Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Life After the Presidency

Ronald Reagan retired from the White House to a home in the wealthy Los Angeles enclave of Bel Air. For the next six years, he spent his time organizing his memoirs and supervising the creation of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. He made headlines for accepting a $2-million fee to speak in Japan, but responded to criticism of this by declining to schedule other foreign speeches. Until he contracted Alzheimer's disease, he enjoyed his retirement, traveling once or twice a week to his suite of offices in a nearby Century City tower complex and riding at his ranch northwest of Santa Barbara whenever possible.

But this happy period in his life was soon over. On November 5, 1994, Reagan addressed a letter to the American people. It read in part: "My Fellow Americans. I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's disease." (Alzheimer's is a type of dementia in which the parts of the brain that control thought, language, and memory slowly deteriorate.) The letter went on to talk about the heavy burden his condition would place upon his wife, Nancy, and that he only wished for some way to spare her from its pain. He ended with a final note that was pure Reagan: "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you. Sincerely, Ronald Reagan."

In the years after his announcement, Reagan largely disappeared from public view as Alzheimer's took its terrible toll. The forthrightness and courage with which he and Nancy Reagan faced this ordeal, however, raised public awareness and inspired a deluge of contributions to organizations dedicated to finding the cause of, and a cure for, the disease.

Ronald Reagan died on June 5, 2004. He was accorded a state funeral in which leaders from around the world, Republicans and Democrats, and thousands of American citizens paid their respects. He was buried on the grounds of the Reagan Presidential Library.