The announcement that comedian Will Ferrell would star in a film about Ronald Reagan suffering from Alzheimer’s disease while in the White House was ready-made for controversy — and it delivered.
In response Ferrell’s spokesperson told Page Six on Friday that the actor was no longer pursuing the project.
Within a day of the news, the Reagan family, political commentators, and much of the general public were incensed. The star and the script were being ridiculed on the airwaves of Fox News and the cover of the New York Post.
— New York Post (@nypost) April 29, 2016
FORMER REAGAN ASSISTANT: Mocking the President’s Alzheimer's is an insult to everyone that suffers from the diseasehttps://t.co/JOLTuuSYAA
— FOX & Friends (@foxandfriends) April 29, 2016
The script, written by Mike Rosolio, has already generated significant hype in Hollywood as one of the best unproduced screenplays on the market. According to Variety, the story chronicles a Reagan aide’s attempts to convince the president that he is starring in a film when he starts to show signs of Alzheimer’s during his second term.
Reagan’s family didn’t see the humor. His daughter, Patti Davis, published an open letter to Ferrell on her website.
“Alzheimer’s doesn’t care if you are President of the United States or a dockworker,” Davis wrote in the letter. “It steals what is most precious to a human being — memories, connections, the familiar landmarks of a lifetime that we all come to rely on to hold our place secure in this world and keep us linked to those we have come to know and love.”
“There was laughter in those years,” she said, “but there was never humor.”
Michael Reagan, son of Ronald and Nancy, felt the same.
#Alzheimers is not a comedy to the 5 million people who are suffering with the decease,it first robs you of your mind and then it kills you
— Michael Reagan (@ReaganWorld) April 29, 2016
Reached by email, a representative for Rosolio told STAT that the writer had no comment on the controversy.
A quick scan of Twitter found that many people took issue with the story’s concept.
Having lost my mom to Alzheimer's I feel Will Ferrell is wrong to play Ronald Reagan striken with dementia. Nothing funny about it. Shameful
— FJN (@FernandoJNunez) April 28, 2016
So Will Ferrell is making an "Alzheimer's comedy" about Ronald Reagan. Will Ferrell has obviously never known anyone affected by the disease
— Rachel C (@racheleighC) April 27, 2016
Even among those with no political affection for the former president:
I don't have a problem making fun of Ronald Reagan. But mocking his dementia/Alzheimer's feels out of bounds to me…
— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) April 29, 2016