Richard M. Nixon, the 37th president of the United States -- a polarizing figure who won a record landslide and resigned in disgrace 21 months later -- died last night in a New York City hospital four days after suffering a stroke. He was 81.
Nixon died at 9:08 p.m., according to officials of the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, where the former president had slipped into a deep coma on Thursday.
As they were through some 40 years of their father’s highs and lows, Nixon’s two daughters, Tricia Cox and Julie Eisenhower, were at his side when he died. Pat Nixon, the former First Lady, died last year.
President Clinton announced Nixon’s death at a formal appearance in the White House Rose Garden, praising his predecessor as “a statesman who sought to build a lasting structure of peace.”
Clinton declared a national day of mourning, and said he would attend Nixon’s funeral, which will be held at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, Calif., on Wednesday at 4 p.m. California time. The body of the former congressman, U.S. senator, vice president and president will travel aboard a presidential jet to his native California, and public viewing will be from 3 p.m. Tuesday until 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Nixon will be buried beside his wife. His longtime friend the Rev. Billy Graham will officiate. “I think he was one of the most misunderstood men, and I think he was one of the greatest men of the century,” the Associated Press quoted Graham as saying of the man whose presidency was undone by a web of scandal known as Watergate. An unusually large number of American presidents are still living; statements from each were reported by AP and CNN. “Dick Nixon was one of the finest, if not the finest, foreign policy president of this century,” said Nixon’s successor, former president Gerald R. Ford. Ford’s assessment was widely shared by public figures and ordinary citizens: that Nixon’s greatest achievements were on the world stage.
“His historic visits to China and the Soviet Union paved the way ... to the normalization of relations between our countries, and to the SALT II accords we signed with the Soviets,” said former president Jimmy Carter.
Former president Ronald Reagan, in a statement issued from Los Angeles, said, “Today the world mourns the loss of a great champion of democratic ideals who dedicated his life to the cause of world peace.” Reagan called Nixon “one of the finest statesmen this world has ever seen.”
George Bush, the former president who served as Republican National Committee chairman during Nixon’s presidency, said, “The difficulties he encountered in office may have diminished his presidency, but what should be remembered are his many outstanding achievements, both foreign and domestic.”
Nixon had a stroke at his home in Park Ridge, N.J., shortly before dinner Monday evening and was taken by ambulance to the hospital in Manhattan. For a day, he was alert, but unable to speak or to move his right arm or leg. Apparently improving, he was moved on Tuesday from the intensive care unit to a private room. But on Tuesday night, he developed symptoms of cerebral edema, or swelling of the brain, which caused his condition to worsen. Nixon had said previously he did not want to be placed on a respirator if he were incapacitated.
In addition to expressing his condolences to the former president’s family, Clinton said he “was deeply grateful to President Nixon for his wise counsel.”
He also lauded Nixon for 50 years of public service in which “he gave of himself with intelligence and devotion to duty.” He said of Nixon that “no less than a month before his passing, he was still in touch with me about the great issues of the day.”
After resigning in disgrace and under threat of impeachment for the Watergate scandal in 1974, Nixon went on to win admiration and respect from many for the determination with which he subsequently worked to win back a place in public life.
Clinton praised his “resiliency” and his “desire to give something back to this world,” while former senator Howard H. Baker Jr., the Tennessee Republican who served on the Senate committee that transfixed the nation in 1973 with its televised Watergate hearings, said, “I think I admire most his strength of character that permitted him to recover from his resignation ... and become a respected senior statesman ... that was truly remarkable,” AP reported.
Until stricken Nixon, the nation’s only president ever forced to resign, had led an active life in retirement, with a busy schedule of travel and writing.
On the day of his stroke, page proofs of Nixon’s latest book, called “Beyond Peace,” arrived at his office. A staff assistant said the book discusses both the nation’s new role in foreign affairs and its changing domestic priorities.
Interviewed by CNN, Nixon’s secretary of state, Henry A. Kissinger, remembered his former boss as “actually very idealistic. But he was also a realist. He felt idealism did not prohibit, and indeed required, an understanding of the world as it was.”
Nixon was the Republican Party nominee for president three times and after losing in 1960 to John F. Kennedy -- and running unsuccessfully for governor of his home state -- he was elected to the office twice, in 1968, when he defeated Hubert H. Humphrey and in 1972, the year of the Watergate break-in, when he defeated George S. McGovern.
McGovern said yesterday that after he went through a period of disappointment at the outcome of the election, he had a “rather cordial relationship with Nixon over the last 15 years or so.”
“I feel saddened about him leaving,” McGovern said. “... I greatly admire what he did on the opening to China and the improvement of relations with the Soviet Union.”
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said his brother, the late John F. Kennedy, appreciated Nixon’s style after the 1960 election. “Despite the intensity of the campaign and the narrow outcome, he accepted the results with grace and without rancor,” Kennedy said.
But not all of his surviving foes were as approving. “He left many deeds uncorrected and unatoned for,” said Alger Hiss, whose alleged spying for the Soviet Union was the vehicle Nixon rode to his first national fame. Hiss released a brief statement in New York, according to the AP.
Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) said, “All in all, people are going to look back and say Watergate, the resignation, a lot of these things were bad and shouldn’t have happened. I think history will, with a few exceptions, say that this man made a difference. You add all that up and he comes out ahead.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) mourned Nixon for especially personal reasons. McCain was a pilot shot down over Vietnam and held prisoner in Hanoi. “I have always credited him with securing my release from North Vietnam,” McCain said in a statement. “I have always been deeply grateful to him for my freedom.”
According to the statement released by the Nixon Library, eulogies at Nixon’s funeral will be delivered by Clinton, Dole, and California Gov. Pete Wilson (R).
Weil reported from Washington, Randolph from New York.