Special Report

The Stories Behind the Deaths of 39 American Presidents

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Richard Nixon
> When he died: April 22, 1994
> Age: 81
> Cause of death: Stroke

Nixon had long suffered from atrial fibrillation, a cardiac arrhythmia which can cause blood clotting. Four days before his death, a clot traveled to his brain and he suffered a stroke. He fell into a coma at the hospital before dying. As he had his stroke, he apparently said “Help!” to his housekeeper. In the short time before his death, he was unable to speak any further words.

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Ronald Reagan
> When he died: June 5, 2003
> Age: 93
> Cause of death: Alzheimer’s disease, pneumonia

During his years in office, throughout most of the 1980s, Reagan underwent colon, prostate, skin cancer, and hand surgery. In 1994, when he was 83, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and when he died of pneumonia, the ailment was a complicating factor. At the time of his death, he was the longest-lived president in American history, outlasting John Adams and Herbert Hoover by three years. (Gerald Ford — see below — was to outlast Reagan by 45 days. George H.W. Bush died at 94. Jimmy Carter, who is still alive today, is currently 96, outpacing them all.) There is no record of his last words.

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Gerald Ford
> When he died: Dec. 26, 2006
> Age: 93
> Cause of death: Cerebrovascular disease, arteriosclerosis

Ford had two strokes in 2000, and a pacemaker was subsequently implanted. One of his heart valves became calcified, and he had severe coronary artery disease. Cerebrovascular disease, listed as one cause of his death, is the damage or deformation of blood vessels in the brain. His last words are not known.

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George H.W. Bush
> When he died: Nov. 30, 2018
> Age: 94
> Cause of death: Parkinson’s disease

As early as 1991, Bush was diagnosed with a thyroid condition called Graves’ disease, and he later developed a form of Parkinson’s disease that — after several hospitalizations following the death of his wife, Barbara — eventually claimed his life. His last words, on speakerphone with his son George W. Bush, the future president, were “I love you, too.”