Ronald Reagan’s daughter was depressed and contemplating suicide when he revealed he had Alzheimer’s
Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis has revealed she was depressed and contemplating suicide when he announced he had Alzheimer’s disease, saying caring for her father helped save her life.
The 69-year-old wrote in her new memoir, Floating in the Deep End, that she was struggling with her mental health when the former president published a letter sharing his diagnosis with the American people on November 5, 1994.
‘That could have been the last straw, but instead, it gave me something to reach for and to focus on,’ Davis told NBC News special correspondent Maria Shriver on the Today show Thursday. ‘That pulled me out of my own despair.’
Scroll down for video
Candid: Patti Davis, 69, opened up in a Today show interview about how caring for her late father, former President Ronald Reagan, helped lift her out of her depression
Hard: Davis wrote in her new book, Floating in the Deep End, that she was struggling with depression and contemplating suicide when he announced his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 1994
The former first daughter had a contentious relationship with her parents, and in her book, she described her father as being often detached and unavailable when she was growing up.
However, being Reagan’s caregiver for nearly a decade helped her reconnect with him in surprising ways.
‘Well, here’s the thing about Alzheimer’s. You do lose the person, but you can also find them, because the disease strips away everything,’ she said. ‘It strips the person down to their essence.’
The author explained that the more her father’s mind regressed, the more she understood him and the closer they became.
Candid: In her book, she described her father as being often detached and unavailable when she was growing up
Family: The former first daughter had a contentious relationship with both her father and her mother, Nancy Reagan. She is pictured with her parents and younger brother Ron in 1995
‘I felt like I saw glimpses of that near-sighted boy with an alcoholic father who spent hours in his room, reading books,’ she said.
Davis wrote that Reagan’s soul remained intact throughout his battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
‘That was my grounding for that whole decade,’ she said. ‘I did feel like I was seeing through to his soul.’
Davis has been candid about her difficult relationship with her father and mother, Nancy Reagan. In her 1992 autobiography The Way I See It, she painted her mother as a remarkably cruel woman and her father as a man who emotionally abandoned his children.
She wrote that the former first lady relied heavily on sleeping and prescription pills during her years in the White House despite her ‘Just Say No’ campaign.
Looking back: Davis (pictured with her father on her wedding day in 1984) said caring for him ‘pulled me out of my own despair’
Lifeline: ‘That could have been the last straw, but instead, it gave me something to reach for and to focus on,’ Davis said of the former president’s diagnosis
Looking back: Davis, who spent nearly a decade as his caregiver, said she felt like she was ‘seeing through to his soul’ as his mind regressed
The actress also accused her mother of hiding the former president’s two children from his first marriage from her and her brother Ron in their childhood years.
Davis reportedly received a $500,000 advance for the book, which her parents responded to by releasing a statement.
‘We have always loved all of our children, including our daughter, Patti. We hope the day will come when she rejoins our family,’ they said at the time. ‘Toward that end, we see no useful purpose for further comment.’
Just months before Reagan announced his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, she posed naked for Playboy’s July 1994 issue.
Bond: David added that her father’s struggle with the disease also brought her closer to her mother (pictured in 1996), saying she ‘learned to have sympathy for her’
Loss: Reagan died in June 2004 at age 93 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for nearly ten years. Davis and her brother comforted their mother at the funeral
Memories: Davis wrote that Reagan’s soul remained intact throughout his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. ‘That was my grounding for that whole decade,’ she said
Davis said helping care for her father also brought her closer to her mother. She wrote in her new book that she had always been frightened of her, but that changed after the former president’s diagnosis.
Hitting the shelves: Davis’s new memoir was published in September
‘She really was sort of the architect of our fractured family, and then her husband, her soulmate, the love of her life, gets Alzheimer’s, but she didn’t know how to let anybody in,’ Davis told Shriver. ‘And so rather than responding with resentment to her, or judgment, I really learned to have sympathy for her, compassion.’
She explained how her mother became more vulnerable, saying it was a side of her that she hadn’t really seen before.
‘Like the moment when she broke down and cried in my arms, which was so stunning, because I don’t remember us ever embracing at all,’ she said.
Reagan died in June 2004 at age 93 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for nearly ten years. Davis’s mother, Nancy, died of congestive heart failure in March 2016 at age 94.
Davis continued to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease after her father’s death, and in 2011, she started Beyond Alzheimer’s, a support group for other caregivers.
‘I’ve always said to people, you’re not going to be the same person at the end of this journey as you were at the beginning,’ she said. ‘You’re either going to be harder, more brittle, more closed off, or you’re going to be softer, more open, more compassionate.
‘It’s a matter of choice, and it’s the choices you make every step of the way.’
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 160 crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 1-800-273-8255.
It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.