Christopher Reeve, 'Superman' Star, Dies at 52
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: October 11, 2004
(must register to view original article)
BEDFORD, N.Y. -- Christopher Reeve, the star of the "Superman" movies
whose near-fatal riding accident nine years ago turned him into a
worldwide advocate for spinal cord research, died Sunday of heart
failure, his publicist said. He was 52.
Reeve fell into a coma Saturday after going into cardiac arrest while at
his New York home, his publicist, Wesley Combs told The Associated Press
by phone from Washington, D.C., on Sunday night. His family was at his
side at the time of death.
Reeve was being treated at Northern Westchester Hospital for a pressure
wound, a common complication for people living with paralysis. In the
past week, the wound had become severely infected, resulting in a
serious systemic infection.
"On behalf of my entire family, I want to thank Northern Westchester
Hospital for the excellent care they provided to my husband," Dana
Reeve, Christopher's wife, said in a statement. "I also want to thank
his personal staff of nurses and aides, as well as the millions of fans
from around the world who have supported and loved my husband over the
Reeve broke his neck in May 1995 when he was thrown from his horse
during an equestrian competition in Culpeper, Va.
Enduring months of therapy to allow him to breathe for longer and longer
periods without a respirator, Reeve emerged to lobby Congress for better
insurance protection against catastrophic injury and to move an Academy
Award audience to tears with a call for more films about social issues.
"Hollywood needs to do more," he said in the March 1996 Oscar awards
appearance. "Let's continue to take risks. Let's tackle the issues. In
many ways our film community can do it better than anyone else. There is
no challenge, artistic or otherwise, that we can't meet."
He returned to directing, and even returned to acting in a 1998
production of "Rear Window," a modern update of the Hitchcock thriller
about a man in a wheelchair who becomes convinced a neighbor has been
murdered. Reeve won a Screen Actors Guild award for best actor.
"I was worried that only acting with my voice and my face, I might not
be able to communicate effectively enough to tell the story," Reeve
said. "But I was surprised to find that if I really concentrated, and
just let the thoughts happen, that they would read on my face. With so
many close-ups, I knew that my every thought would count."
In 2000, Reeve was able to move his index finger, and a specialized
workout regimen made his legs and arms stronger. He also regained
sensation in other parts of his body. He had vowed to walk again.
"I refuse to allow a disability to determine how I live my life. I don't
mean to be reckless, but setting a goal that seems a bit daunting
actually is very helpful toward recovery," Reeve said.
Reeve's support of stem cell research helped it emerge as a major
campaign issue between President Bush and John Kerry. His name was even
mentioned by Kerry earlier this month during the second presidential
His athletic, 6-foot-4-inch frame and love of adventure made him a
natural, if largely unknown, choice for the title role in the first
"Superman" movie in 1978. He insisted on performing his own stunts.
Although he reprised the role three times, Reeve often worried about
being typecast as an action hero.
"Look, I've flown, I've become evil, loved, stopped and turned the world
backward, I've faced my peers, I've befriended children and small
animals and I've rescued cats from trees," Reeve told the Los Angeles
Times in 1983. "What else is there left for Superman to do that hasn't
Though he owed his fame to it, Reeve made a concerted effort to, as he
often put it, "escape the cape." He played an embittered, crippled
Vietnam veteran in the 1980 Broadway play "Fifth of July," a lovestruck
time-traveler in the 1980 movie "Somewhere in Time," and an aspiring
playwright in the 1982 suspense thriller "Deathtrap."
More recent films included John Carpenter's "Village of the Damned," and
the HBO movies "Above Suspicion" and "In the Gloaming," which he
directed. Among his other film credits are "The Remains of the Day,"
"The Aviator," and "Morning Glory."
Reeve was born Sept. 25, 1952, in New York City, son of a novelist and a
newspaper reporter. About the age of 10, he made his first stage
appearance -- in Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Yeoman of the Guard" at
McCarter Theater in Princeton, N.J.
After graduating from Cornell University in 1974, he landed a part as
coldhearted bigamist Ben Harper on the television soap opera "Love of
Life." He also performed frequently on stage, winning his first Broadway
role as the grandson of a character played by Katharine Hepburn in "A
Matter of Gravity."
Reeve's first movie role was a minor one in the submarine disaster movie
"Gray Lady Down," released in 1978. "Superman" soon followed. Reeve was
selected for the title role from among about 200 aspirants.
Active in many sports, Reeve owned several horses and competed in
equestrian events regularly. Witnesses to the 1995 accident said Reeve's
horse had cleared two of 15 fences during the jumping event and stopped
abruptly at the third, flinging the actor headlong to the ground.
Doctors said he fractured the top two vertebrae in his neck and damaged
his spinal cord.
While filming "Superman" in London, Reeve met modeling agency co-founder
Gae Exton, and the two began a relationship that lasted several years.
The couple had two sons, but were never wed.
Reeve later married Dana Morosini; they had one son, Will, 11. Reeve
also is survived by his mother, Barbara Johnson; his father, Franklin
Reeve; his brother, Benjamin Reeve; and his two children from his
relationship with Exton, Matthew, 25, and Alexandra, 21.
No plans for a funeral were immediately announced.
A few months after the accident, he told interviewer Barbara Walters
that he considered suicide in the first dark days after he was injured.
But he quickly overcame such thoughts when he saw his children.
"I could see how much they needed me and wanted me... and how lucky we
all are and that my brain is on straight."