Mr Nixon, 81, was rushed to the hospital on Monday evening after suffering a stroke while preparing for dinner. At first he appeared to be making a satisfactory recovery, despite a loss of speech and a partial paralysis of his right side. But then neurologists detected a serious swelling of the brain, and are now describing the stroke as 'major'. The official prognosis is 'guarded'.
As the 37th President, who was forced from office in August 1974 by the Watergate scandal, battled for his life, reporters and television crews waited outside the hospital among whose other current patients is Jacqueline Onassis, whose former husband, John F Kennedy, defeated Nixon for the White House in 1960.
In Washington, President Bill Clinton is being kept informed of Mr Nixon's condition, while messages of support pour in from many quarters - among them Boris Yeltsin, who earlier this year refused to see Mr Nixon after the former president had met his arch political foe, Alexander Rutskoi.
Since the 1970s, Mr Nixon has suffered from blood clots, which can cause strokes, and has been regularly treated with anti-coagulants. His doctors said the stroke, which has severely impaired him, was caused by a clot in his heart. It struck when his energies and output were still considerable, despite the sadness caused by the death of Pat, his wife, from cancer last June.
Earlier this week the proofs for his new book on global affairs, Beyond Peace, arrived for final editing at Mr Nixon's office, near his home at Park Ridge, New Jersey. On the day he was taken ill, he was working on a speech to be given at a Republican fund-raiser for those who give the party dollars 100,000 ( pounds 68,000) or more. Guests would also have the privilege of a briefing and 'private photo opportunity' with the man who 20 years ago was arguably the most detested in America.
It is yet another measure of how far he has been rehabilitated since the disgrace of Watergate. Today Mr Nixon may still not be loved. But for his foreign policy expertise at least he is respected - even among Democrats such as Mr Clinton, who has sought his advice. Few, too, cannot but grudgingly admire his resilience and fighting spirit.Reuse content