By: Jeff Katz – May, 2016
Hollywood types have seemingly never been big fans of Ronald Reagan. They did not like the fact that he had been one of them before he stopped reading lines and instead set out to make history. There’s a certain antipathy towards the man who once headed up the actors’ union but eventually went on to champion the rights of people to work without needing to make forced contributions to some labor fat cat’s political slush fund. Critique his policies if you want, but how on earth could anyone think it would be a good idea to mock his final days spent in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease?
Yet, that is exactly what has been shopped as a major Hollywood project recently. This movie would show Reagan serving his second term as President but racked with Alzheimer’s. This film would present him in an incapacitated state all the while ridiculing him. The hook in this is that “an ambitious intern would convince him that he was not the president at all, just an actor playing the part” and that’s where we are told the hilarity would ensue. I sit here shaking my head trying to figure out how any studio head could really think this pitch was the one to get the green light.
I’ve seen Alzheimer’s up close and personal. My grandfather suffered from it, which meant that our family suffered from it as well. My father was the oldest son, and so he bore much of the responsibility of caring for his father. I watched my dad, who was the living-breathing embodiment of strength and honor, cry more than once as he dealt with my grandfather’s downward spiral. We had to hire attorneys to unravel my grandfather’s surreptitious marriage to a woman he barely knew. Eventually, we went in to court to have my grandfather declared incompetent.
My grandfather did not know where he was much of the time. He was angry and confused. He was sure that people were out to get him but he did not know why. He sometimes recognized his own family and other times he did not. He had to be cared for on a regular basis by others and all of his affairs were placed in the hands of a court appointed caretaker. His anger and confusion subsided over time, but that was because the Alzheimer’s became more advanced. It was, as if, his own brain was no longer struggling to find the right words or seek out cherished memories. It was an inevitable acceptance coupled with a total slipping away. He did not know who he was and we could only remember who he had been. His eyes were vacant in a way that defies description.
According to President Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, her father lived his last days experiencing that same slipping away. Initially struggling to use the right words and recall memories, but eventually just becoming more and more absent. She wrote, “Alzheimer’s is the ultimate pirate, pillaging a person’s life and leaving an empty landscape behind. It sweeps up entire families, forcing everyone to claw their way through overwhelming grief, confusion, helplessness, and anger.”
With his own mom dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker knows just how devastating the illness is. When he was asked about the proposed “comedy” he had a direct and succinct answer, “It’s just not funny. There’s nothing funny about it.”
Here’s hoping that Hollywood is listening.
Jeff Katz is a former police officer. He has won multiple Associated Press awards as Best Talk Show Host. He can be heard on iHeartRadio’s Jeff Katz channel.