On This Day: Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan Dies in 2004

by Suzanne Halliburton
Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images

Ronald Reagan, the former Hollywood actor turned 40th president of the United States, died this day in 2004. He was 93.

His death was expected, but so very sad. Reagan suffered from Alzheimer’s for at least a decade prior to his death. But a country still emotionally mourned his passing. There was an especially poignant moment at Reagan’s graveside service after his funeral, June 11.

That’s when former First Lady Nancy Reagan stood over her husband’s casket. She wiped away tears and was supported by her children, Ron Jr and Patti, as they said goodbye one final time. A nation watching from home cried with the Ronald Reagan family.

A month before his death, Nancy Reagan told a group of donors:

“Ronnie’s long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him,” she said. “Because of this I’m determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain.”

(Photo by Kevork Djansezian-Pool/Getty Images)

Ronald Reagan, Leading New Movement, Won in Landslides

Ronald Reagan, the former California governor, led a new conservative movement of lower taxes and even less government. He won both his terms in 1980 and 1984 with landslide victories. Although Reagan’s political ideas weren’t universally popular within the country, he never sought to divide a nation with his rhetoric. He was dubbed the “Great Communicator.”

“It was wonderful the way that he could take a stand, and do it without bitterness or without creating enmity with other people,” George H.W. Bush, who was Reagan’s vice president and succeeded him in office, said the day Reagan died.

His speeches were inspiring and motivational. One of his most popular ones was the address he made to the nation in 1986, after the Challenger exploded, killing six astronauts and a school teacher. Ronald Reagan specifically addressed all the school children who had tuned in to watch the Challenger launch only to see the destruction across the sky.

Ronald Reagan told them:” The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.”

And he finished the speech: “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.”

Reagan’s Most Famous Line: ‘Tear Down this Wall’

Ronald Reagan is also given credit for helping to end the Cold War. In another famous speech, delivered June 12, 1987, Reagan stood before Berlin Wall in West Germany.

In the middle of the speech, he directed a line at Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Soviet Union’s ruling communist party.

“Mr. Gorbachev,” Ronald Reagan declared, “tear down this wall!” The Berlin Wall, which separated East and West Germany, fell two years later. That one sentence from Reagan’s speech helped define the 1980s.

Reagan Moved Back to His California Ranch in 1989

Ronald Reagan retired from politics when he ended his second term, Jan. 20, 1989. He and his beloved Nancy moved back to Rancho del Cielo, the family ranch in California. He continued office hours for another decade.

But in 1994, he wrote a letter to the nation, informing everyone of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. He sought to soften the blow of the news by soothing words.

“I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life,” wrote Ronald Reagan. “I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.”