You may have seen the recent reports about a little movie called Reagan. Its premise? Ronald Regan is starting his second presidential term and suddenly falls into dementia. One of his interns uses the mental illness to their advantage and tries to convince Reagan that they are an actor playing the president in a movie.
The movie’s concept is simple enough, right? Well, not when you add the information that it’s framed as a comedy, and it’s starring Will Ferrell, who will play President Reagan and will most likely use his specific brand of comedy to turn Reagan’s illness into one, huge joke. This, of course, complicates matters, especially when it points to a very real situation. Ronald Reagan was actually diagnosed with Alzheimers in 1994, ten years before he died at age 93. And even though his diagnosis came five years after he had finished serving both of his terms, a 2011 claim from his son, Ron Reagan, that he actually had been suffering with the disease while still being in office created a media frenzy.
So maybe the idea of making fun of mental illness isn’t funny? Especially when it could point to a concrete reality for someone? That’s certainly the way that Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, feels, at least. The actress and author wrote an open letter to Will Ferrell for The Daily Beast.
After prefacing with the fact that she had seen the news bulletin announcing Reagan’s existence, Davis offered up this biting one-liner: “Perhaps you have managed to retain some ignorance about Alzheimer’s and other versions of dementia.” She continued, insisting that not even her father’s presidential status prevented him from the illness (“doesn’t care if you are President of the United States or a dockworker”), recounting stories of looking to her father and seeing fear in his eyes (“this man who was never afraid of anything”), and, ultimately, shaming anyone for finding humor in something that is such a burden for other people (“perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities”).
Read the letter in its entirety at The Daily Beast.