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Nancy Reagan Dies of Heart Failure at the Age of 94. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired March 6, 2016 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:00] NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: I can't imagine marriage being any other way but the way that Ronnie's and mine was. And I guess that's unusual.

LARRY KING, FORMER CNN HOST: Little bit of a miracle, too, right?


KING: Something in the gods brought you together.

N. REAGAN: Fortunately.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A relationship not based on politics or power, but simply admiration and affection.

The joy they shared are short contrast to the unsubtle childhood she endured. Born Anne Francis Robbins in New York City. Her mom and dad separated before she was even born. Her mother Edith toured with a theater company while the future first lady lived with an aunt and uncle. When she was 7, her mother married a Chicago neurosurgeon named Loyal Davis. He adopted her and until she headed west to Hollywood to become an actress, she lived and grew up in Chicago, known by the nickname Nancy.

SHEILA TATE, FORMER NANCY REAGAN PRESS SECRETARY: She told me that MGM was like a big family. That she signed with MGM and she became part of that family, they took care of her. She wasn't, you know, afraid that even at her age, to go out there by herself because she was surrounded by people to help her.

N. REAGAN: So young. So trusting. Trust me.

MALVEAUX: Once in Hollywood Nancy Davis was busy. But she almost failed before she even began because it was the era of Joe McCarthy and the infamous Red Scare Witch Hunt. In 1949 her name appeared on a target list of suspect communist sympathizers. Upset, she turned to a friend for help. But out of this anguish came the most dramatic point of her life. Her friend set up a meeting with the president of the Screen Actors Guild, a dashing leading man named Ronald Reagan.

TATE: I have my suspicions based on listening to her talk about it that she really was -- she wanted to fix this, but she also wanted to meet Ronald Reagan because she'd heard how available and cute he was.

MALVEAUX: And thus began one of Hollywood's and Washington's most enduring romances. In fact, one of her last screen appearances was playing opposite her future husband, in a movie called "Hellcats of the Navy."

N. REAGAN: I was afraid you wouldn't come.

MALVEAUX: Her official biography still featured on the current White House Web site, quotes her as saying, "My life really began when I married my husband." After being wed in this California church she did become devoted to him. They raised a family, including their children Patty and Ron Jr. And her husband's two children, Maureen and Michael, from his previous marriage to Jane Wyman.

In 1966, Ronald Regan began a second career as a full-time politician and was elected governor of the nation's largest state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Faithfully discharge the duties upon which --

MALVEAUX: He was a strong and popular governor. And when he began to run for the presidency, she was always by his side and always gazing at him with that loving stare.

KEN DUBERSTEIN, FORMER REAGAN CHIEF OF STAFF: It was for real. That wasn't an actress. The adoration that they had for each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I congratulate you, sir.

N. REAGAN: I don't remember thinking anything except that, my gosh, here he is. And he's president.

KING: My Ronnie?

N. REAGAN: My Ronnie.

MALVEAUX: After her husband's inauguration as part of the conservative Reagan revolution of 1981, Nancy Reagan's signature was appearing in designer gowns, especially red ones. She also redecorated the White House. Both moves drew heavy criticism.

KING: Mr. President, do you think your wife got a bad rap? We talked about it the other night. Her and the press and --

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes. And I think it was because of her -- kind of an opposition to me and everything I stood for that they picked on her.

MALVEAUX: But she had her own special grit, especially after an attempted assassin's bullet struck her husband.

TATE: I remember sitting in the -- in a room with her and we were dealing with a few things that had to be dealt with. And there was this pounding. And she said, they're pounding on his back. And it was really shocking. I mean, it was bam, bam, just, you know, to get everything moving. And she was -- she never left that hospital. MALVEAUX: Few knew then how close the president had come to dying.

Just a couple of months into his first term.


KING: Touch and go?

N. REAGAN: Yes, it was. I almost lost him. The nurse would come in periodically and give me updates. I remember one time she said, well, we may have to leave the bullet in there. And I said, leave it in? I don't think that sounds very good.


[13:05:02] N. REAGAN: And they finally found it, an inch from his heart.

KING: Was there a time, truthfully, where you thought you'd lose him?

N. REAGAN: Oh, yes. Yes, there was.

MALVEAUX: She also battled breast cancer and survived. Through it all, she had many admirers and some critics, too. Chief of them, her husband's former chief of staff, Donald Regan, who wrote a blistering book about her, including the fact that she sometimes consulted an astrologer, yet another sign of just how devoted they were to one another.

R. REAGAN: Apparently from what we hear, he's chosen to attack my wife, and I don't take kindly upon that at all.

MALVEAUX: She also used her influence to have a substantive impact, an anti-drug program was reduced to a simple phrase, when a young girl asked for advice and the first lady simply said, "Just say no."

N. REAGAN: I didn't mean that that was the whole answer, obviously. But it did serve a purpose.

MALVEAUX: After she and her husband left Washington, she needed her stamina more than ever, as she struggled for years with Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer's.

N. REAGAN: It's sad to see somebody you love and have been married for so long, and you can't share memories. That's the sad part.

MALVEAUX: Through it all, she never lost the sunny optimism, which was Reagan-esque.

KING: Do you ever feel that fate treated you badly?

N. REAGAN: No, uh-uh. No. When you balance it all out, I've had a pretty fabulous life.

MALVEAUX: After her husband lost his battle with Alzheimer's, she was the focal point of a majestic state funeral. DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Nancy, none of us can take

away the sadness you are feeling. I hope it is a comfort to know how much he means to us and how much you mean to us as well. We honor your grace, your own courage and, above all, the great love you gave to your husband.

MALVEAUX: After President Reagan's burial, she stayed largely out of public view. And her heart ached.

N. REAGAN: There are people who told me that it gets much easier. Well, maybe for them. But not for me. I miss him more now than I ever did. I remember more now than I ever did. All the little things that we did.

MALVEAUX: She looked frail in one of her final public appearances, the celebration of the centennial of Ronald Reagan's birth.

N. REAGAN: And I know that Ronnie would be thrilled, and is thrilled, to have all of you share in his 100th birthday. Doesn't seem possible, but that's what it is.

MALVEAUX: What she will be remembered for, most of all, is her steady, unflinching devotion to her husband, both in and out of the spotlight.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A truly wonderful woman, indeed. Nancy Reagan, passed away this morning at her home in Los Angeles, at the age of 94. A spokesperson for the former first lady saying the cause of death was congestive heart failure.

Mrs. Reagan will be buried at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, right next to her husband, the late president Ronald Wilson Reagan, who died on June 5th, 2004.

This statement goes on to say that prior to the funeral service, there will be an opportunity for members of the public to pay their respects at the library.

You're looking at pictures of the Ronald Reagan Library there. Details, the library will announce shortly.

We just received a statement also from former president George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush. It says this.

"Laura and I are saddened by the death of former first lady, Nancy Reagan. Mrs. Reagan was fiercely loyal to her beloved husband. And that devotion was matched only by her devotion to our country. Her influence on the White House was complete and lasting. During her time as first lady and since, she worked to fight drug abuse and raise awareness about breast cancer. When we moved into the White House, we benefited from her work to make those historic rooms beautiful. Laura and I are grateful for the life of Nancy Reagan and we send our condolences to the entire Reagan family."

That statement from former president George W. Bush.

Kiron Skinner is joining us now, a biographer of Ronald Reagan.

Your thoughts on this sad day, Kiron?

KIRON SKINNER, REAGAN HISTORIAN: Well, it's -- for me, a stunning day to find that Nancy Reagan is no longer with us. But what I'd like to really add to this conversation is something I think many people don't know.

[13:10:01] When I, as an African-American woman, was a post-doc at UCLA in the mid-1990s, Nancy Reagan gave me access, nearly exclusive access to President Ronald Reagan's private papers. The only other person at that time who had access to the papers was Edmond Morris, the official biographer.

I had written to her about my interest in writing on the end of the Cold War. She didn't know me at all. I've never met her. She talked to George Schultz about me and then we met at President Reagan's Los Angeles office. At that point, he had Alzheimer's. And it was -- or was nearing that period. And what was fascinating was that she didn't know much about my background. She took Schultz's word and also talked to Bud McFarland, former national security adviser.

She was interested, I remember, in that conversation in having accurate histories of Reagan and his legacy, his presidency and the end of the Cold War written. There were no stipulations on my use of those papers ever. And that work ended up in " Reagan, In His Own Hand," " Reagan: A Life In Letters," co-authored with Martin and Annelise Anderson.

Those books began, really, a revision of Reagan's presidency when we showed that he wrote thousands and thousands of letters, speeches, political tracks, and other documents that no one really knew about. So, in that way, I came into her life in the post-presidency years. And I watched her very carefully be concerned about and wanting to help shape in the way that she could Reagan's legacy. And I was just really honored to participate from that vantage point.

BLITZER: And you had unique insight into that role she played. And I think it was a critically important role. It changed the world, literally -- personal relationship that developed between Ronald Reagan and the former Soviet president, newly Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, that helped end the Cold War. Talk a little bit about what her role was then.

SKINNER: Yes. Wolf, I'm trying to hear you. So you were talking about Nancy Reagan's role --

BLITZER: I was talking about Nancy Reagan's role --


SKINNER: Gorbachev? BLITZER: And her husband's engaging, forming a personal relationship

with Mikhail Gorbachev.

SKINNER: Nancy Reagan, many have said, well, she's the one that persuaded her husband to engage with the Soviet general secretary, to take a more conciliatory tone, Cold War change and calm down his rhetoric. I don't actually see it that way. What I -- what I have found in my research is that Nancy and Ronald Reagan were in lockstep in their view that before there could serious engagement with the Soviets that the U.S. military buildup -- stability with allies had to return. When that happened we saw them coming together these spectacular summits more than any other Cold War presidents, four in total, and Nancy was part of that.

But I think it wasn't that she was persuading her husband as much as she was confident after the military buildup, after the reengagement of allies, after the missile defense program was put in place, that it was time to deal with a Soviet general secretary and in fact Mikhail Gorbachev was a new generation of Soviet leaders. It was a perfect timing and Nancy was critical in that way until the end of the Cold War.

BLITZER: She certainly was. I remember covering those years very, very closely.

Kiron, I want you to stand by with us. We're going to continue to remember Nancy Reagan who unfortunately passed away this morning at the age of 94. We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.


[13:18:42] BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. That's where Nancy Reagan will be buried right next to her husband, the former president Ronald Reagan. She passed away this morning in her home in Los Angeles at the age of 94. A spokesperson saying the cause of death was congestive heart failure.

Just getting another statement. The tributes are pouring in. Another statement this one from former president Jimmy Carter.

"Rosalyn and I are saddened by the passing of former first lady, Nancy Reagan. She will always be admired for her strength of conviction and her lifelong devotion to her husband. Her Just Say No campaign prevented many young people from falling prey to the allure of drug use and her advocacy for stem cell research raised public awareness and influenced decision makers about vital research for Alzheimer's Disease. We extend our condolences to her family at this difficult time."

That statement from former president Jimmy Carter.

Nancy Reagan was good friends and spent many occasions talking with Larry King right here on CNN. I want to play this excerpt from one interview she gave Larry, this was back in 2007.


KING: We're back with Nancy Reagan in sunny California, the publication of "The Reagan Diaries."

[13:20:01] And you are in -- are you in every other notation? This book could be called "Nancy."

N. REAGAN: Yes, I know. I know. Well, I knew, of course, that he said a lot of those things to me. But it's very touching to see that he wrote them.

KING: Was any of it at all -- since you're such a private person. I've gotten to know you very well and you look up private in the dictionary, your picture was there. Any of it too private for you?

N. REAGAN: I don't think so. No. You know, all that he said about me, it wasn't terribly private. It was personal and sweet.

KING: Very sweet.

N. REAGAN: So sweet. It was true. We didn't like to be apart.

KING: Do you realize how strange your marriage was? I mean, strange may be a bad word.


KING: Different.

N. REAGAN: I guess it was, but some -- who was I talking to this morning, somebody, and we were talking about marriage. And I can't imagine marriage being any other way than that way that Ronnie's and mine was. And I guess that's unusual.

KING: And a little bit of a miracle, too, right?

REAGAN: I -- yes.

KING: Something in the gods brought you together.

REAGAN: Fortunately.

KING: You have so many friends that you can't be lonely. Or are you?

N. REAGAN: Well, I'm lonely because I don't have him. And you know, everywhere I look there's a reminder of him, which is the way I want it, really, in the house. I have pictures all around.

KING: And you go to the library?

N. REAGAN: And I go to the library. But how fortunate I am, a friend of mine whose husband had died said, "Nancy, you're so lucky. When George died, he didn't leave me anything that I could work on. You have a library and that must mean a lot to you." I never thought about it like that but it does mean a lot to me.

KING: You have something --


KING: Left by him.

REAGAN: That's right.

KING: Thanks, Nancy.


BLITZER: Great interview that was. And Larry King is joining us on the phone right now.

Larry, I know you're suffering from a little bronchitis.

KING: Hey, Wolf.

BLITZER: But this must be especially sad moment for you, Larry, because those of us who watched all of your interviews with Nancy Reagan over the years were so moved.

KING: Yes, I got very close with her the last 20 years and spent so many moments with her, lunched with her, dined with her. I sat next to her at Frank Sinatra's funeral. So many memories with Nancy. She's a wonderful friend. And very lively. She loved to gossip. She loves Hollywood. Liked Hollywood better than Washington. She was -- you know, Wolf, she was a gal. You know, she was a good gal, loyal to her husband at the expense of all. He was it.

You didn't cross him and not come in contact with Nancy. There will never be a couple like that. They were bonded.

BLITZER: I think I totally agree. Everybody who knew them probably agrees with you as well.

Larry, those of us -- you know, you do interviews with prominent people. So do I. Talk a little bit about what she was like off camera as opposed to on camera? Was there much of a difference what we saw behind the scene as oppose to what we saw when there was a formal interview on "Larry King Live."

KING: The best I could put it, well, she was more gossipy off camera. She wanted to know all the dirt. What do you think of this? Is she going with him? Are they having a bad relationship? She had to know everything. I mean, we'd be -- I was at a formal affair with her, the Red Dress Affair, they held at the library every year, honoring all the first ladies. And they had all the first ladies come to this and they wear a red dress in honor of the Red Dress Event to raise money.

And as we were walking out, walking out, I escorted her out, she's whispering to me about this Hollywood actress who had just broken up. And did I think she was having an affair with this guy. She just -- she loved that. She loved her friends.

[13:25:03] She had a very close group of lady friends, they met regularly for lunch. Very sad at the end, though, Wolf, she was confined to a wheelchair. Couldn't speak very well. I think she was ready to go. In fact, she was saying she was ready to go years ago. But I think she was really ready to go and she was so disappointed with politics this year. Last time I spoke to her, do you know what she said?


KING: Do you believe this, Larry? Do you believe this? That's all she said. Do you believe this? I don't think she got (INAUDIBLE) with what was going on with her party and I'm sure she was wondering how Ronnie would have taken all of this. She was terribly --

BLITZER: Do you remember, Larry, the first -- do you remember, Larry, the first time you met her?

KING: The first time I met her was at the White House. I took my daughter. She invited me to a Marvin Hamlisch concert and I sat right behind her and the president with my daughter Kaya. And then had to be -- Kaya would be -- 1970 something in there. In their first term.


BLITZER: Those were really memorable days.

KING: It was 1980, right? Yes. '80s. I think '81.

BLITZER: Yes. He became president on January 20th, 1981. And he left office on January 20th, 1989. The whole -- the '80s, which was a remarkable period, which saw the beginning of the end of the Cold War, a remarkably historic moment in American history, and world history, indeed. And a lot of people didn't really appreciate how significant a role she played behind the scenes in helping her husband get through those years.

KING: You hit it on the head, Wolf. I don't think we'd have had that treaty without Nancy who kept encouraging him, stay with it. A lot of people thought she was very right wing, but she was the opposite of that, inside that household. She would be the moderate. She was all -- we have to have peace. There's nothing more valuable than peace. Don't listen to the extremists on either side. She was pulling for that all the way. I don't think we would have had it without her.

BLITZER: And she was always skeptical of some of her husband's top aides. She was always worried that they may not necessarily have his best interest at heart, but they were looking to advance themselves. Right?

KING: Oh, boy, you hit it on the head. She trusted no one when it came to her husband. I mean, she was -- and she was loyal to a fault. If you were her friend, you were her friend. And if you weren't her friend, you weren't her friend. She drew the line in the sand.

BLITZER: And, you know, those of us who remember covering those years, Larry, remember he was always very optimistic, very happy, very outgoing. She was much more skeptical of almost everything. It was a great -- it was a great combination.

KING: It sure was. Because you hit it right on the nail again. She was -- she was ying and yang. Ronnie had that big smile, Nancy's smile was a lot -- formed by being a Hollywood actress. She knew how to put on the pose, but she was the strength in that house. She was the strength with those politicians around him. And she could -- people she didn't like -- I don't remember names now but she was -- you knew what she thought when you were around her. There was no give and go with Nancy Reagan. She held her ground.

I tell you, I called her quite a lady. She was a doll. She was a good, good lady. She was fun to be around. She was smarter than a lot of people gave her credit for.


KING: And she was a great first lady.

BLITZER: And she was obviously tremendously influenced by the assassination attempt during his first year as president of the United States. A lot of us remember right outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. You remember that day. Today none of us who lived through that period will ever forget. And then he was rushed to George Washington University Hospital and he said something to the effect, I forgot to duck.

It was -- you know, it was touch and go, Larry, as those of us remember. His doctors later said, he could have easily passed away. Fortunately, he didn't.

KING: When I had my heart attack, I was put in the same cubicle where he was brought.

[13:30:02] I had an association with the Reagans. I was also there when they came out in favor of the law, the guy who passed away, his PR guy. What was the name -- PR guy that got shot in the head that survived.

BLITZER: Yes. That was -- Jim Brady, the press secretary.

KING: Yes. George Washington University since when Reagan came out with the Brady Law, a lot of Republicans were upset about that. I can't figure out why. But there was a big day for him to come out for that. And then when she came out strong for funding for Alzheimer's, Nancy was a fighter.

BLITZER: And she did make a difference on Alzheimer's, she made a difference on drug -- alcohol and drug abuse, all of us remember her "Just Say No" campaign that really was significant and affecting millions and millions of people's lives.

Any final thoughts, Larry, before I let you go, about Nancy Reagan and her passing?

KING: I miss her. I love socializing with her. I love gossiping with her, I love talking with her. And I'm glad she is -- if there's one thing to be glad about this, she isn't around to see the end of this political year. She was very upset by it.

This must be tough for you, Wolf. I feel for you.

BLITZER: Well, Nancy Reagan was a wonderful, wonderful woman. She lived a wonderful life. 94 years old is a good life. But it's still very sad to know that we don't have her. But these statements, Larry, that are coming in from world leaders, I'm getting statements from the former president of Israel, Shimon Perez, issuing a statement.

It's only just beginning, the remembrance of Nancy Reagan and the unique role she played in American history.

Larry, thanks, as usual, for joining us. I know this is a sad time for you, Larry. Larry King joining us from Los Angeles. Thank you.

KING: Good talking to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Larry King spent a lot of quality time with Nancy Reagan over the years and all of us who watched those interviews on "LARRY KING LIVE" right here on CNN will always remember those interviews.

Let's take a quick break. Much more on Nancy Reagan when we come back.


KING: Did he like writing?

N. REAGAN: He loved writing.

KING: Letters, too. The last of the letter writers.

N. REAGAN: The letters, yes. And isn't it sad now?

KING: He wouldn't have been an e-mail guy.

N. REAGAN: No, he wouldn't. No, he wouldn't. But isn't it sad now that nobody writes anymore?


N. REAGAN: I mean, this, of course -- a diary is out of the question. Nobody is going to do that. And imagine hiss historically to see the diary with his handwriting.

KING: Is it hard for you? Is it hard for you to look at it?

N. REAGAN: In a way.




[13:37:10] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much for joining us. I'm so honored to be standing next to First Lady Nancy Reagan.

So nice to see you. Thank you very for inviting us tonight.

N. REAGAN: You're welcome. Glad to have you back here .

COOPER: It's such an extraordinary facility. You must be very proud of it.

N. REAGAN: I am. I am.

COOPER: Certainly so. Thank you again so much for hosting us tonight.


BLITZER: That was eight years ago, when Anderson Cooper moderated a Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Nancy Reagan was then welcoming Anderson to that historic debate.

Once again we want to welcome back our viewers here in the United States and around the world. We're reporting the sad news that Nancy Davis Reagan, the former first lady of the United States, passed away this morning at her home in Los Angeles at the age of 94. The cause of death, congestive heart failure.

Just got a statement in from former president Bill Clinton and former first lady Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state.

Statement from the former president, "Hillary and I were deeply saddened to learn of Nancy Reagan's passing. Nancy was an extraordinary woman, a gracious first lady, proud mother and devoted wife to President Reagan, her Ronnie. Her strength of character was legendary, particularly when tested by the attempted assassination of the president and throughout his battle with Alzheimer's. She leaves a remarkable legacy of good that includes her tireless advocacy for Alzheimer's research and the foster grandparent program. We join all Americans in extending our prayers and condolences to her beloved children and her entire family during this difficult time."

That statement from former president Bill Clinton.

Catherine Fenton is joining us on the phone now. She's a former assistant social secretary to Nancy Reagan.

Catherine, thank you very much for joining us. Very sad times. Talk to us a little bit about what goes through your mind on this sad day.

CATHERINE FENTON, FORMER ASSISTANT SOCIAL SECRETARY TO NANCY REAGAN: Well, thank you, Wolf. I'm honored to contribute to this tribute to such a significant woman who had a personal impact on my life over 30 years ago when I joined my first White House staff. And she was a remarkable woman, both personally and professionally. She overcame so many personal challenges, both as a young, young child and also in her health, her battle against breast cancer which, once again, she was in a public role so she had to summon the strength to go through that as well as, of course, the assassination attempt on the president.

And also bringing awareness to the fight against Alzheimer's and scientific contributions we can work toward as a country. So she's joined that remarkable American Legacy of American First Ladies and I think she really took that legacy and, because at the time she was able to make it more influential in public. I think that any first ladies I've always read about, they've always had wonderful partnerships to have a successful role in the White House. But I think it was more prevalent and more open to the American people that they knew how hard she had to work to support the administration and its agenda as well as find a role for herself.

And of course, she did that so beautifully with bringing attention to fighting drugs in this country and worldwide impact on children. And of course her style and her presence in the White House. She had, you know, a great finesse. And she did come from Hollywood. And she had a great eye and -- that we all, as young women, learned so much from her, the place, the style, the appropriateness, the protocol, creating an elegant, warm evening whether it was for a small, private group of friends or a state dinner.

And she did it very well and she worked hard to make things just as perfect as possible. So we will miss her. We will really miss her. She was remarkable.

BLITZER: We certainly will. We will all miss her. Do you remember, do you know what motivated her while she was first lady of the United States to get involved in that "Just Say No" program to prevent alcohol and drug abuse?

FENTON: Well, I think it was just natural. I think it was, as I recall, in the '80s, we were in the middle of a tremendous cocaine surge. And I think, you know, she grew up in southern California, big city, Los Angeles, and the city for being hit so hard and affecting middle school children, obviously up until high school, college, and destroying lives and destroying families.

And I think every first lady wants to make a contribution. They learn quickly and early on that they have that forum to make an impact and do something positive. And I think that was something she really believed in and how could you not? You know, if it was really a win/win. As much of a challenge as it was, she wanted to make an impact and she felt strongly about that.

As a mother, obviously. She was a devoted mother to Ron and Patty who, of course, have our great sympathies right now. I know that they miss her. And we were proud of her for sticking with it. And it wasn't always popular. You know, it was a hard challenge. And she did it.

BLITZER: She certainly did. She had a huge impact in that cause.

Catherine Fenton, former assistant social secretary to Nancy Reagan, the former first lady of the United States who unfortunately passed away earlier this morning at the age of 94.

Catherine, thanks very much.

We'll take a quick break. Much more on Nancy Reagan right after this.


N. REAGAN: Right away. Right away. Uh-huh. It was a blind date, as you know. It was a blind date. And I knew right away. Took him a little bit longer.




[13:47:39] N. REAGAN: I want you to imagine just how loud it would sound if all the children in the world shouted "Just Say No" at the same time. That's how loud I want you to say it, if someone offers you drugs. So let's practice saying "Just Say No."

What should you do when someone offers you drugs?

CROWD: Just say no.


BLITZER: Some memorable moment back in 1986 in the White House when the first lady, Nancy Reagan, was promoting her "Just Say No" campaign to stop alcohol and drug abuse. And you heard the kids say "Just Say No." A lot of us remember covering those moments.

We're getting statements in from all sorts of world leaders and political leaders as well. Marco Rubio just tweeted today, "Our nation mourns the loss of Nancy Reagan, a true example of integrity and grace. My prayers are with the entire Reagan family."

Bernie Sanders issued a statement, "No matter your party or political ideology, this is a sad day for America. Nancy Reagan was an exemplary first lady, a devoted partner. She was her husband's most trusted adviser and as such served our country well even after her time in the White House. She was an outspoken advocate for stem cell research to find a cure for Alzheimer's. Nancy Reagan had a good heart and she will be dearly missed."

Gloria Borger is with me here.

Gloria, a lot of people didn't realize how influential a role she played with her husband's presidency.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Usually influential role. First of all, of course, he listened to her. He could be a stubborn guy, Ronald Reagan. And he listened to her, for example, on Iran- contra, when she was trying to get him to apologize for the arms-for- hostages trade. She brought in people like Bob Strauss, who was a real Democratic pooba at the time and -- to talk to him. She brought in others to talk to him. And she understood what the political zeitgeist was.

Important also because in order to get to the president, a lot of people went through her and said, you know, this is going badly. Would you mind telling the president about it? And she would say to them, why are you telling me to do it? And they would say because we know that he will listen to you.

[13:50:04] One other point, Wolf, is that she also understood the importance of the social side of the White House. She threw an enormous amount of state dinners. She brought alcohol back to the White House after the Carter years, I believe. And she believed that you could mix the political with the social, that you could get things done in a social environment at the White House that you might not be able to do otherwise. And she used those state dinners and she used the dinners upstairs at the White House as a way to bring in members of Congress, as a way to help her husband with world leaders, as well as with domestic politics.

And that was something she was both criticized for, buying expensive White House China, you'll recall. But it was also something that really worked for Ronald Reagan and for her.

BLITZER: It helped establish that good relationship that he had with Tip O'Neal who was the House speaker.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: He was a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts but they worked deals and Nancy Reagan was, by all accounts, very friendly with Tip O'Neal's wife. And that helped set the stage.

BORGER: Encourage things. Yes.

BLITZER: For some of those deals.

We're just getting a statement from President Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama. Let me read it to our viewers.

"Nancy Reagan once wrote that nothing could prepare you for living in the White House. She was right, of course. But we had a head start because we were fortunate to benefit from her proud example and warm and generous advice. Our former first lady redefined the role in her time here. Later in her long good-bye with President Reagan, she became a voice on behalf of millions of families going through the pleading, aching reality of Alzheimer's and took on a new role as advocate on behalf of treatments that hold the potential and the promise to improve and save lives.

"We offer our since condolences to their children, Patti, Ron and Michael, and to their grandchildren. And we remain grateful for Nancy Reagan's life, thankful for her guidance and prayerful that she and her beloved husband are together again."

That statement from President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. That's a beautiful statement, Gloria. And I think it's genuine. I think it comes really from the heart. They were influenced by Nancy Reagan who was very generous in helping President and Mrs. Obama when they -- when they came to the White House.

BORGER: Right. And she also praised President Obama after he approved federal funding for embryonic stem cell research which had been her great cause after she discovered that her husband had Alzheimer's Disease. And she saw it as a potential hope for some kind of cure or at least unlocking the mysteries of Alzheimer's. And in doing so, you know, she fought George W. Bush on that and she lobbied in Congress for it. And it was President Obama who finally did what she thought ought to be done on research.

So she kind of went against the grain of the Republican Party at that point, but it was such a personal issue for her because she felt that she didn't want families to suffer the pain that she was living through with Ronald Reagan. And we all remember his letter that he wrote to the American public. And I'm sure she had an awful lot to do with that as well.

BLITZER: I'm sure she did. Doug Brinkley, the historian, the potential historian is with us right now as well.

Doug, these statements that are coming in from world leaders, national leaders, political leaders, just regular folks, I think that these are sincere statements. People will miss Nancy Reagan.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: There's no question about it. And you're going to have at her funeral people coming from all over the world at Simi Valley, which I think is the prettiest of all of our presidential libraries. Mrs. Reagan used to spend a lot of time there trying to make things just right but you look out over the valley and see the -- you know, the land unfold of California heading towards the Pacific. So all of her friends in California will be there. But I think world leaders will be coming, politicians. She was a major person in our lifetime and is going to be sorely missed.

I agree -- you had a great interview with Larry King. And Larry said something that only he could say. I think she kind of was ready to pass after she got through that 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birthday. She was deeply involved with Joan Drape in the Reagan Library, making everything perfect for that. And I think then she got into a place that she had done what she needed to do, and she recognized that the country had a huge affection for her husband, which meant everything to her.

BLITZER: Certainly did. It was -- it brings back so many memories, the Nancy Reagan passing, Douglas. One final thought. Give me a final thought on that she did for our country.

BRINKLEY: I think that it was Nancy Reagan -- it's not about "Just Say No." It was about Gorbachev.

[13:55:04] And the fact is, George Schultz gets a lot of the credit because he pushed this kind of diplomacy to Nancy Reagan, said let's do it. She was not -- the conservatives were opposed to this sort of negotiation with Gorbachev, but Nancy Reagan saw it as a window for world peace.

BLITZER: A good point. She was an amazing, amazing woman. And our deepest, deepest condolences to the family.

Nancy Reagan passed away at the age of 94. Cause of death congestive heart failure.

Nancy Davis Reagan, she will be missed.

We're going to continue our special coverage. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Flint, Michigan. Much more right after this.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Today it is 2:00 p.m. Eastern. We continue to cover very sad --