RONALD REAGAN: 1911-2004: REAGONE; Star of Bedtime for Bonzo, Leader of the Free World, Alzheimer's Victim. the President Is Dead

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Byline: CHRIS McLAUGHLIN Political Editor

FORMER American President Ronald Reagan died yesterday at the age of 93 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

The former Hollywood B-movie star, who dedicated his presidency to winning the Cold War, died at his California home with his wife Nancy and family at his bedside.

Fears over his health had been growing since he broke a hip in a fall in 2001. By late 2003, Reagan, a victim of Alzheimer's Disease was unable to speak coherently and had lost most motor skills.

President George W. Bush, in France for today's D-Day commemorations described Reagan's death as a sad day for America. And a Downing Street statement said: "President Reagan will be remembered as a good friend of Britain."

Baroness Thatcher last night hailed Reagan, America's 40th President, as "a truly great American hero". She added: "He will be missed not only by those who knew him and not only by the nation that he served so proudly and loved so deeply.

Conservative leader Michael Howard added: "President Reagan was one of the towering figures of our time."

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said: "The Queen is saddened by the news."

The former President was born Ronald Wilson Reagan on February 6, 1911, to Nelle and John Reagan in Tampico, Illinois.

A former athlete, sports commentator and B-movie star - his final screen role was as a villain in Don Siegel's thriller The Killers in 1964 - he turned to politics late in life and became the oldest President elected at 69. He also lived the longest.

In his two terms from 1981 to 1989 he survived an assassination attempt by drifter John Hinckley to deliver a line straight out of the movies: "Tell Nancy I forgot to duck."

But he presided over some of the most momentous events in world history. A champion of the discredited "Star Wars" project, he was accused of taking the planet to the brink of nuclear war.

He was the first peacetime President to authorise a $1trillion defence budget in line with his "peace through strength" approach to foreign policy.

But the arms race was countered by much-improved relations with reforming Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and their accord eventually led to the fall of Soviet Communism, the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

However, his right-wing social policies and anti-union laws were criticised for tearing up the fabric of US life.

And Reagan's constant gaffes sometimes made the White House a laughing stock.

Rumours of his incapacity to work a full day and habit of falling asleep on the job led TV's Spitting Image to lampoon him in a long-running series of sketches around the theme "The President's Brain Is Missing". His inability to pay attention to White House discussions was accompanied by rumours that he allowed wife Nancy to run policy on the basis of advice from an astrologer pal.

But his relationship with Margaret Thatcher never faltered and the two struck up a chemistry dominated by their fight against Communism.

They became the Western world's most powerful and charismatic alliance and their political relationship was even compared with the leading romantic roles of Clark Gable and Vivienne Leigh in the classic film Gone With the Wind. …