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Celebrating Ronald Reagan’s 85th Birthday Without the Gipper

February 7, 1996

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (AP) _ Ronald Reagan turned 85 Tuesday, and his wife tossed a giant party for Republican faithful at the reopened restaurant where he once proposed to her.

But Alzheimer’s disease has silenced the Great Communicator and it was a bittersweet tribute. The nation’s 40th chief executive stayed at home with Secret Service agents.

Nancy Reagan hosted the ``Reminiscing at Chasens″ birthday bash, featuring scheduled tributes from former President Gerald Ford, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, retired Gen. Colin Powell and Gov. Pete Wilson.

Johnny Mathis and Merv Griffin entertained the 460 guests at the $1,000-a-plate celebration, which raised money for the Ronald Reagan Library.

Reagan spent his birthday playing golf with Bob Hope and enjoying a private dinner with his wife before Mrs. Reagan headed off alone to host the Gipper party.

``He had a very good golf game today,″ said daughter Maureen Reagan, who added that her father was ``doing great.″

Michael Reagan, an adopted son, praised his dad in a message televised on CNN’s ``Larry King Live.″

``Fifty years ago, you wanted to bring a small child into your family ... and you went out and adopted me into your family and allowed me to become a Reagan.

``I just want to tell you, I have never forgotten that day. Every day that I go to work I just try to keep that Reagan flame, that memory, that Reagan Revolution. I want to keep that flame burning. And that’s my birthday present to you. To keep the Reagan name alive, to keep it burning forever.

``I love you, Dad. Thank you.″

Son Ron Reagan and daughter Patti Davis also had televised messages for their father, along with Sen. Bob Dole and former Sen. Barry Goldwater.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich got his praise in before dinner.

``I think he changed the world. He re-aroused the American dream. He sort of brought us back to America,″ Gingrich said. ``The impact Ronald Reagan made on us psychologically in this country almost means more than anything else he accomplished.″

Sheriff’s deputies kept about two dozen AIDS activists across the street. They blew whistles, beat on water bottles and hoisted placards reading: ``Stop the GOP,″ along with signs carrying Reagan’s picture and the word ``shame.″

``We are going to ruin their party like they ruined our lives,″ said Pete Jimenez, a 32-year-old AIDS activist.

Chasens also catered a private dinner for Reagan at his wife before she left for the restaurant, where he had proposed to her in February 1952 and booth No. 2 had always been reserved for them.

Reagan no longer appears in public. He disclosed 15 months ago that he has Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible neurological disorder that destroys the brain’s memory cells.

Still, he spent the morning taking calls from well-wishers and receiving birthday greetings by fax from world leaders including Boris Yeltzin and Mikhail Gorbachev.

In the afternoon, he played golf at the Los Angeles Country Club with Hope, and friends Puck Trainer and Lodwrick M. Cook, who is chairman of the trustees for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

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