Former President Ronald Reagan celebrated his 90th birthday Tuesday, with Alzheimer's disease and a broken hip making him virtually a recluse from the good wishes of the nation — including praise from the current president and all the nation's living ex-presidents.
Leading tributes to Mr. Reagan, President George W. Bush, whose father was Mr. Reagan's vice president before succeeding him as president, said the achievements of the former actor turned politician were clear and monumental:
"You came here at a time when our country needed confidence. You told us we could be strong again, at home and abroad. And when you left, we were. You came to the White House when the Cold War was real. You told us, even when few believed it, that the evil empire would pass and that freedom would prevail. And your resolve made it happen," Mr. Bush said in remarks shown on CNN's Larry King Live before King interviewed Reagan's wife, Nancy.
Also delivering personal birthday greetings to Mr. Reagan were former presidents George Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois added to the birthday celebrations by introducing a bill that would preserve Mr. Reagan's boyhood home in Dixon, Ill., as a federal historic site. A House resolution passed by a 410-0 vote extends birthday greetings to Mr. Reagan.
Another resolution passed earlier in the day by a voice vote names a post office in Melbourne, Fla., after Reagan.
"Ronald Reagan will go down in history as one of our greatest presidents," Hastert said. "We have a special responsibility to protect and preserve his legacy for future generations."
Democrats offered tempered birthday remarks.
"While we do honor President Reagan today, we've taken the last eight years to clean up that debt," said Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, referring to the increase in the federal debt resulting from Reagan-era tax cuts and heavy military spending. "We can honor Ronald Reagan best by honoring the things he did but not repeating the mistakes he made."
The Florida post office is only the latest building to be named after Mr. Reagan. The Ronald Reagan and International Trade Center is a huge, recently erected federal building in downtown Washington. Congress in 1998 renamed a local airport the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. And a California state highway is named after the former president.
Meanwhile, hundreds of visitors and well-wishers crammed the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, north of Los Angeles, to sign a 90-foot-long birthday card for the man known in the past for his wit and warmth.
But in their Bel Air home, Nancy Reagan organized a "low-key dinner" including Mr. Reagan's favorite chocolate birthday cake, spokeswoman Joanne Drake said.
No photos were released to mark the event, which makes Mr. Reagan only the third former U.S. president to survive to the age of 90. erbert Hoover and John Adams both died at the age of 90.
Nancy Reagan, in Tuesday's interview with King, spoke of the restrictive life she and Mr. Reagan now lead, including no longer accepting visitors because he would not want them to see him in his current condition.
"I think Ronnie would want people to remember him as he was," she told King. "It's sad to see somebody you love and have been married to for so long and you can't share memories. That's the sad part," she said.
She said Mr. Reagan was recovering well from surgery for a broken hip suffered in a fall last month. She said that apart from the Alzheimer's Disease, his general health was that of a much younger man, he still had a full head of hair and that he could live to be 100.
Yet friends and former associates who have seen him recently say the illness has taken a heavy toll and that Mr. Reagan can hardly remember them or his presidency. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1994 and hasn't been seen in public since.
Nancy Reagan said the hospital stay generated some 10,000 e-mails from well-wishers.
Appearing on CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, Mr. Reagan's oldest son Michael said he last saw his father almost a week ago and added, "He really looked pretty good, you know, he was at home. Nancy has somebody come by every day and works him out, you know, works his leg out. He looked pretty good for a guy 90 years old with a bust hip and Alzheimer's."
He added, "When I reached out and grabbed his hand and said 'I love you, Dad' he looked at me and gave that twinkle in his eye, a little smile on his lips, so, you know, he knew I was there and that was important to me."