The legal battle over the tapes continued through early 1974, and in April 1974 Nixon released 1,200 pages of transcripts of White House conversations between him and his aides. The House Judiciary Committee began impeachment hearings against the President on May 9, 1974, which were televised on the major TV networks. These hearings resulted in votes for impeachment. On July 24, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the full tapes had to be released.
One of the new tapes, recorded soon after the break-in, proved that Nixon had been told of the White House connection to the Watergate burglaries soon after they took place, and had approved plans to thwart the investigation. In a statement accompanying the release of what became known as the "Smoking Gun Tape" on August 5, 1974, Nixon accepted blame for misleading the country about when he had been told of White House involvement, stating that he had a lapse of memory. Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, Senator Barry Goldwater, and House Minority Leader John Jacob Rhodes met with Nixon soon after. They told Nixon that he faced certain impeachment in the House. Scott and Goldwater told the president that he had, at most, only 15 votes in his favor in the Senate. He needed 34 votes to avoid removal from office. Faced with the inevitable result, Nixon resigned the presidency on August 9, 1974, after addressing the nation on television the previous evening. His resignation speech was delivered from the Oval Office and was carried live on radio and television. Nixon stated that he was resigning for the good of the country.
Following his resignation, the Nixons flew to their home La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente, California. Congress had funded Nixon's transition costs, including some salary expenses, but at a reduced amount from what Nixon had expected. Nixon's resignation did not end speculation about whether or not he would face some sort of criminal proceedings against him. His successor, Gerald Ford, wrestled with the question of whether or not to pardon Nixon. Ford knew it would be an unpopular move, but he was also concerned about how the drama of a criminal trial with Nixon as the defendant would adversely affect the government and the nation. Ford ultimately decided to grant Nixon a full pardon. He wanted on a statement of contrition from Nixon, but Nixon felt he had not committed any crimes and should not have to issue such a document. Ford eventually agreed, and on September 8, 1974, he granted Nixon a "full, free, and absolute pardon", which ended any possibility of an indictment. Nixon then released a statement which read:
"I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate, particularly when it reached the stage of judicial proceedings and grew from a political scandal into a national tragedy. No words can describe the depth of my regret and pain at the anguish my mistakes over Watergate have caused the nation and the presidency, a nation I so deeply love, and an institution I so greatly respect."
In October 1974, Nixon fell ill with phlebitis, the inflammation of the walls of a vein. His doctors recommended surgery and told him that without the operation, the condition might be fatal. President Ford visited Nixon in hospital. At the time Nixon was under subpoena for the trial of three of his former aides: John Dean, H. R. Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman. Judge John Sirica excused Nixon's presence despite the defendants' objections. Congress instructed Ford to retain Nixon's presidential papers. This led to a legal battle over the documents that was eventually won by the former president and his estate. Nixon was in the hospital when the 1974 midterm elections were held. Watergate and the pardon were major contributing factors to the Republican loss of 43 seats in the House and three in the Senate.
In spite of all that had happened to him, Nixon believed that he could rehabilitate his reputation. In December 1974, Nixon wrote in his diary:
"So be it. We will see it through. We've had tough times before and we can take the tougher ones that we will have to go through now. That is perhaps what we were made for—to be able to take punishment beyond what anyone in this office has had before particularly after leaving office. This is a test of character and we must not fail the test."
By early 1975, Nixon's health was improving. He maintained an office in a Coast Guard station 300 yards from his home. At first he rode a golf cart to the office and later he would walk there each day. He worked on his memoirs. His assets were being eaten away by expenses and lawyer fees and he needed to generate some income. His transition allowance came to an end in February, 1975, which compelled him to lay off most of his staff. In August of that year, he met with British talk-show host and producer David Frost, who paid him $600,000 (equivalent to $2.7 million in 2017 dollars) for a series of sit-down interviews. These were filmed and aired in 1977. They began on the topic of foreign policy, recounting the leaders he had known, but the most remembered section of the interviews was the portion on Watergate. Nixon admitted to Frost that he had "let down the country". He said "I brought myself down. I gave them a sword and they stuck it in. And they twisted it with relish. And, I guess, if I'd been in their position, I'd have done the same thing." The interviews attracted over 45 million viewers.The interviews helped improve Nixon's financial position. At one point in early 1975 he had only $500 in the bank. He sold his Key Biscayne property to a trust set up by wealthy Nixon friends including Bebe Rebozo.
In February 1976, Nixon visited China at the personal invitation of Mao Tse Tung. Nixon had wanted to return to China, but chose to wait until after Ford's visit in 1975. Nixon stayed silent during the close 1976 Republican party primary battle between Ford and Ronald Reagan. Ford won, but was defeated by Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in the general election. The Carter administration was not interested in Nixon's expertise on foreign matters. Carter blocked Nixon's planned trip to Australia, causing the government of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to withhold its official invitation.
In 1976, Nixon was disbarred by the New York State Bar Association for obstruction of justice in the Watergate affair. Nixon chose not to contest the matter. In early 1978, Nixon went to the United Kingdom, but he was ignored by American diplomats and by most ministers of the James Callaghan government. He was welcomed, however, by the Leader of the Opposition, Margaret Thatcher, as well as by former prime ministers Lord Home and Sir Harold Wilson. During the trip, Nixon addressed the Oxford Union about Watergate. He said "Some people say I didn't handle it properly and they're right. I screwed it up. Mea culpa. But let's get on to my achievements. You'll be here in the year 2000 and we'll see how I'm regarded then."
In 1978, Nixon published his memoirs, They were entitled RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. This was the first of ten books he would author in his retirement. The memoir was a bestseller and attracted positive critical response. Nixon visited the White House in 1979, invited by Carter for the state dinner for Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping. Carter had not wanted to invite Nixon, but Deng had stated he would visit Nixon in California if the former president was not invited. Nixon had a private meeting with Deng and visited Beijing again in mid-1979.
On August 10, 1979, the Nixons purchased a New York City townhouse at 817 Fifth Avenue. They had previously been rejected by two Manhattan co-ops. When the former Shah of Iran died in Egypt in July 1980, Nixon offended the State Department, which had planned not to send a U.S. representative to the funeral. Nixon went in spite of this. Though he had no official credentials, as a former president his presence was significant.
Nixon supported Ronald Reagan for president in 1980. He wrote guest articles for many publications both during the campaign and after Reagan's victory.
After eighteen months in the New York City townhouse, Nixon and his wife moved in 1981 to Saddle River, New Jersey. Nixon maintained an ambitious schedule of speaking engagements and writing. He met with many foreign leaders. In 1981 he joined former Presidents Ford and Carter as representatives of the United States at the funeral of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. On a trip to the Middle East, Nixon made his views known regarding Saudi Arabia and Libya, which attracted significant U.S. media attention. The Washington Post ran stories on Nixon's "rehabilitation". Nixon visited the Soviet Union in 1986 and when he returned from the trip, he sent President Reagan a lengthy memorandum containing foreign policy suggestions and his personal impressions of Mikhail Gorbachev. Following this trip, Nixon was ranked in a Gallup poll as one of the ten most admired men in the world. In 1986, Nixon addressed a convention of newspaper publishers, impressing his audience with his vast knowledge of foreign affairs. Newsweek magazine ran a story on "Nixon's comeback" with the headline "He's back".
On July 19, 1990, the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California opened as a private institution with the Nixons in attendance. They were joined by a large crowd of people, including Presidents Ford, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, as well as their wives, Betty, Nancy, and Barbara. Former President Jimmy Carter refused to attend. In January 1991, the former president founded the Nixon Center (today the Center for the National Interest), a Washington policy think tank and conference center.
Former first lady Pat Nixon died on June 22, 1993, from emphysema and lung cancer. Her funeral services were held on the grounds of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace. Former President Nixon was distraught throughout the interment and delivered a tribute to her inside the library building.
Nixon suffered a severe stroke on April 18, 1994, while preparing to eat dinner in his Park Ridge, New Jersey home. A blood clot resulting from the atrial fibrillation he had suffered for many years had formed in his upper heart, broken off, and traveled to his brain. He was taken to New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, initially alert but unable to speak or to move his right arm or leg. Damage to the brain caused swelling (cerebral edema), and Nixon slipped into a deep coma. He died at 9:08 p.m. on April 22, 1994, with his daughters Tricia and Julie at his bedside. He was 81 years old. The photo below is believed to be the last one taken of him.
Nixon's funeral took place on April 27, 1994, in Yorba Linda, California. Eulogists at the Nixon Library ceremony included President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, California Governor Pete Wilson, and the Reverend Billy Graham. Also in attendance were former Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and their wives. Nixon was buried beside his wife Pat on the grounds of the Nixon Library. He was survived by his two daughters, Tricia and Julie, and four grandchildren. In keeping with his wishes, his funeral was not a full state funeral. His body was in repose in the Nixon Library lobby from April 26 to the morning of the funeral service. Mourners waited in line for up to eight hours in chilly, wet weather to pay their respects. At its peak, the line to pass by Nixon's casket was three miles long with an estimated 42,000 people waiting to pay their last respects to the only president ever to resign the office.