, that's just -- yuck. You know, you really you just want to wash yourself off when you think of that. You didn't get that feeling with him.
KING: What did you think of Margaret Thatcher's...
REAGAN: Oh, it was beautiful Churchillian sort of language and everything. And I'm not a big political fan of hers, but magnificent eulogy that she gave. Really, really touching.
KING: You know, you smiled then, you looked a little like your dad. We'll be right back with more phone calls for Ron Reagan. Tomorrow night, boy, we've had in the past two weeks we've replayed the interview with your dad last Saturday. We've had president Ford and Mrs. Ford. President Bush number 41 and Mrs. Bush. And tomorrow night, President Clinton. Four presidents in two weeks. Not bad.
REAGAN: Not bad.
KING: We'll be right back with more calls for Ron Reagan right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATTI DAVIS, PRESIDENT REAGAN'S DAUGHTER: I don't know why, Alzheimer's was allowed to steal so much of my father -- sorry -- before releasing him into the arms of death. But I know that at his last moment, when he opened his eyes, eyes that had not opened for many, many days and looked at my mother, he showed us that neither disease nor death can conquer love.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Ron Reagan.
Merced, California, hello. Try it again. Merced, California, hello.
KING: Go ahead, dear.
CALLER: I just...
KING: Go ahead, turn your TV down or you're going to get feedback.
KING: All right, go ahead.
REAGAN: We got you.
CALLER: I was just wondering how Mrs. Reagan is doing.
REAGAN: She's doing pretty well. A little tired, of course, after a big week. As I said, she's 83 now. And you know, you get to be 83, you know, you're not a spring chicken anymore. But she's holding up remarkably well. She's much stronger than she looks. She's a tiny little thing. She can't weigh more than 90 pounds or something, but she's, you know, she's got a motor in her.
KING: The only time she really -- I don't want to say lost it. Was at the burial.
REAGAN: Well, I think the finality of it then. I mean, she's used to having him in a state that, you know, was not ideal, of course, for a long time, with Alzheimer's. He was sort of there, but not there. But then somebody dies, and they leave the house. And the house is still, and it's quiet. And that's -- there's a terrible finality to that. But then for a week there was the casket, and you know his body's in there. And we're taking him around. So you're there with him in that sense too. But then at the last, he's going in the ground. You know, you're not even going to see the casket anymore. And I think that that finality sunk in at that moment. And you know, that's tough.
KING: What's death like?
REAGAN: What is death like? Death is a great stillness. I don't know if you've ever seen anybody pass away, there's just this -- I don't want to say deathly stillness, but it is. You know where that phrase comes from when you see somebody die. They just -- that animating spirit that even in an immobile body keeps them sort of, I don't know, light somehow, is gone all of a sudden. And you know when it's gone. You know the instant that it happens, that that's it. They're not here anymore. That they've passed. And this leaden heaviness settles over the body. He's not the only person I've seen die, but at (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
KING: Have the others too, the same kind of feeling?
REAGAN: Yes, my mother-in-law passed away and I was there for that also. And yes, there is this -- it's hard to explain if you haven't seen it it's...
KING: When a figure becomes an icon larger than life, a world figure, you're at the funeral, you are marching along, how much of it is your dad and how much of it is the 40th president of the United States?
REAGAN: Well, speaking for myself, it was always my dad. I mean, you know, I recognize obviously that he was the 40th president. But no, he's dad. I mean, I grew up with him. I rode his back up and down the swimming pool. You know, he cannonballed me into the deep end. No job as the president is going to supersede that.
KING: He was always dad.
REAGAN: Always. Always and forever.
KING: Striker, Ohio.
CALLER: I was just wondering if, Ron, are you going to take a more public stand now with stem cell research if your mother doesn't come out so much in public, will you?
REAGAN: I may well. I may well. It's a very important issue. Some people may not realize how important it is, but this is a huge, huge medical breakthrough.
KING: What do doctors and researchers tell you?
REAGAN: Doctors and researchers, as I said, can't believe we're still having this discussion. This is like not believing Darwinian evolution, or something, which many people in this administration also don't believe in. You know, just by the by. It is so profoundly anti-intellectual and inhumane. I mean, we are talking about cells, undifferentiated cells, in petri dish. No fingers, no toes, no brain, no spinal cord, no feelings, no pain, no nothing. These are just cells. And we're talking about the potential to save real, living human beings. Children with diabetes, for instance.
KING: The feeling is it will lead to this kind of research using the embryonic stem cells, will quickly bring about, will speed up...
REAGAN: Here's the potential for this. Imagine 10 years from now, you have -- something goes wrong with you. You can extract cells from your own body, create embryonic stem cells with those cells, and then reinject those stem cells that are now genetic match to you, so there's no, you know, fussing around with rejection or tissue rejection or anything nothing like that, and repair an internal organ. Repair your heart from the inside out using your own cells. You know, stem cells generated from your own body.
KING: So you can take the Alzheimer's.
REAGAN: Hopefully. Hopefully.
KING: And replace it. REAGAN: That's possible. Alzheimer's, ironically, may not be the best test case for this sort thing. Heart disease, diabetes, may be better. The brain is such a complex thing. The mechanism of Alzheimer's may not lend itself to embryonic stem cell research. It may, we don't know that.
KING: Muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis.
REAGAN: Parkinson's. The list of things that could be helped by this just goes on and on. And that we are playing politics with this, I'll say it again, is shameful.
KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Ron Reagan, don't go away.
KING: We're back with Ron Reagan. Springboro, Ohio.
KING: Go ahead, you're on.
CALLER: OK. I wanted to know how Ron feels -- felt when he was told that his dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
KING: How were you told? A long time ago.
REAGAN: My mother told me. I didn't have to wait and read the letter, the very touching letter that he wrote. You just feel awful for anybody. You know what this is. You know it's a death sentence, but you know it's not going to be...
KING: Long goodbye.
REAGAN: ...a quick, you know, kind of painless...
KING: Did you talk to him about it?
REAGAN: You know, I really didn't. And he didn't talk about it either.
KING: No kidding?
REAGAN: He'd occasionally say, I've got this thing, and I can't remember names. he'd try to tell you a story and couldn't get the punch line. He'd say, I've got this thing, it makes me forget.
And my feeling was, I don't want to bring this up. If he's not going to bring it up and talk about it, I don't want to introduce the subject and make him dwell on it or anything. Sort of let the patient decide that. He just never really spoke about it.
KING: It's got to be awfully frustrating.
REAGAN: Oh, yes. There were so many things I wanted to ask him about his boyhood and all that kind of thing.
KING: When you don't remember, all we are is our memories.
REAGAN: It's our whole life, exactly.
KING: Our life is a collection of our memories.
REAGAN: What a life he lived too. A long life. Started back in the days of oil lanterns and gas jets.
KING: A funnel of information.
REAGAN: Oh, yes, incredible.
KING: Reston, Virginia, hello.
CALLER: Do you think your father's, this is for Ron, do you think your father's Republican Party is the same Republican Party that exists today?
REAGAN: I'm probably not the best qualified to answer that, because I'm not a Republican and don't hang out with Republicans all the time. But looking from the outside, I would say no. It's a much meaner party today. It's been largely coopted by the religious right. And the spirit of bipartisan cooperation and beat each other's brains out during the day, but after 5:00 have a beer and you can be friends?
KING: Ronald Reagan was that way, Goldwater was that way too.
REAGAN: That seems to be over now, sadly so. Would you mind if I plug something while I'm here?
KING: Not at all. I only have minute and a half.
REAGAN: I belong to the Creative Coalition, which is a nonprofit group, we do arts advocacy in Washington. We've put out a book -- we're going to put out a book in August, August 10 called "If You Had Five Minutes With the President." It's a whole collection of people just writing about, well if I had five minutes with the president, this is what I'd say. Any president, generically. Although, most of them wrote about this one. And I wrote the forward for it. So, now I'm off the hook with my friends at the Creative Coalition because I mentioned it.
KING: The title of it is?
REAGAN: Let me get this right, because I want to make sure that I have it absolutely right. "If I Had Five Minutes With the President."
KING: Who contributed to it? REAGAN: A lot of actors. Actors, business people, journalists: Margaret Carlson, Tucker Carlson, Joey Pantaleano, Minnie Driver, Patty Duke. All kinds of folks.
KING: Look forward to that. And the proceeds go to the Creative Coalition?
REAGAN: They go to the Creative Coalition and our nonprofit work. And now I'm off the hook with my friends at the coalition who would kill me if I didn't mention it.
KING: Do you still dance?
REAGAN: Oh, god no, I'm 46 years old. I'd hurt myself badly if I tried to dance now. Baryshnikov could pull it off still, but not me.
KING: You were with the Joffrey Ballet right?
REAGAN: Yes, I was, yes.
KING: Always god seeing you.
REAGAN: Good to see you. Thanks for having me.
KING: Congratulations on that brilliant eulogy. What a service that was. As that sun went down.
REAGAN: Couldn't ask for a better send-off.
KING: Couldn't write that.
REAGAN: That's true.
KING: When we come back, a tribute to another great American, a little younger, who left us recently. Stay with us.
KING: This week, we lost someone really special: poet, peacemaker, frequent guest and friend Mattie Stepanek. He died last Tuesday of complications from Muscular Dystrophy. He was only 13, or as he liked to say, almost 14.
It's hard to find words to tell you just how much and special Mattie meant to all of us, so instead, see for youself. This is from February of 2002. It was the first time I met Mattie. In fact, he was sitting at this desk across from me was itself a miracle.
MATTIE STEPANEK, 1990-2004: The doctors didn't think I would live one day, but I did. So they said, OK, he's not going to last six months. I did. Then they said, OK, we're drawing the line at 2- years-old, three years, or he's going to die by then, and you might as well let him go now.
And my mom said, no. I'm going to train this spirit. So I lived to be two, and they said, OK, five, five, five is it. Then I lived to be five, and then they said 10. And here I am, an 11-year- old. So now they're saying teens or some time as a young adult, but I plan to be 101.
KING: You're ahead of the game, you've got a great attitude. How old were your siblings when they died?
STEPANEK: The oldest, Katie (ph), she died when she was about 2 and a half or 3, and I didn't get to meet her. The second one was Stevie. He was born in '87. And he only lived to be six months. Jamie was born in 1989. And I knew him, and we had such a brotherly bond. He lived to be two, three, maybe even three and a half. And he died when I was two or three. And it was very hard for me.
KING: I'll bet.
STEPANEK: And I also didn't understand death. I wasn't expecting it. And I knew to say, my brother Jamie died, but I didn't know what it meant. And that's mainly how my poetry started.
KING: Yes, tell me about that.
STEPANEK: Well, I didn't even know it was poetry at first. I was just talking and playing. And 95, maybe even 99 percent of my early works were about Jamie's death. And then I learned it's poetry, my mom told me. And I asked her to write it down for me. And I said, wow, this is a way I can express my feelings in a way that I can cope with this hard life and others can understand it.
KING: So you are what might be called a natural poet?
STEPANEK: Yes. And my poetry's about all kinds of different things. It began about Jamie and then it evolved into things like nature, friendships, challenges, hopes. And the big theme is peace. And I talk about peace in many different ways so that everyone likes it, it appeals to all people and so that everyone understands it.
KING: What do we mean by heartsongs?
STEPANEK: A heartsong is your inner beauty. It's your inner message, what you feel you want to do. In my case, my heartsong is to hear my heartsong and help others to hear theirs as well. And teaching heartsongs does not mean, this is my heartsong, now it is yours. Everyone has a different heartsong and the differences are what make them beautiful.
KING: Do you ever get down?
STEPANEK: Oh, yes. Sometimes I say, why me? Why have I had such a hard life? Why have my siblings died? Why does it not go away? And then I think again, why not me? Better me than a kid who already has stress on his life, or better me than a baby who wouldn't understand it and who has a better chance of hurting more. So I think why me, and then I think why not me? KING: You have had to face death, though, right? There were times when it looked like you bought the bullet?
KING: Last July, I'm told.
KING: How do you deal with it at that minute?
STEPANEK: I always am careful to look at my glass half full because if you look at your glass half empty, it might as well be empty all the way.
And last year I was very sick, and it started in the winter. Before that year, my oxygen was not circulating correctly, and my fingers, my toes, my lips were all popping open and bleeding. I used to joke that I was a preaching zombie and I end up going into the hospital for a trach. My mom was talking to a doctor saying what to do about it.
And I said, I made a decision. I think it's time for me to get my trach back in, because I used to have it when I was little. And it came out when I was two or three. And my mom and the doctor were shocked, but when they thought about it, they knew it was the right choice.
So everyone -- they put in the trach and everyone thought and knew it would make everything better. But something else happened. Now my fingers and lips were all popping open, the same thing happened to the inside of my lungs. The doctors called it a completely denuded or eroded airway. And they said he could die any day. One day it is just going to melt. And that...
KING: Were you scared?
STEPANEK: Oh, yes. Anyone would be scared in that situation. And they said I had a range of three days to three weeks.
KING: What pulled you through?
STEPANEK: Those doctors treated me like their friends. They'd pray with me. They'd celebrate life with me. They at least laugh at my practical jokes.
KING: You're a practical joker.
STEPANEK: Oh, yes.
KING: You do -- you like to...
STEPANEK: Mm-hmm. The most classic one...
KING: ...put little bugs in the bed? STEPANEK: Oh, no. I did worse. My most classic one was the remote-control fart machine.
KING: The remote-controlled fart machine?
STEPANEK: Yes. People asked me, Mattie, tell us something original that no one would expect of you. I said, I have a remote- control fart machine, and that's the truth.
KING: You have such a machine?
KING: You hit a button and it propels it to someone else?
KING: This causes humor?
STEPANEK: Yes. It can go up to 50 feet, I think, and I have a lot of fun with it.
KING: How are you schooled?
STEPANEK: I home school and my mom teaches me, and she does this great job, not only teaching me school, but getting me through life. I could not have lasted anytime without my mom. She's just the best thing that ever happened to me.
KING: Let me read a brief quote from the forward by Gary Zukav to Mattie's latest book. "We are each angels in the making and that is why we can see and honor in others, such as Mattie, the goal that each of us has travelling toward. Mattie reminds us of that goal and makes us thankful."
Mattie Stepanek, OK, you poem you wrote on September 11.
STEPANEK: "Attack on America": a wild bomb will consume morning, evening and all people, showering dirt to burn man's skin. That was the first one I wrote.
KING: You're genius, Mattie. Go ahead. Want to do the third one, too?
KING: Go ahead.
STEPANEK: The third one was the prayer that I wrote that night.
KING: A prayer.
STEPANEK: Yes. "For Our World": We need to stop, just stop, stop for a moment before anybody says or does anything that may hurt anyone else. We need to be silent, just silent, silent for a moment before we forever lose the blessing of songs that grow in our hearts. We need to notice, just notice, notice for a moment before the future slips away into ashes and dust of humility. Stop, be silent and notice.
In so many ways, we are the same. Our differences are unique treasures. We have, we are a mosaic of gifts to nurture, to offer, to accept. We need to be, just be, be for a moment kind and gentle, innocent and trusting, like children and lambs, never judging or vengeful, like the judging and vengeful. And now let us pray, differently yet together, before there is no Earth, no life, no chance for peace.
KING: Mattie Stepanek will be laied to rest Monday. Our thoughts and prayers are with his incredible mom, Jenny, and his wonderful family. We're going to miss you Mattie.
For everyone at LARRY KING LIVE. Good night.
And now stay tuned for more news on CNN, your most trusted name in news.
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