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Michael Reagan Rips Half-Brother Ron Over Book and Alzheimer's Claim

3 years ago
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Michael Reagan blasted as "falsehoods and lies and conspiracy theories to sell books," the suggestion by half-brother Ron Reagan that their father may have had Alzheimer's disease while still in the White House.

"In order for that that happen, you would have to have doctors, the Secret Service and other family members all part of the same conspiracy," he told Politics Daily. Reagan's diagnosis of Alzheimer's was not announced publicly until 1994, five years after he left office.

Michael ripped the excerpt from Ron's book, "My Father at 100," that appears in Sunday's Parade magazine. Ron Jr. cites a 1989 post-presidential visit to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota after a riding accident. "Surgeons opening his skull to relieve pressure on the brain emerged from the operating room with the news that they had detected probable signs of Alzheimer's disease. Further tests conducted the following year confirmed those suspicions."

Ron dates his suspicions about the disease to the 1984 re-election campaign. "I felt the first shivers of concern that something beyond mellowing was affecting my father" during the first debate against Democratic nominee Walter Mondale. "My heart sank as he floundered his way through his responses. He looked tired and bewildered." Ron Jr. also notes that by 1986 his father couldn't remember the names of familiar canyons when flying over California, adding that doctors now know the disease can go unrecognized for some time. "The question, then, of whether my father suffered from the beginning stages of Alzheimer's while in office more or less answers itself," he writes.

"Nobody was happy with the debate," Michael told me by phone from Miami. But Ron's suggestion of early onset of the disease "is the last thing I would have expected from him, to take this kind of shot at his Dad with no evidence except he watched a debate between Dad and Mondale."

The semi-siblings who haven't spoken in years, are political and religious opposites. Michael Reagan, 65, is a conservative former radio talk show host who was adopted by Reagan and his first wife, actress Jane Wyman. He sired the Gipper's only two grandchildren with longtime wife, Colleen, and is a regular churchgoer.

Ron, 52, the natural son of Reagan and his second wife, actress and former first lady Nancy Davis Reagan, is a liberal former talk show host on the defunct left-ish Air America network. He is also a self-professed atheist.

, who hopes to become a GOP political consultant, told me that as the author of a half dozen books, "I know publishers want to have that 'ah-ha' moment, something to put out to promote the book. But to go to this extent to just tell falsehoods and lies and conspiracy theories to get it out there, is outrageous. Really, to do this to his mother at 89 and as fragile as she can be, Ron and Patti (Davis) are the only two children she's got, and for him to do this just to sell a book, I mean it's just unconscionable. There are enough great stories he could share that would make news, great 'inside baseball' stories."

U.S. News & World Report reported Friday that although Ron, "who became a liberal and atheist, disappointing his dad" writes about presidential brain surgery in San Diego, "there is no reporting about any San Diego operation on Reagan. News reports at the time of his fall say Reagan was flown to a hospital in Arizona, where he was treated for scrapes and bruises and released after five hours." The U.S. News blog Washington Whispers, which first reported the Ron Reagan story, also notes that the president's four White House doctors said they saw no evidence Reagan had Alzheimer's while in office.

"Basically Ron has my dad looking like the Congresswoman in Arizona, with his head shaved and half his brain exposed," Michael Reagan told me. He was referring to Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head during last Saturday's Tucson massacre. "I saw my father on and off and I never saw anything that looked like that. Certainly he would have shared that story."

Michael readily admits he is estranged from both Ron and half-sister Patti Davis, whose liberal views also caused her parents grief over the years. In 2005 she wrote "The Long Goodbye," a loving, first-person account of her father's decline into dementia that starts in 1995, six years after he left Washington.

Michael says he hasn't spoken to Ron since the reading their father's will after his death in 2004. While he refused to discuss inheritance details, he says, "it wasn't enough for Ron or for anybody to retire on...I hope Patti doesn't come out and try to support Ron. He needs to own this deal because it's a conspiracy theory that everybody has to be involved in, including my father's own children."

On Friday, the Ronald Reagan Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, Cal., issued a statement calling Ron's book "wonderfully warm and engaging." But, "as for the topic of Alzheimer's, this subject has been well documented over the years by both President Reagan's personal physicians, physicians who treated him after the diagnosis, as well as those who worked closely with him daily. All are consistent in their view that signs of Alzheimer's did not appear until well after President Reagan left the White House."

Ron Reagan's national publicity tour kicks into high gear next week, culminating with his father's 100th birthday Feb. 6. Michael is also taking advantage of his father's centennial with a book of his own, "The New Reagan Revolution."
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