About Christopher Reeve
Christopher D'Olier Reeve was an American actor, film director, producer, screenwriter and author. He achieved stardom for his acting achievements, including his notable motion picture portrayal of the fictional character Superman.
On May 27, 1995, Reeve became a quadriplegic after being thrown from a horse in an equestrian competition in Virginia. He required a wheelchair and breathing apparatus for the rest of his life. He lobbied on behalf of people with spinal cord injuries, and for human embryonic stem cell research afterward. He founded the Christopher Reeve Foundation and co-founded the Reeve-Irvine Research Center.
Reeve continued to work after ongoing rehabilitation. He acted again in films, including a television production of Rear Window (1998) and directed two television films with health themes, In the Gloaming (1997) and The Brooke Ellison Story (2004). His autobiography Still Me appeared in 1998.
Christopher Reeve died from cardiac arrest on October 10, 2004. He was survived by his wife Dana and son William, as well as his two children, Matthew and Alexandra from his previous relationship. Sadly, his wife Dana was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and died in March 2006 at the age of 44.
Christopher Reeve was born September 25, 1952, in New York City. When he was four, his parents (journalist Barbara Johnson and writer/professor Franklin Reeve) divorced. His mother moved with sons Christopher and Benjamin to Princeton, New Jersey, and married an investment banker a few years later. After the divorce, the boys also spent substantial visitation time with their father, who writing under the name F. D. Reeve, is a noted novelist, poet, and scholar of Russian literature. While with him, Chris and Ben were exposed to a stimulating intellectual environment that included Sunday dinners with F. D. Reeve's friends: Robert Frost, Robert Penn Warren, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Meanwhile, Reeve's stepfather, Tristam Johnson, generously paid tuition for the boys to attend the exclusive and academically challenging Princeton Day School.
"Chris was extraordinary," his mother recalled to an Asbury Park Press reporter. "He was endowed with a great many extraordinary talents. He had a wonderful mind, wide-ranging interests, a willingness to take risks. He was an athlete and scholar with a passion for acting, which began very, very early." Reeve traced his love of acting back to the early years of his childhood when he and his younger brother would climb inside cardboard grocery cartons and pretend they were pirate ships. "To us they became pirate ships simply because we said they were" Reeve said. "The ability to retain at least some of this childhood innocence is essential to fine acting." By age eight, he had appeared in school plays, become interested in music, and was taking piano lessons. At age nine, he was picked to be in a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta Yeoman of the Guard for Princeton's professional theater, the McCarter Theatre. "While I was growing up," Reeve recalls, "I never once asked myself, 'Who am I?' or 'What am I doing?' Right from the beginning, the theater was like home to me. It seemed to be what I did best. I never doubted that I belonged in it." Those he worked with were convinced as well. Milton Lyon, the Artistic Director of the McCarter Theatre who did Finian's Rainbow and South Pacific with Reeve, told him when he was about 14 years old: "Chris, you better decide what you want, because you're going to get it."
At age 15, Reeve got a summer apprenticeship at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts. By age 16, he had an agent. At Princeton Day School, Reeve participated in various school activities including being President of the Drama Club and Student Director of The Glee Club. Reeve later said about those years, "I loved the theater so much. But I began to feel guility. I thought I wasn't giving enough time to school. So I joined as many school clubs and teams as I could. I played on the ice hockey team. I was in the school orchestra. I even sang with a choral group!" After graduating from high school, Reeve toured the country as Celeste Holm's leading man in The Irregular Verb to Love, then went on to college at Cornell, although he continued to work simultaneously as a professional actor, "thanks to an understanding agent who'd set up auditions and meetings around my class schedule."
Reeve had a special love for ice hockey, a sport that he played from the peewee level through high school where he was Princeton Day's number one goalie for all four years. He thought of pursuing the sport as a career until his freshman tryout at Cornell brought a reality check. The varsity team there was the NCAA champion and Ken Dryden was the goalie. Reeve said, "On the first day of practice, I noticed that there were only two Americans and the rest were Canadians. I was in the goal, and the whole team lined up on the blue line, each with a puck, and they were supposed to take turns going from left to right taking a slapshot. They started to get out of sequence, and sometimes two or three were coming at me, faster than I'd ever seen a puck come at me in my entire lifetime. I got absolutely shelled, and I thought, 'You know, I'm probably going to end up with no teeth,' and so I retreated to the safety of the theatre department. That was the end of my hockey career. In retrospect, I made the right choice. And I still have all my teeth."
As part of his studies at Cornell University, where he majored in Music Theory and English, Reeve spent time studying theater in Britain and France. Of his work in England, where he obtained employment as a "dogsbody" at London's prestigious Old Vic theater, Reeve said: "I was a glorified errand boy, but it was a very exciting time there. I helped by teaching the British actors to speak with an American accent. Then I went to Paris to work with the Comedie Francaise." By the time of his graduation from college, Reeve had already performed in such widely respected theaters as the Boothbay (Maine) Playhouse, the Williamstown Theatre, the San Diego Shakespeare Festival, and the Loeb Drama Center. His roles included Victor in Private Lives, Aeneas in Troilus and Cressida, Beliaev in A Month In The Country, and Macheath in Threepenny Opera.
In lieu of his final year at Cornell, Reeve was one of two students accepted to advanced standing (Robin Williams was the other) at New York's famous Juilliard School of Performing Arts. Here he studied under the renowned John Houseman. When it became financially difficult for his stepfather to continue to pay for Reeve's education, he took the role of Ben Harper in the long-running television dramatic serial Love of Life. While Reeve continued his acting lessons and performed in the soap opera, he found time to audition for and win a coveted role in A Matter of Gravity, a new play slated for Broadway starring Katharine Hepburn in 1976. By this time, the demands of his career had become so great that Reeve was forced to give up his final year at Juilliard, but Reeve said of working with Hepburn: "In Gravity, I had the privilege of spending nine months working with one of the masters of the craft." The two became very close and stayed in touch until Hepburn's death in 2003.
In 1976, Reeve went to Los Angeles and got a small part in Gray Lady Down, a submarine adventure film. Back in New York City, he was in the off-broadway production My Life. During that production, Reeve auditioned and successfully screen tested for the 1978 movie Superman. Reeve's mother later said: "He took the Superman role, quite frankly, as a career move. He felt, even with the risks it entailed, that it would mean he would get a greater recognition and he could bypass the cattle call." Reeve portrayed Superman as "somebody that, you know, you can invite home for dinner... someone you could introduce your parents to." He made Superman believable by playing him as a hero with brains and a heart. Reeve said, "What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely." Reeve told Gene Siskel: "The key word for me on him (Superman) is 'inspiration.' He is a leader by inspiration. He sets an example. It's quite important that people realize that I don't see him as a glad-handing show-off, a one-man vigilante force who rights every wrong." For playing Clark Kent, Reeve reasoned that "there must be some difference stylistically between Clark and Superman. Otherwise you just have a pair of glasses standing in for a character, and I don't think that's enough for a modern audience." In 1986, Reeve added that "Superman is nothing more than a popular retelling of the Christ story, or Greek mythology. It's an archetype, watered down and made in vivid colors for twelve-year-old's mentality. It's pop mythology, which extends to the actor, then seeps over to a demand that that actor reflect the needs of the worshipers. The worship doesn't only go on in the temples - it goes on in the streets, and restaurants, in magazines. But, you know, I'm from New Jersey, I'm not from Olympus or Krypton, so back off 'cause I can't take the responsibility." The 18 months of shooting for that movie took place mostly in England, where Reeve met and began a relationship with modeling executive Gae Exton. This union produced two children, Matthew Exton born on December 20, 1979 and Alexandra "Ali" Exton born in 1983.
After the huge success of 1978's Superman: The Movie, people invariably referred to Reeve as Superman. Reeve downplayed the disdain he felt for that comment: "As far as I'm concerned there is Superman and then there's Christopher Reeve, and I'm not interested in having them merge. What I'm interested in is acting... I've been working since I was fourteen; I studied at Juilliard. I wasn't Superman before and I don't plan to be Superman after." He was a very hot young star at that point and was offered the lead in several major films including American Gigolo and Body Heat. Instead Reeve chose for his next project the very different Somewhere in Time. While promoting the movie at the time of its release, Reeve said, "Somewhere In Time, while it errs on the side of pretentiousness, is an absolutely honest attempt to create an old-fashioned romance. It's based on love rather than on sex or X-rated bedroom scenes. I don't know how to talk about a love story without getting all gooey about it, but the script excited me because of the situation of the leading character... His problem struck me as that of many people. They've got everything going for them, or so they say, except for a real commitment, a real love." In 1980, Reeve spent the summer doing theater in Williamstown. He worked on Superman II and the broadway production of Fifth of July.
In 1987 Christopher Reeve and Gae Exton parted unmarried, but keeping joint custody of the two children - not an easy arrangement with the Atlantic Ocean between the two parents. During that summer in Williamstown, Reeve met his soul mate, Dana Morosini, where she was performing in a cabaret. It was love at first sight for Reeve but Dana was not impressed. Her friend, Bonnie Monte, recalled: " 'He's going to be an arrogant, stuck-up movie star idiot, and I don't want anything to do with him,' Dana said. Reeve had to fight for her, and he did. In four months they were living together, and in 1992 they were married and had a son, William "Will" Elliot born on June 7, 1992.
Reeve went on to appear in a total of 17 feature films, a dozen television movies, and about 150 plays. In addition, he hosted or narrated numerous documentaries and television specials, many of which involve interests of his such as aviation or stunt work. His striking good looks and imposing physique were reminisent of Hollywood's classic leading men like John Wayne who, after meeting Reeve at the 1979 Academy Awards, turned to Cary Grant and said: "This is our new man. He's taking over." But rather than limit himself to the heroic roles for which he seemed so well suited, Reeve frequently sought the challenge of parts that cast him against type - playing characters that were gay, sociopathic or villanous. He turned down big paychecks to appear in small films with directors like Sydney Lumet or James Ivory, whom he greatly respected and worked with in The Bostonians and The Remains of the Day. But he has always preferred the stage, considering it an actor's greatest test. In addition to his early stage work, Reeve appeared in The Marriage of Figaro in New York, Summer and Smoke with Christine Lahti in Los Angeles, and he toured with Love Letters in several major cities. He also starred in a well-received production of The Aspern Papers in London's West End with Vanessa Redgrave and Dame Wendy Hiller. But no matter what he was doing at the time, Reeve invariably made every effort to spend summers at the Williamstown Theater Festival.
In addition to his acting career, Reeve was extremely active in political causes. A liberal Democrat, Reeve said "I became politically active in high school, protesting the Vietnam War. And when I went to Cornell, I became involved in environmental issues. And then, as an adult, I became involved in First Amendment issues and funding for the arts..." Some of the causes Reeve supported were Amnesty International, Save the Children, The National Resources Defense Council, The Lindbergh Foundation, The Environmental Air Force, and People for the American Way. He was a founding member and past president of the Creative Coalition, an advocacy group of artists, and was one of the National Endowment For The Arts most passionate supporters. In 1987, he faced tear gas and real personal danger when Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman asked him to travel to Chile and lead a demonstration in support of 77 artists targeted with death warrants by the Pinochet government. For his successful efforts to free the artists, Reeve received a special Obie Award in 1988 and an annual award from the Walter Briehl Human Rights Foundation. The sobering experience also reinforced his commitment to advocacy work, which by the late 1980's was competing with his career for his time. Environmental issues were of particular interest to Reeve. He addressed the United Nations to encourage the banning of drift net tuna fishing and he played a crucial role in securing a landmark agreement to protect the Hudson River and New York City's reservoir system.
Christopher Reeve approached recreation with the same dedication and intensity that he brought to his professional and advocacy work. Reeve set obstacles for himself and then worked to overcome them. He believed that progress in one's life comes from creating your own challenges and then doing the best you possibly can to succeed. An accomplished pianist, he composed and practiced classical music several hours each day and said in an interview that had he not been an actor, he would have liked to have been a professional musician. But Reeve was also a superb athlete who did his own stunts in films and an avid outdoorsman. He earned his pilot's license in his early twenties and twice flew solo across the Atlantic in a small plane. He also flew gliders and was an expert sailor, scuba diver, and skier. By the 1990's, horses had become his passion. He loved the sport called "eventing" which combined the precision of dressage with the excitement of cross-country and show jumping.
In May of 1995, it was during the cross-country portion of such an event in Culpeper, Virginia, that Reeve's Throughbred, Eastern Express, balked at a rail jump, pitching his rider forward. Reeve's hands were tangled in the horse's bridle and he landed head first, fracturing the uppermost vertebrae in his spine. Reeve was instantly paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breathe. Prompt medical attention saved his life and delicate surgery stabilized the shattered C1-C2 vertebrae and literally reattached Reeve's head to his spine. Upon regaining consciousness and realizing the gravity of his situation, Reeve wondered to his wife Dana if "maybe we should just let me go." Whereupon Dana uttered the words that gave him the will to live: "But you're still you and I love you." After 6 months at Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in New Jersey, Reeve returned to his home in Bedford, New York, where Dana had completed major renovations to accomodate his needs and those of his electric wheelchair which he operated by sipping or puffing on a straw. Ironically, this most self-reliant and active of men was now facing life almost completely immobilized and dependent on others for his most basic needs. In addition, his condition put him at constant risk for related illnesses - pneumonia, infections, blood clots, wounds that do not heal, and a dangerous condition involving blood pressure known as autonomic disreflexia - all of which Reeve would experience in the coming years.
Even while at Kessler, Christopher Reeve began to use the international interest in his situation to increase public awareness about spinal cord injury and to raise money for research into a cure. A 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters drew huge ratings and many other television appearances would follow. Never a man to turn from a challenge, Reeve accepted invitations to appear at the Academy Awards in 1996, to host the Paralympics in Atlanta, and to speak at the Democratic National Convention in August of that year. At such high-profile appearances Reeve faced risk of embarrassment if he could not speak because his tracheostomy tube was slightly out of position or if his body suddenly spasmed and jerked about uncontrollably (as it did just before the curtain went up at the Oscars).
Despite enormous expenses related to his paralysis, Reeve was determined to be financially self-sufficient. A widespread rumor that his close friend, Robin Williams, had promised to pay all his medical bills was publicly denied by both Williams and Reeve. Less than a year after his injury, Reeve began to accept invitations for speaking engagements. Traveling with a team of aides and nurses he crisscrossed the country, speaking at the Peter Lowe Success Seminars, at universities, benefits, and at many functions relating to disability issues. Reeve's publicist Maggie Friedman, at the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, said: "He speaks off the cuff, using no notes or teleprompter and most of the time he does not even dictate his thoughts to an assistant." Reeve narrated an Emmy Award winning documentary for HBO called Without Pity: A Film About Abilities which sensitively told the stories of a half-dozen disabled people and also hosted a Canadian documentary about spinal cord injury called The Toughest Break. He returned to acting with a small but pivotol role in the CBS television movie A Step Toward Tomorrow in 1996 starring Judith Light. The next year Reeve made his directorial debut with the critically acclaimed HBO short film In the Gloaming starring his good friend Glenn Close. Gloaming went on to receive five Emmy nominations and was the most honored film at the Cable ACE Awards in 1997, winning awards in four of the six categories it was nominated including best "Dramatic or Theatrical Special". Dana Reeve described In the Gloaming as "a godsend for Chris." She added, "there's such a difference in his outlook, his health, his overall sense of well-being when he's working at what he loves, which is creative work - directing a movie, or acting in one. It completely revitalizes him and feeds him." At these times "his health is at an all-time high, his blood gases are good, he seems to cure skin wounds faster, he sleeps better, he looks better. It's noticeable - it's like being in love."
Reeve's activism after becoming spinal cord injured originally involved bringing more scientists into neurological research to more quickly discover a cure along with doubling the budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a government agency in the executive branch that is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But his experiences with his own insurance company and, particularly, the experiences of other patients he had met at Kessler also led him to push for legislation that would raise the limit on catastrophic injury health coverage from $1 million to $10 million. Reeve accepted the positions of Chairman of the American Paralysis Association and Vice Chairman of the National Organization on Disability. In partnership with philanthropist Joan Irvine Smith, he founded the Reeve-Irvine Research Center in California and he created the Christopher Reeve Foundation in 1996 to raise research money and provide grants to local agencies which focus on quality of life for the disabled. Reeve's star power, along with marketing for research dollars, were reasons why spinal cord injury research was given greater attention and more money allocated to the cause. In 2000, Newsweek noted that, "Thanks to Christopher Reeve, spinal-cord injuries-which affect 250,000 Americans-have won great attention, while mass killers like lung cancer and stroke attract relatively less." Reeve used the contacts he had made in Washington during his years of advocacy work to lead the fight to increase funding for spinal cord injury research which, despite recent breakthroughs by scientists, had previously received inadequate financial support. Reeve pointed out: "It is one thing to present legislators with statistics, but quite another to make them face real people who testify at congressional hearings or speak out in the media." Reeve ultimately raised $55 million in research grants and more than $7 million for nonprofit organizations that still help improve the quality of life for people living with disabilities.
Because Reeve found the strength to use his tragedy to help others after facing this devastating life blow, there were many who came to believe that Reeve really was Superman. Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton eloquently described this in his Go Make A Life sermon: "To see Reeve in a severely incapacitated state brought back memories of his famous acting roles as Superman and Clark Kent. Memory told me that Reeve could leap tall buildings with a single bound as Superman. Also, I saw Christopher Reeve as a gem of an investigative reporter... Admittedly, Superman was make-believe... I concluded that Christopher Reeve is Superman, right here, right now... Reeve shows us the power, the possibilities and the results of a fierce and persistent commitment to growth and development. With God's help, Reeve is Superman because: 1. He survived the horse riding accident and challenged himself physically during countless months of painful physical therapy. 2. Because he remained committed to his role as a loving husband and doting father 3. Because he kept hope alive in the face of injury and paralysis that can destroy all hope-in the face of having to depend on his wife and many others to feed, wash, change, move and carry him to the doctor. 4. Because he came to the conclusion that God still had something for him to do... So, Christopher Reeve turned his focus away from his paralysis and began figuring out how he could live afresh. Reeve decided that a lot of people might like to hear his story. Instead of limiting the communication of his story to letters, books and videos subject to edit, Reeve chose the lecture circuit. That meant showing up in public, allowing the public to gawk at his incapacity, talking about his condition and sharing lessons learned. Thus, Christopher Reeve has become Superman for real."
Meanwhile, life for the Reeve family went on in the most normal way they could manage. With her husband's enthusiastic support, Dana Reeve gradually resumed her singing and acting career. The press and public sometimes labeled her "Saint Dana" or "Superwoman" and Dana told a reporter from Parade magazine in 2005: "Initially I felt very uncomfortable with that. There was nothing superhuman about standing by Chris. [That compliment] always felt a little false. Like, what's so saintly about that? Lucky me. I'm with him!" She laughed. "And I thought, 'Really my job here is to be the voice for the many, many spouses who are caregivers, who don't have the advantage of the world patting them on the back every day.'" Matthew and Alexandra visited with Christopher, Dana, and Will at the house in Westchester County when their school schedules allowed. The family continued its tradition of spending summers at the vacation home in Williamstown, Massachusetts, after Reeve's injury. Reeve said: "This accident has been difficult for all of us. But it hasn't frightened anybody away. We all miss the activities. My daughter, Alexandra, and I loved to ride together. My son, Will, and I would play piano and sing together. Matthew and I loved to play tennis. We all used to sail together. I'd be kidding you if I said I didn't miss that. Ultimately, you have to accept that being together is more important than doing together."
In the years after his accident, Christopher Reeve gradually regained sensation in parts of his body - notably down the spine, in his left leg, and areas of the left arm. But he remained dependent on a ventilator to breathe and was unable to move any part of his body below the shoulders. His condition stabilized and in early 1998, after the taping of a television special to benefit his foundation, Reeve's wife, Dana, described him as "very healthy and very busy". His compelling autobiography, Still Me, was released in April 1998 and quickly hit the bestseller lists. "Writing the book," Reeve said, "was one of the highlights of my life, before and after the accident." Seven months later, critics praised his talent and courage when Reeve reclaimed his leading-man status by starring in an updated version of Rear Window for ABC. Around the time his second book, Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life, was published, Reeve regained the ability to move his index finger on one hand and demonstrated that breakthrough on Larry King's TV show. On February 28, 2003, Reeve became the third person to receive the experimental treatment called diaphragm pacing via laparoscopy to stimulate his phrenic nerve and allow him to breathe more easily without a respirator; although he continued to need the machine's help while speaking.
"I have a creative life and a political life, and they're both equally important" Reeve said. During a Washington Post Live Chat in 2000, Reeve said: "...And now that I am disabled, of course my main focus is on the quality of life for all disabled people and doing everything I can to help scientists make progress toward cures." Reeve further explained his personal political preference for the Democrat party saying, "Actually, the Republicans have done more for the disabled and for funding medical research over the past eight years than the Democrats. But on many other issues, such as the environment, education, gun control, choice, I support the Democrats, and I am more sympathetic to their position... I would like to see a Democratic Congress." After he was asked to run for Congress, Reeve decided against it because he would not have had the strength or health to do it. Reeve was in the forefront of those lobbying for embryonic stem cell research and he delighted in the controversy. When Paula Zahn asked him if he liked "tweaking" people, Reeve replied, "It is my favorite thing." Reeve continued to schedule many speaking engagements and fundraisers while looking to the future with characteristic enthusiasm saying, "My spinal cord is ready below the injury. I'm realistically optimistic. I don't plan to spend the rest of my life like this." Although it required significant preparation, Reeve's travels also took him abroad to Great Britain, Australia, and Israel.
On May 3, 2002, the U.S. government opened the National Health Promotion and Information Center for People With Paralysis, known as the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center through a non-competitive cooperative agreement awarded to the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. Its purpose is to provide information services to people nationwide who are newly paralyzed, have been living with paralysis, or are family members or caregivers. Reeve said, "One of the most disabling aspects of paralysis is the lack of resources and support necessary to get back into a world that has completely changed for the paralyzed individual - both economically and socially." Reeve continued, "When somebody is first injured or as a disease progresses into paralysis, people don't know where to turn. Dana and I wanted a facility that could give support and information to people. With this new Center, we're off to an amazing start." Dana Reeve later wrote that she had a soft spot for the quality-of-life grant programs and for the resource center, because it's really the people part. "I was the one who figured out, 'Is there a wheelchair ramp so that our family can get into this movie theater?' I thought if that's hard for me, it's got to be much harder for the majority of people out there." Creatively, at that time, Christopher Reeve had in the works movie projects to direct for ABC television on the inspirational lives of Jeffrey Galli, Brooke Ellison, and Robert McCrum. He also was the Creative Consultant for Freedom: A History of US, a 16-part miniseries on public television about American freedom that aired in early 2003. In February 2003 he handed the Superman torch over to Tom Welling on the popular science fiction drama Smallville playing Dr. Virgil Swann, a character created just for him. In March of that same year, he guest starred on The Practice in the episode "Burnout". Finally, Chris reprised the role of Dr. Swann one last time in April 2004 in his last acting appearance.
Reeve's oldest son, Matthew Exton Reeve graduated from Brown University in May 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in art semiotics. A filmmaker, Matthew was contracted to document and direct his father's progress in recovery for three television specials which premiered around the world in 2002 and 2003. The first of three specials, airing around Reeve's 50th birthday, showed him walking on a treadmill while suspended from a special harness. The other two specials are not known to have been made or released. Reeve's daughter Alexandra entered Yale University in Connecticut in 2001 and joined the Yale Polo Squad with her father's enthusiastic support. After graduating in 2005, she enrolled at Columbia University in the City of New York as a student in the School of Law. Young Will inherited his father's love of ice hockey and watching his son play the game became one of Reeve's greatest pleasures after his injury. Will also has an interest in acting as well. Dana Reeve supplemented the family income by taking a number of acting and singing jobs within commuting distance of their home and she co-hosted a daytime talk show, Lifetime Live, for a season.
In early October 2004 Reeve was busy promoting The Brooke Ellison Story, which he had directed, and Dana Reeve was appearing onstage in Los Angeles in Brooklyn Boy preparing to bringing the play to New York. It was the first time she had been away from her husband and son for an extended period. At the time, Reeve was being treated for a pressure wound, a common complication for people with paralysis that he had experienced many times before. The wound had become severely infected, resulting in a systemic infection; yet there seemed no unusual cause for concern. On Saturday, October 9th, Reeve attended one of Will's hockey games. That night, he went into cardiac arrest after receiving an antibiotic. He fell into a coma and was rushed to Northern Westchester Hospital. Dana Reeve would later point out that Reeve had a history of being sensitive to drugs that were usually well tolerated by most people. With the help of Robin Williams' wife, Dana was able to board a plane and rush cross country to join Alexandra and Will at her husband's bedside; arriving shortly before his death on October 10. Christopher Reeve was 52 years old.
On November 3, 2004, the board of directors of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation unanimously elected Dana Reeve as their new chairperson and she dedicated herself to carrying on her husband's work. Dana had been used to being in the background of her husband's very public efforts, but as she said in May 2005: "Suddenly, I feel like I don't have that choice anymore. I have to carry on his mission." Dana insisted on going over every grant proposal, lobbied and endorsed politicians, was writing a second book, and made national television appearances both solo and with her son, Will, four months after Chris's death and in the immediate time following her own mother's death. She made plans to resume her singing career. But in an unbelievably cruel twist of fate, less than a year after Christopher Reeve's death, his beloved wife was diagnosed with lung cancer. "What I didn't know is that lung cancer is the number one cancer," said Dana to Kathie Lee Gifford. "I was always looking for breast, ovarian and uterine, and you think, I'm a non-smoker and I live in the country, so I'm good. So I am completely shocked." She also talked about having a cough that lasted for weeks leading her to get diagnosed: "I did, and people were saying, 'Oh allergies, allergies,'...[The doctor] wasn't even going to take a chest X-ray. He was like, 'you're healthy'... and then it was huge. I probably had it for about a year." She fought the disease with grace, courage, and the humor that had characterized both her and her husband as she endured rigorous bouts of chemotherapy. Wearing a wig after her hair fell out, Dana appeared upbeat as she attended the annual Reeve Foundation fundraiser in November 2005 and sang "Now and Forever" in honor of their friend, Mark Messier, a retiring New York Ranger, at Madison Square Garden in January 2006. Sadly, at the age of 44, Dana lost her battle with cancer on March 6, 2006. She had made arrangements with family and friends for the care and future of their 13-year-old son. Alexandra, Will, and Matthew arrived arm in arm to speak at a private memorial service for Dana, as they had done less than 18 months earlier for their father.
Christopher Reeve left a body of artistic work that continues to inspire and entertain millions of people. He also left a left a legacy that includes love of family, heightened awareness and funding to help people dealing with disabilities, and therapy breakthroughs brought about by greater funding for spinal injury research. Donations to the Christopher Reeve Foundation have only increased since the Reeves' deaths; and in July 2006, Christopher's adult children, Matthew and Alexandra, were added to its expanded board of directors. But perhaps most significant is the inspirational example described by Reeve's mother, Barbara Johnson, in 2006: "I think one of the most important things that Chris did for many, many people was, after his accident and becoming a quadriplegic, he showed them that there is life after a spinal cord injury or after a stroke. You don't have to sit in the dark feeling sorry for yourself. I think that he touched many, many, many people and certainly that was an enormous contribution to the quality of life of the people who had been afflicted with something as restrictive or disabling as a spinal cord injury. He didn't just help quadriplegics like himself," added Johnson. "I know for a fact that a lot of others were kind of led to thinking their way into a happier, more productive life. And that may well be his most lasting contribution." -------------------- _Christopher D'Olier Reeve (September 25, 1952 – October 10, 2004) was an American actor, director, producer and writer. He established himself early as a Juilliard-trained stage actor before portraying Superman/Kal-El/Clark Kent in four films, from 1978 to 1987. In the 1980s, he starred in several films, including Somewhere in Time (1980), Deathtrap (1982), The Bostonians (1984), and Street Smart (1987). He also starred in many plays, including the Broadway plays Fifth of July (1980 - 1982) and The Marriage of Figaro (1985). In 1987, he led a public rally in support of 77 Chilean actors, directors, and playwrights who had been sentenced to death by the dictator Augusto Pinochet for criticizing his regime in their works. Pinochet canceled the sentence after the ensuing media coverage, and Reeve was awarded with three national distinctions from Chile for his actions. In the 1990s, Reeve acted in such films as Noises Off (1992), The Remains of the Day (1993), and Village of the Damned (1995).
In May 1995, Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in an accident during the cross country portion of a three day equestrian competition. He was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He lobbied on behalf of people with spinal cord injuries, and for human embryonic stem cell research after this accident. He founded the Christopher Reeve Foundation and co-founded the Reeve-Irvine Research Center. Reeve died at age 52 on October 10, 2004 from cardiac arrest caused by a systemic infection.
Reeve married Dana Morosini in April 1992, and they had a son, Will. Reeve also had two children, Matthew and Alexandra, from a previous relationship with Gae Exton. Dana Reeve died of lung cancer in March 2006.
* 1 Early life
* 2 Cornell
* 3 Juilliard
* 4 Soap operas and Broadway
* 5 Superman
o 5.1 Sequels
* 6 Career, family, and political involvement
* 7 Injury
* 8 Recovery
* 9 Rehabilitation
* 10 Activism
* 11 Death
* 12 Filmography
* 13 Further reading
* 14 References
* 15 External links
 Early life
Reeve was born in New York City on September 25, 1952. His father, Franklin D'Olier Reeve, was a teacher, novelist, poet and scholar. He was a Princeton University graduate and, when Christopher was born, was studying for a master's degree in Russian language at Columbia University. Franklin's father, Colonel Richard Henry Reeve, had been the CEO of the Prudential Financial for over twenty-five years. Despite being born wealthy, Franklin Reeve spent summers working at the docks with longshoremen. Reeve's mother, Barbara Pitney Lamb, a journalist, had been a student at Vassar College, but transferred to Barnard College to be closer to Franklin, whom she had met through a family connection. They had another son, Benjamin, born on October 6, 1953. Richard Henry Reeve was a descendant from a sister of Elias Boudinot, from Massachusetts governors Thomas Dudley and John Winthrop, from Pennsylania deputy governor Thomas Lloyd, and from Henry Baldwin, a US Supreme Court Justice. Barbara Pitney Lamb was the granddaughter of Mahlon Pitney, another US Supreme Court Justice, and was also a descendant of William Bradford, a Mayflower passenger.
Franklin Reeve's interests in socialism and English language and literature became increasingly important to him, and he and Barbara divorced in 1956. She moved with her two sons to Princeton, New Jersey, where they attended Nassau Street School. Franklin Reeve married Helen Schmidinger in 1956, a Columbia University graduate student. Barbara Pitney Lamb married Tristam B. Johnson, a stockbroker, in 1959. Johnson had Christopher and his brother, Benjamin, enroll in Princeton Country Day, a private school. Reeve was one of the few kids to excel in both academics and sports; he was on the honor roll and played soccer, baseball, tennis and hockey. Reeve later admitted that he put pressure on himself to act older than he actually was in order to gain his father's approval.
Reeve found his true passion in 1962 at age nine when an amateur group held tryouts for the play The Yeomen of the Guard, and he was cast; it was the first of many student plays that he would act in. In the summer of 1968, at age fifteen, Reeve was accepted as an apprentice at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The other apprentices were mostly college students, but Reeve's older appearance and maturity helped him fit in. In a workshop, he played a scene from A View From The Bridge that was chosen to be presented in front of an audience. After the performance, actress Olympia Dukakis said to him, "I'm surprised. You've got a lot of talent. Don't mess it up." The next summer, Reeve was hired at the Harvard Summer Repertory Theater Company in Cambridge for $44 per week. He played a Russian sailor in The Hostage and Belyayev in A Month in the Country. Famed theater critic Elliot Norton called his performance as Belyayev "startlingly effective." The 23-year-old lead actress in the play, a Carnegie Mellon graduate, turned out to be Reeve's first romance. She was engaged to a fellow Carnegie Mellon graduate at the time; they mutually ended the relationship when he made a surprise visit to her dorm room at seven in the morning and found Reeve with her. Reeve's romance with the actress fizzled a few months later when the age difference became an issue for them.
After dropping out from Princeton Day School in June 1970, Reeve acted in plays in Boothbay, Maine, and planned to go to New York City to find a career in theater. Instead, at the advice of his mother, he applied for college. He was accepted into Princeton, Brown, Columbia, Northwestern, Carnegie Mellon, and Cornell. Reeve claims that he chose Cornell primarily because it is a five-hour drive from New York City, where he planned to start his career as an actor, although Columbia's location in New York City itself suggests other motives.
Reeve joined the theater department in Cornell and played Pozzo in Waiting for Godot, Segismundo in Life Is a Dream, Hamlet in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Polixenes in The Winter's Tale. In the fall of his Freshman year, Reeve received a letter from Stark Hesseltine, a high-powered agent who had discovered Robert Redford and represented actors such as Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon and Richard Chamberlain. Hesseltine had seen Reeve in A Month in the Country and wanted to represent him. The two met and decided that instead of dropping out of school, Reeve could come to New York once a month to meet casting agents and producers to find work for the summer vacation. That summer, he toured in a production of Forty Carats with Eleanor Parker.
The next year, Reeve received a full-season contract with the San Diego Shakespeare Festival, with roles as Edward IV in Richard III, Fenton in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Dumaine in Love's Labour's Lost at the Old Globe Theatre.
Before his third year of college, Reeve took a three-month leave of absence. He flew to Glasgow and saw theatrical productions throughout Scotland and England. He was inspired by the actors and often had conversations with them in bars after the performances. He helped actors at the Old Vic with their American accents by reading the newspaper aloud for them. He then flew to Paris, where he spoke fluent French for his entire stay; he had studied it from third grade until his second year in Cornell. He watched many performances and immersed himself into the culture before finally going back to New York to reunite with his girlfriend.
After coming back from Europe, Reeve decided that he wanted to focus solely on acting. In Cornell, he was still required to take classes such as Intellectual History and Physics. He managed to convince theater director John Clancy and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences that, as a theater major, he would achieve more in Juilliard than in Cornell. They agreed that his first year at Juilliard would be counted as his senior year at Cornell.
In 1973, around two thousand students auditioned for twenty places in the freshman class at Juilliard. Reeve's audition was in front of ten faculty members, including John Houseman, who had just won an Academy Award for The Paper Chase. Reeve and Robin Williams were the only students selected for Juilliard's prestigious Advanced Program They had several classes together in which they were the only students. In their dialects class with Edith Skinner, Williams had no trouble mastering all dialects naturally, whereas Reeve was more meticulous about it. Williams and Reeve developed a close friendship; they were able to laugh together, and were also able to confide in each other about their relationship problems.
In a meeting with John Houseman, Reeve was told, "Mr. Reeve. It is terribly important that you become a serious classical actor. Unless, of course, they offer you a shitload of money to do something else." Houseman then offered him the chance to leave school and join the Acting Company, among actors such as Kevin Kline and David Ogden Stiers. Reeve declined as he had not yet received his Bachelor's degree from Cornell.
In the spring of 1974, Reeve and other Juilliard students toured the New York City middle school system and performed The Love Cure. In one performance, Reeve, who played the hero, drew his sword out too high and accidentally destroyed a row of lights above him. The students applauded and cheered with approval. Reeve later said that this was the greatest ovation of his career. After completing his first year at Juilliard, Reeve graduated from Cornell in the Class of '74.
 Soap operas and Broadway
Reeve took a job in the soap opera Love of Life in July 1974. He played Ben Harper, an antagonistic character with a polygamist lifestyle and history of criminal behavior. By August, his character had become popular, and ratings for the show improved. Reeve was no longer an anonymous actor; people on buses would give him advice as to which female character to marry. The soap opera schedule eventually forced him to drop out of Juilliard. He took acting classes at HB Studios, performed at the Theater for the New City, and starred in Berkeley Square, which became a hit. He also starred in Berchtesgaden as a Nazi.
In the fall of 1975, he auditioned for the Broadway play A Matter Of Gravity. Katharine Hepburn watched his audition and cast him as her character's grandson in the play. With Hepburn's influence over the CBS network, Reeve was able to work out the schedules of Love of Life and the play so that he would be able to do both. Due to his busy schedule, he ate candy bars and drank coffee in place of meals, and suffered from exhaustion and malnutrition. On the first night of the play's run, Reeve entered the stage, said his first line, and then promptly fainted. Hepburn turned to the audience and said, "This boy's a goddamn fool. He doesn't eat enough red meat." The understudy finished the play for him, and Reeve was treated by a doctor who advised him to eat a healthier diet. He stayed with the play throughout its year-long run and was given very favorable reviews. He and Hepburn became very close. She said, "You're going to be a big star, Christopher, and support me in my old age." He replied, "I can't wait that long." A romance between the two was rumored in some gossip columns. Reeve said, "She was sixty-seven and I was twenty-two, but I thought that was quite an honor...I believe I was fairly close to what a child or grandchild might have been to her." Reeve said that his father, who was a professor of literature and came to many of the performances, was the man that Hepburn was most captivated by. When the play moved to Los Angeles in 1976, Reeve dropped out, to Hepburn's disappointment. They stayed in touch for years after the run of the play. Reeve later regretted not staying closer instead of just sending messages back and forth.
Reeve's first role in a Hollywood film was a small part as a submarine officer in the disaster movie Gray Lady Down. He then acted in the play My Life with friend William Hurt.
Superman DVD boxset cover.
Superman DVD boxset cover.
After My Life, Stark Hesseltine told Reeve that he had been asked to audition for the leading role as Clark Kent/Superman in the big budget film, Superman: The Movie (1978). Lynn Stalmaster, the casting director, put Reeve's picture and resume on the top of the pile three separate times, only to have the producers throw it out each time. Through Stalmaster's persistent pleading, a meeting between director Richard Donner, producer Ilya Salkind and Reeve was set in January 1977 at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel on Fifth Avenue. The morning after the meeting, Reeve was sent a 300 page script. He was thrilled that the script took the subject matter seriously, and that Richard Donner's motto was verisimilitude. Reeve immediately flew to London for a screen test, and on the way was told that Marlon Brando was going to play Jor-El and Gene Hackman was going to play Lex Luthor. Reeve still did not think he had much of a chance. Though he was 6 ft 4, he was a self-described "skinny WASP." On the plane ride to London, he imagined how his approach to the role would be. He later said, "By the late 1970s the masculine image had changed... Now it was acceptable for a man to show gentleness and vulnerability. I felt that the new Superman ought to reflect that contemporary male image." He based his portrayal of Clark Kent on Cary Grant in his role in Bringing up Baby. After the screen test, his driver said, "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but you've got the part."
Although Reeve was tall enough for the role and had the blue eyes and handsome features, his physique was slim. He refused to wear fake muscles under the suit, and instead went through an intense two-month training regimen supervised by former British weightlifting champion David Prowse, the man under the Darth Vader suit in the Star Wars films. The training regime consisted of running in the morning, followed by two hours of weightlifting and ninety minutes on the trampoline. In addition, Reeve doubled his food intake and adopted a high protein diet. He put on thirty pounds of muscle to his thin 190 pound frame. He later made even higher gains for Superman III (1983), though for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) he decided it would be healthier to focus more on cardiovascular workouts.
Characterizations of Superman and Clark Kent.
Characterizations of Superman and Clark Kent.
Reeve was never a Superman or comic book fan, though he had watched Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves. However, he found that the role offered a suitable challenge because it was a dual role. He said, "there must be some difference stylistically between Clark and Superman. Otherwise, you just have a pair of glasses standing in for a character."
On the commentary track for the director's edition of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz spoke of how Reeve had talked to him about playing Superman and then playing Clark Kent. Mankiewicz then corrected Reeve, telling him that he was always, always playing Superman and that when he was Clark Kent, he was "playing Superman who was playing Clark Kent." Mankiewicz described it to Reeve as a role within the role.
The film grossed $300,218,018 worldwide (unadjusted for inflation). Reeve received positive reviews for his performance:
* "Christopher Reeve's entire performance is a delight. Ridiculously good-looking, with a face as sharp and strong as an ax blade, his bumbling, fumbling Clark Kent and omnipotent Superman are simply two styles of gallantry and innocence." - Newsweek
* "Christopher Reeve has become an instant international star on the basis of his first major movie role, that of Clark Kent/Superman. Film reviewers - regardless of their opinion of the film - have been almost unanimous in their praise of Reeve's dual portrayal. He is utterly convincing as he switches back and forth between personae." - Starlog
Reeve used his newfound celebrity for good causes. Through the Make-a-Wish Foundation, he visited terminally-ill children. He joined the Board of Directors for the worldwide charity Save the Children. In 1979, He served as a track and field coach at the Special Olympics, alongside O.J. Simpson.
Superman II was filmed at the same time as the first film. After most of the footage had been shot, the producers had a disagreement with director Richard Donner about going over budget and fired him. He was replaced by director Richard Lester, who changed the script and reshot some of the footage. The cast was unhappy with this, but Reeve later said that he liked Lester and considered Superman II to be his favorite film of the series. Due to fan encouragement, Richard Donner's version of Superman II, titled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, was released on DVD in 2006 and dedicated to Reeve.
Superman III, released in 1983, was filmed entirely by Lester. Reeve believed that the producers ruined it by turning it into a Richard Pryor comedy. He missed Richard Donner and believed that Superman III's only saving grace was the junkyard scene in which evil Superman fights Clark Kent in an internal battle.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, released in 1987, was initially never going to be made; after Superman III, Reeve vowed that he was done with Superman. However, he accepted the role on the condition that he would have partial creative control over the script. The nuclear disarmament plot was his idea. The production rights were given to Cannon Films, who cut the budget in half to $17 million. The film was a major flop and Reeve later said, "the less said about Superman IV the better."
 Career, family, and political involvement
Following the first Superman movie, Reeve found that Hollywood producers all wanted him to be an action star. He later said, "I found most of the scripts of that genre poorly constructed, and I felt the starring roles could easily be played by anyone with a strong physique." In addition, he did not feel that he was right for the other films he was offered, and turned down the lead roles in American Gigolo, The World According to Garp, and Body Heat. Katharine Hepburn recommended Reeve to director David Lean for the role of Fletcher Christian in a remake of Mutiny on the Bounty starring Anthony Hopkins. After considering it, Reeve decided that he would be miscast, and Lean went with his second choice, Mel Gibson.
With Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time (1980).
With Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time (1980).
Reeve's first role after Superman was as Richard Collier in the 1980 romantic fantasy, Somewhere in Time. Jane Seymour played Elise McKenna, his love interest. The film was shot on Mackinac Island in May 1979 and was Reeve's favorite film to ever shoot. Early reviews and screenings were favorable. However, the film did not do well at the box office and was Reeve's first public disappointment. He immediately returned to London to shoot Superman II. Since then, Somewhere In Time has developed a wide cult following. INSITE, the International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts, has thousands of members. Thanks to the activism of these members, Reeve was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997. The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island became a much larger tourist actraction. Jane Seymour remained a life-long friend of Reeve's and named one of her sons after him.
Gae Exton, Reeve's girlfriend at the time, gave birth to their son, Matthew Exton Reeve, on December 20, 1979 at Welbeck Hospital in London, England. After finishing Superman II, the family left London and rented a house in Hollywood Hills. Soon after, Reeve grew tired of Hollywood and took the family to Williamstown, Massachusetts where he played the lead in the successful play The Front Page, directed by Robert Allan Ackerman. In the fall, Reeve played a disabled Vietnam veteran in the critically-acclaimed play The Fifth of July. In his research for the role, he was coached by an amputee on how to walk on artificial legs.
After The Fifth of July, Reeve stretched his acting range further and played a psychopath opposite Michael Caine in Sydney Lumet's film Deathtrap. The film was well-received. Reeve was then offered the role of Basil Ransom in The Bostonians alongside Vanessa Redgrave. Though Reeve ordinarily commanded over one million dollars per film, the producers could only afford to pay him one-tenth of that. Reeve had no complaints, as he was happy to be doing a role that he could be proud of. The film exceeded expectations and did very well at the box office for what was considered to be an art house film. The New York Times called it "the best adaptation of a literary work yet made for the screen." Katharine Hepburn called Reeve to tell him that he was "absolutely marvelous" and "captivating" in the film. When told that he was currently shooting Anna Karenina, she said, "Oh, that's a terrible mistake."
Reeve was a licensed pilot and flew solo across the Atlantic twice. During the filming of Superman III, he raced his sailplane in his free time. He joined The Tiger Club, a group of aviators who had served in the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain. They let him participate in mock dogfights in vintage World War I combat planes. The producers of the film The Aviator approached him without knowing that he was a pilot and that he knew how to fly a Stearman, the plane used in the film. Reeve readily accepted the role. The film was shot in Kranjska Gora, and Reeve did all of his stunts. At this time, Gae Exton gave birth to their second child, Alexandra Exton Reeve, in December 1983 at Welbeck Hospital in London, England.
In 1984, Reeve appeared in The Aspern Papers with Vanessa Redgrave. He then played Tony in The Royal Family and the Count in Marriage of Figaro. In 1986, he was still struggling to find scripts that he liked. A script named Street Smart had been lying in his house for years, and after re-reading it, he had it green-lit at Cannon Films. He starred opposite Morgan Freeman, who was nominated for his first Academy Award for the film. The film received excellent reviews but performed poorly at the box office, possibly because Cannon Films had failed to properly advertise it.
After Superman IV in 1987, Reeve's relationship with Exton fell apart and they separated. He moved to New York without his children. He became depressed and decided that doing a comedy might be good for him. He was given a lead in Switching Channels. Burt Reynolds and Kathleen Turner had a feud during filming, which made the time even more unbearable for Reeve. The film did not do well, and Reeve believed that it marked the end of his movie star career. He spent the next years mostly doing plays. He tried out for the Richard Gere role in Pretty Woman, but walked out on the audition because they had a half-hearted casting director fill in for Julia Roberts.
Although Reeve's career was bottoming-out, these were some of the happiest times of his life. In the summer of 1987, Reeve returned to Williamstown, where he appeared in a production of The Rover at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. One night he attended a performance of WTF's Cabaret Corp at the Williams Inn, where Dana Morosini sang. Following the performance he attended a company party called "The Zoo". Seeing Morosini at the party, Reeve abandoned the actress who'd accompanied him to the show and after party and stood in rapt conversation with Morosini in the middle of the party for over an hour. His companion eventually just left. In Reeve's book "Still Me" he claimed that his "secret" relationship with Morosini began five months after separating from Gae Exton. However, that summer the National Enquirer carried pictures taken of the pair outside the Williams Inn accusing Reeve of having an affair behind Exton's back. During the course of the WTF Season Reeve made several singing appearances with Morosini in the theatre's Late Night Cabaret Series. By his own admission, Reeve was not much of a singer, but he did manage to talk-sing his way through several duets with Morosini including "You say Tomato..." 
Reeve with United States President Ronald Reagan, 1983
Reeve with United States President Ronald Reagan, 1983
In the late 1980s, Reeve became more active than ever. He was taking horse riding more seriously, and trained five to six days a week for competition in combined training events. He built a sailboat, The Sea Angel, and sailed from the Chesapeake to Nova Scotia. He campaigned for Senator Patrick Leahy and made speeches throughout the state. He served as a board member for the Charles Lindbergh Fund, which promotes environmentally safe technologies. He lent support to causes such as Amnesty International, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and People for the American Way. He joined the Environmental Air Force, and used his Cheyenne II turboprop plane to take government officials and journalists over areas of environmental damage. In the fall of 1987, 77 actors in Santiago, Chile were threatened with execution by the dictator Augusto Pinochet. Reeve was asked by Ariel Dorfman to help save their lives. Reeve flew to Chile and helped lead a protest march. A cartoon then ran in a newspaper showing him carrying Pinochet by the collar with the caption, "Where will you take him, Superman?" For his heroics, he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Bernardo O’Higgins Order, the highest Chilean distinction for foreigners. He also received the Obie Prize and the Annual Walter Brielh Human Rights Foundation award. Reeve's friend Ron Silver later started the Creative Coalition, an organization designed to teach celebrities how to speak knowledgeably about political issues. Reeve was an early member of the group, along with Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, and Blythe Danner.
Dana gave birth to William Elliot "Will" Reeve on June 7, 1992 at North Adams Regional Hospital in Williamstown, Massachusetts. In October, Reeve was offered the part of Lewis in The Remains of the Day. The script was one of the best he had read, and he unhesitatingly took the part. The film was deemed an instant classic and was nominated for eight Academy Awards.
In 1994, Reeve was elected as a co-president of the Creative Coalition. The organization's work was noticed nationwide, and Reeve was asked by the Democratic Party to run for the United States Congress. He replied, "Run for Congress? And lose my influence in Washington?" At this time, he had received scripts for Picket Fences and Chicago Hope and was asked by CBS if he wanted to start his own television series. This meant moving to Los Angeles, which would place him even further from Matthew and Alexandra, who lived in London. In Massachusetts, Reeve could take a Concorde and see them any time. He declined the offers. Reeve did not mind making trips, however; he went to New Mexico to shoot Speechless and went to Point Reyes to shoot Village of the Damned.
Shortly before his accident, Reeve played a paralyzed police officer in the HBO special Above Suspicion. He did research at a rehabilitation hospital in Van Nuys, and learned how to use a wheelchair to get in and out of cars. Reeve was then offered the lead in Kidnapped, to be shot in Ireland. He was excited to be going to Ireland, and he and Dana decided that they would conceive their second child there. Reeve also planned to direct his first big screen film, a romantic comedy entitled Tell Me True. Not long after making these plans, the family went to Culpeper, Virginia for an equestrian competition.
Then, he directed the family film Everyone's Hero, which was inspired by a story that the producer told his children at bedtime, called Yankee Irving. Unfortunately, he died before the film opened in Fall 2006, it was dedicated to him and wife Dana Reeve, who also died soon after Chris passed. The film was about a young boy, that after Babe Ruth's bat Darlin' is stolen, he goes out on an adventure along with his talking baseball Screwie, to take the bat back to Chicago before the World Series in the 1930's.
Reeve took up horse riding in 1985 after learning to ride for the film Anna Karenina. He was initially allergic to horses, so he took antihistamines. He trained at Martha's Vineyard, and by 1989 he began eventing. As with every other sport and activity he participated in (sailing, scuba diving, skiing, flying, windsurfing, cycling, gliding, parasailing, mountain climbing, baseball, tennis), he took horse riding seriously and was intensely competitive with it. His allergies soon disappeared.
Reeve bought a twelve-year-old American Thoroughbred horse named Eastern Express, nicknamed Buck, while filming Village of the Damned. He trained with Buck in 1994, and planned to do Training Level events in 1995 and move up to Preliminary in 1996. Though Reeve had originally signed up to compete at an event in Vermont, his coach invited him to go to the Commonwealth Dressage and Combined Training Association finals at the Commonwealth Park equestrian center in Culpeper, Virginia. Reeve finished at fourth place out of twenty-seven in the dressage, before walking his cross-country course. He was concerned about jumps sixteen and seventeen, but paid little attention to the third jump, which was a routine three-foot-three fence shaped like the letter 'W'.
On May 27, 1995, Reeve became paralyzed from the neck-down, after his horse had a refusal and he fell off. He had no recollection of the incident. Witnesses said that Buck started the jump over the third fence, and then suddenly stopped. Someone said that a rabbit spooked the horse, and another person claimed that it might have been a shadow. Reeve held on and the bridle, the bit, and the reins were pulled off the horse and tied his hands together. He landed headfirst on the other side of the fence. His helmet prevented any brain damage, but the impact of his 215 pound body hitting the ground shattered his first and second vertebrae. Reeve had not been breathing for three minutes before paramedics arrived. He was taken to the local hospital, and then flown by helicopter to the University of Virginia medical center.
For the first few days after the accident, Reeve was heavily sedated. He began to suffer from ICU psychosis and would wake up sporadically and mouth words to Dana such as "get the gun" and "they're after us." After five days, he regained full consciousness, and Dr. John Jane explained that he had destroyed his first and second cervical vertebrae, which meant that his head and spine were not connected. His lungs were filling with fluid and were suctioned by entry through the throat; this was the most painful part of Reeve's recovery.
After considering his situation, believing that not only would he never walk again, but that he might never move a body part again, Reeve considered suicide. He mouthed to Dana, "maybe we should let me go." She tearfully replied, "I am only going to say this once: I will support whatever you want to do, because this is your life, and your decision. But I want you to know that I'll be with you for the long haul, no matter what. You're still you. And I love you." Reeve never considered suicide as an option again.
Reeve went through inner anguish in the ICU, particularly when he was alone during the night. As he lay there one day, the door opened and a man with glasses wearing a yellow surgical gown and a blue scrub hat entered. He said that he was a proctologist and was going to perform a rectal exam on Reeve. It was Robin Williams. Reeve said, "For the first time since the accident, I laughed." They had a long conversation and Williams assured Reeve that he would do anything for him. It was this support from family and friends that convinced Reeve that his life was still worth living.
Dr. John Jane performed the surgery that reconnected Reeve's head to his body. He put wires underneath both laminae and used bone from Reeve's hip to fit between the C1 and C2 vertebrae. He inserted a titanium pin and fused the wires with the vertebrae, then drilled holes in Reeve's skull and fit the wires through to connect the head to the spinal column.
On June 28, 1995, Reeve was taken to the Kessler Rehabilitation Center in West Orange, New Jersey. He was given several blood transfusions in the first few weeks due to very low hemoglobin and protein levels. Many times his breathing tube would disconnect and he would be at the mercy of nurses to come in and save his life. His aide was a Jamaican man named Glenn Miller, nicknamed Juice. Juice gave him invaluable support in adapting to his new condition. He helped him learn how to get into the shower and how to use a wheelchair, which moved by blowing air through a straw. Juice and Reeve would watch the film Cool Runnings and joke about Reeve directing the sequel, Bobsled Two.
In the physical therapy gym, Reeve worked on moving his trapezius muscle. Electrodes connected to him sent out readings to therapists, and every day he would try to beat his numbers from the day before. The most difficult part of rehabilitation was respiratory therapy. The therapist, Bill Carroll, used a hose to see how much air Reeve could suck in, measured in cubic centimeters as the vital capacity. In order to even consider getting off the artificial respirator, a patient needs a vital capacity of 750 cc's. Initially, Reeve could hardly get above zero. By the end of October, he was able to get around 50 cc's. This inspired him, and he felt his natural competitive edge coming back. The next day, he went up to 450 cc's. He reached 560 cc's the day after. Bill Carroll said, "I've never seen progress like that. You're going to win. You're going to get off this thing." On December 13, 1995, Reeve was able to breathe without a respirator for 30 minutes.
Reeve left Kessler feeling deeply inspired by the other patients he had met. Because he was constantly being covered by the media, he realized that he could use his name to the benefit of everyone with spinal cord injuries. In 1996, he appeared at the Academy Awards to a long standing ovation and gave a speech about Hollywood's duty to make movies that face the world's most important issues head-on. He also hosted the Paralympics in Atlanta and spoke at the Democratic National Convention. He traveled across the country to make speeches, never needing a teleprompter or a script. For these efforts, he was placed on the cover of TIME on August 26, 1996. In the same year, he narrated the HBO film Without Pity: A Film About Abilities. The film won the Emmy award for "Outstanding Informational Special." He then acted in a small role in the film A Step Towards Tomorrow.
Reeve was elected Chairman of the American Paralysis Association and Vice Chairman of the National Organization on Disability. He co-founded the Reeve-Irvine Research Center, which is now one of the leading spinal cord research centers in the world. He created the Christopher Reeve Foundation to speed up research through funding, and to use grants to improve the quality of the lives of people with disabilities. The Foundation to date has given more than $65 million for research, and more than $8.5 million in quality-of-life grants. The Foundation has funded a new technology called "Locomotor Training" that uses a treadmill to mimic the movements of walking to help develop neural connections, in effect re-teaching the spinal cord how to send signals to the legs to walk. This technology has helped several paralyzed patients walk again.
In 1997, Reeve made his directorial debut with the HBO film In the Gloaming with Glenn Close, Whoopi Goldberg, Bridget Fonda and David Strathairn. The film won four Cable Ace Awards and was nominated for five Emmy Awards including "Outstanding Director for a Miniseries or Special." Dana Reeve said, "There's such a difference in his outlook, his health, his overall sense of well-being when he's working at what he loves, which is creative work." In 1998, Reeve produced and starred in Rear Window, a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 film. He was nominated for a Golden Globe and won a Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance. On April 25, 1998, Random House published Reeve's autobiography, Still Me. The book spent eleven weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and Reeve won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album.
Throughout this time, Reeve kept his body as physically strong as possible by using specialized exercise machines. He did this both because he believed that the nervous system could be regenerated through intense physical therapy, and because he wanted his body to be strong enough to support itself if a cure was found. In 2000, he began to regain some motor function, and was able to sense hot and cold temperatures on his body. His doctor, John MacDonald of Washington University in St. Louis, asked him if anything was new with his recovery. Reeve then moved his left index finger on command. "I don't think Dr. MacDonald would have been more surprised if I had just walked on water", said Reeve in an interview.
In 2002, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center, a federal government facility created through a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention non-compete grant, was opened in Short Hills, New Jersey. Its mission is to teach paralyzed people to live more independently. Reeve said, "When somebody is first injured or as a disease progresses into paralysis, people don't know where to turn. Dana and I wanted a facility that could give support and information to people. With this new Center, we're off to an amazing start."
Reeve lobbied for expanded federal funding on embryonic stem cell research to include all embryonic stem cell lines in existence and for open-ended scientific inquiry of the research by self-governance. In an interview with Brian Williams, Reeve responded to the controversy by noting that the research would only use embryos that had already been discarded. He said, "We don't want to create embryos just for research. We want to rescue these cells from the garbage...I don't understand how you can be opposed to that. I don't." President George W. Bush limited the federal funding to research only on human embryonic stem cell lines created on or before August 9, 2001, the day he announced his policy, and allotted approximately $100 million for it. Reeve initially called this "a step in the right direction", admitting that he did not know about the existing lines and would look into them further. He fought against the limit when scientists revealed that most of the old lines were contaminated by an early research technique that involved mixing the human stem cells with mouse cells. In 2002, Reeve lobbied for the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2001, which would allow somatic cell nuclear transfer research, but would ban reproductive cloning. He argued that stem cell implantation is unsafe unless the stem cells contain the patient's own DNA, and that because somatic cell nuclear transfer is done without fertilizing an egg, it can be fully regulated. In June 2004, Reeve provided a videotaped message on behalf of the Genetics Policy Institute to the delegates of the United Nations in defense of somatic cell nuclear transfer, which was under consideration to be banned by world treaty. In the final days of his life, Reeve urged California voters to vote yes on Proposition 71, which would establish the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and allot $3 billion of state funds to stem cell research. Proposition 71 was approved less than one month after Reeve's death.
On February 25, 2003, Reeve appeared in the television series Smallville as Dr. Swann in the episode "Rosetta". In that episode, Dr. Swann brings to Clark Kent (Tom Welling) information about where he comes from and how to use his powers for the good of mankind. The scenes of Reeve and Welling feature music cues from the 1978 Superman movie, composed by John Williams and arranged by Mark Snow. At the end of this episode, Reeve and Welling did a short spot inviting people to support the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.
Reeve also appeared in the Smallville episode "Legacy", in which he met again with fellow stage actor John Glover who played Lionel Luthor in the show. "Rosetta" set ratings history for The WB network.
Christopher Reeve’s campaign for stem cell research was satirized in South Park episode 702 titled Krazy Kripples which originally aired on March 26, 2003.
In April 2004, Random House published Reeve's second book, Nothing is Impossible. This book is shorter than Still Me and focuses on Reeve's world views and the life experiences that helped him shape them.
Also in 2004, Reeve directed the A&E film The Brooke Ellison Story. The film is based on the true story of Brooke Ellison, the first quadriplegic to graduate from Harvard University. Reeve at this time was also directing the animated film Everyone's Hero.
Reeve suffered from asthma and allergies since childhood. At age sixteen, he began to suffer from alopecia areata, a condition that causes patches of hair to fall out from an otherwise healthy head of hair. Generally he was able to comb over it and often the problem disappeared for long periods of time. Later in life, the condition became more noticeable and he shaved his head. He had experienced several illnesses, including Infectious mononucleosis and malaria. He suffered from mastocytosis, a blood cell disorder. More than once he had a severe reaction to a drug. In Kessler, he tried a drug named Sygen which was theorized to help reduce damage to the spinal cord. The drug caused him to go into anaphylactic shock and his lungs shut down. He believed he had an out-of-body experience and remembered saying, "I'm sorry, but I have to go now", before it occurred. In his autobiography, he wrote, "and then I left my body. I was up on the ceiling...I looked down and saw my body stretched out on the bed, not moving, while everybody—there were fifteen or twenty people, the doctors, the EMTs, the nurses—was working on me. The noise and commotion grew quieter as though someone were gradually turning down the volume." After receiving a large dose of epinephrine, he woke up and was able to stabilize later that night.
In 2003 and 2004, Reeve fought off a number of serious infections believed to have originated from the bone marrow. He recovered from three that could have been fatal. In early October 2004, he was being treated for a pressure wound that was causing a systemic infection called sepsis, a complication that he had experienced many times before. On October 9, Reeve felt well and attended his son Will's hockey game. That night, he went into cardiac arrest after receiving an antibiotic for the infection. He fell into a coma and was taken to North Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York. Eighteen hours later, on October 10, 2004, Reeve died of heart failure at the age of 52. His doctor, John McDonald, believed that it was an adverse reaction to the antibiotic that caused his death. A memorial service for him was held at the Unitarian Church in Westport, Connecticut, where he and his wife had attended.
Dana Reeve headed the Christopher Reeve Foundation after his death. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005. She died on March 6, 2006 at age 44.
Christopher and Dana Reeve are survived by their son, Will, and Christopher's son Matt and daughter Alex. Christopher is also survived by his parents and Dana by her father. Matthew and Alexandra now serve on the board of directors for the Christopher Reeve Foundation.
STAR OF THE "SUPERMAN" FILMS
ADVOCATE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF NEURO-MEDICAL RESEARCH
Best known for his portrayal of "Superman," Reeve was paralyzed in a horseback-riding accident near Charlottesville, Virginia. His will to overcome this tragedy and live a dynamic, meaningful life was truly heroic.
IN MEMORIAM: CHRISTOPHER REEVE, FROM UUA.ORG:
(Oct. 12, 2004) Unitarian Universalist, actor, director and activist Christopher Reeve, who died on October 10, was today remembered by UUA President William G. Sinkford as a role model and stirring presence in the world. Sinkford said, "I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Christopher Reeve. His courage was an inspiration to millions, and his advocacy a source of hope to so many. Christopher bore witness in both word and deed to the healing power of his Unitarian Universalist faith. I am so thankful that he found a religious home with us and a faithful minister in the Rev. Frank Hall of the Westport (Connecticut) Unitarian Church."
When asked about his decision to become a UU in an interview with Reader's Digest, Reeve commented: "It gives me a moral compass. I often refer to Abe Lincoln, who said, 'When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that is my religion.' I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us. It may be God, I don't know. But I think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do."
WHAT IS UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM? by Larry Overmire, Jul 2007:
Unitarian Universalism as it is practiced today is an inclusive faith without dogma. Much in the tradition of America's Founding Fathers, UU's advocate "freedom of conscience" and "separation of church and state," believing that every person is on his or her own very personal spiritual journey, which ought to be respected. In UU congregations, you might well find a very diverse group of people who come from a wide background of varying religious tradition, whether it be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto, Atheist, Agnostic, Native American, Wiccan or other Earth-centered philosophies. What UU's do agree on are 7 basic principles, stated on the UUA Website as follows:
1) The inherent worth and dignity of every person
2) Justice, equity and compassion in human relations
3) Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
4) A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
5) The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large
6) The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
7) Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part
Unitarian Universalism draws from many sources of faith which provide a solid foundation for the spiritual growth of the religious community (again, as stated in the UUA Website):
1) Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life
2) Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love
3) Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life
4) Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves
5) Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
6) Spiritual teachings of earth-entered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
Famous Unitarian/Universalists include:
Founding Fathers John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Dr. Benjamin Rush, Presidents John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, William Howard Taft, Vice Presidents John C. Calhoun, Hannibal Hamlin, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justices John Marshall, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Political Leaders Sen. Daniel Webster, Gov. Adlai Stevenson, Horace Greeley, Military Leaders Col. Ethan Allen, Col. Robert Gould Shaw, Social Reformers and Humanitarians Susan B. Anthony, Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix, Albert Schweitzer, Margaret Sanger, Poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Samuel Tayor Coleridge, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., T.S. Eliot, Robert Burns, e.e. cummings, Carl Sandberg, William Carlos Williams, Musicians Edvard Grieg, Bela Bartok, Pete Seeger, Writers Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Beatrix Potter, Herman Melville, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Rod Serling, Robert Fulghum, Artist N.C. Wyeth, Architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, Scientists Alexander Graham Bell, Luther Burbank, Charles Darwin, Samuel F. B. Morse, Linus Pauling, Sir Tim Berners Lee, Rachel Carson, Actors/Entertainers P.T. Barnum, Paul Newman, Christopher Reeve, Tim Robbins, Michael Learned
1) Nancy Brown Database, 25 May 2006
2) IMDb bio, 2007
3) Unitarian Universalists, Wikipedia 2007
4) In Memoriam: Christopher Reeve, Unitarian Universalist, UUA.org, News 2004, Website 2007