Christopher Reeve

Henry Cavill on wearing Christopher Reeve’s Superman suit.
Henry Cavill on wearing Christopher Reeve’s Superman suit.

May 27, 1995: Paralyzed in a horseback-riding accident near Culpeper, Virginia. He also shares a birthday with Heidi Von Beltz who is also a quadriplegic from a stunt accident during the filming of The Cannonball Run (1981).

Children, with Gae Exton: Matthew Reeve (born 1979) and Alexandra Reeve Givens (born 1982). Gae was quoted several times, in various publications and on talk shows, as saying “Having one child out of wedlock is fashionable, but having two is tacky,” or similar, including in People magazine.

1992: Son, with Dana Reeve, Will Reeve born.

Before his accident, Reeve had been a qualified pilot, pianist, sailor, scuba diver, skier and accomplished horse rider.

Attended Cornell University, where he lived in Risley Hall, as a member of the class of 1974, leaving for Juilliard after his junior year.

August 2000: Broke his leg after falling out of his wheelchair during a workout.

Turned down the lead role in American Gigolo (1980) which went to Richard Gere. Turned down the role of Fletcher Christian in The Bounty (1984) which went to Mel Gibson. Turned down the lead role in Body Heat (1981) which went to William Hurt. Turned down the role of Mason Verger in Hannibal (2001) which went to Gary Oldman. In 1976, turned down the role of Mark Harris in Man from Atlantis (1977) which went to Patrick Duffy. Turned down the role of Jack T. Colton in Romancing the Stone (1984) which went to Michael Douglas, who also served as one of the film’s producers.

Had gained 30 pounds for the role of Superman.

Wrote an autobiography, “Still Me”. The book was a bestseller, and he was working on another book at the time of his death.

Was offered numerous roles, such as the lead in The Running Man (1987) and Total Recall (1990) (both of which went to Arnold Schwarzenegger). He turned them down to take on more challenging ones. Conversely, Arnold was turned down for the role of Superman.

May 3, 2002: He and wife Dana Reeve opened a center devoted to teaching paralyzed people to live more independently in Short Hills, New Jersey. Known as the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center, the facility operates a website, publishes “Paralysis Resource Guide” and houses the largest U.S. collection of paralysis-related publications. The Reeve Family Foundation has also distributed grants to paralysis researchers totaling some $22 million.

The last character he played before his riding accident was a paralyzed individual in Above Suspicion (1995), which was released six days before the accident.

Attended the Supergirl (1984) premiere with Helen Slater.

At the time he was paralyzed, he had been doing a film on horseback-riding safety.

Jane Seymour’s son was named after him.

Hal Ketchum’s “Hang in There, Superman” was written about him.

He was the tallest out of the nine actors who have played Superman in movies and television, the others being Kirk Alyn, George Reeves, Gerard Christopher, Dean Cain, Tom Welling, Brandon Routh, Henry Cavill and Tyler Hoechlin.

Son of F.D. Reeve.

Died at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York after suffering heart failure while being treated for a severely infected pressure wound (common among paralyzed people).

Brother: Benjamin Reeve (born 1953). Half-brothers: Jeff Johnson and Kevin Johnson.

Said that after he was paralyzed, it was his wife’s support that kept him from choosing death over living on a respirator.

Was roommates with Robin Williams at Juilliard. They remained close friends for the remainder of his life. Williams helped pay his medical bills during his final years and dedicated his Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award to Reeve.

After the critical and box-office failure of Superman III (1983), he was reluctant to do a fourth Superman film, especially if it was going to be treated as a farce. He eventually agreed to do it when the producers promised him story input and that they would finance a longtime pet project of his, the gritty crime drama Street Smart (1987), in which he played an amoral reporter.

His weight trainer for Superman (1978) was British weightlifting champion David Prowse, who played Darth Vader in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983).

Along with Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper and Marc McClure, he was one of only four actors to appear in the first four Superman films: Superman (1978), Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987).

His close friend Jane Seymour used to call him Superfoot because of his tendency to step on her toes while filming their dance scenes from Somewhere in Time (1980).

After he died, a number of memorial cartoons to commemorate his death were Superman-themed. Many artists drew Reeve as Superman flying away from the wheelchair. In one picture, Superman came to Reeve’s grave with flowers. In another picture, a grief-stricken Superman reads the news of Reeve’s death in the Daily Planet newspaper and says to the reader, “He was my hero.” In another, Captain America, Spider-Man and Batman come to Reeve’s grave with Batman, commenting, “He really was a super man.” In another, a young boy in a wheelchair tells the reader, “He was the Man of Steel. He had incredible vision. He used his powers to save people. Nothing could stop him. And I think before that he acted in some Superman movies.” Some pictures depicted Reeve arriving in heaven dressed as Superman; in one, he says to Gabriel, “You can keep the wings.” In another, dressed as a regular angel, he declines the wings by saying, “No thanks, I’d rather walk.”.

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Took some criticism for his portrayal of Clark Kent (Superman’s alter ego) as a weak, bumbling nerd. This characterization (which he said was based on a younger Cary Grant), in Reeve’s opinion, was necessary because he felt that there had to be some kind of a difference between Superman and Clark Kent, otherwise “it’s just the same guy in glasses.”

At the time of his death, he had regained partial movement in his fingers and toes, and said he could feel a pin prick anywhere on his body as well as differentiate hot and cold temperatures.

Had starred opposite Michael Keaton in the romantic comedy Speechless (1994). Keaton and Reeve portrayed DC Comics’ two most iconic characters, Batman and Superman, respectively.

The character he portrayed on Smallville (2001), Dr. Swann, was named after longtime Superman artist Curt Swan.

Made his Broadway debut starring opposite Katharine Hepburn in a production of “A Matter of Gravity” in 1976. Hepburn became very fond of him, both as an actor and as a person, and teased him that he would take care of her when she retired. Ironically, Reeve’s reply was “Miss Hepburn, I don’t think I’ll live that long.”.

May 18, 2005: Was posthumously awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, in New Brunswick, and an honorary degree (Doctor of Humane Letters) at Stony Brook University’s commencement on May 20, 2005. His degree was accepted by Stony Brook graduate student Brooke Ellison, whose life and struggle against paralysis was the subject of a television movie directed by the late actor just before his death in 2004.

Attended Juilliard with actor Kevin Conroy, who later went on to provide the voice of Batman for the animated Bruce Timm series.

Was slated to direct a fifth Superman film featuring a new actor in the lead role if the fourth film was successful. Since the fourth film did poorly at the box office, the fifth film never materialized.

His last theatrical film, John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned (1995), paired him with Mark Hamill, who provided the voice of the Joker on Batman: The Animated Series (1992).

The Smallville (2001) episode “Devoted” was dedicated to his memory, with the caption at the end of the credits reading: “He made us believe a man could fly.”.

A picture of him as Superman appears at the end credits of National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985).

Wore nearly 25 different Superman costumes for Superman (1978), some of which were specifically for walking and others that were for flying, and some of which were turquoise for blue screen shots (in order to balance out the blue of the uniform).

January 2004: He was decorated by the Chilean government for his humanitarian work, with the Bernardo O’Higgins Order, by the Chilean chancellor in his home in New York.

He went to Chile in 1987 during the military dictatorship to support about 80 Chilean artists (actors and directors) whose lives were threatened by the death squads of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

He appeared in a Super Bowl XXXIV (2000) commercial for the medical company Nuveen. It was set in the future, and it portrayed Reeve as being able to walk again. However, it was a special effect that was achieved by digitally superimposing his head on the body of a double. The effect was so convincing that on the next day, the company was flooded with phone calls from people asking how they had cured him.

Was not given first billing in any of the Superman films until Superman III (1983). As a relatively unknown actor at the time, he was given third billing, and a post title credit, behind Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman in Superman (1978), then given second billing behind Hackman in Superman II (1980) before achieving top billing in the third film.

Was a huge fan of the television series Law & Order (1990). He claimed that watching it helped him through his physical therapy.

Was only 24 years old when he was cast by Richard Donner in Superman (1978), making him the youngest actor ever to play the part of Superman.

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Winner of a Grammy Award in the “Best Spoken Word Album” category for “Still Me” (1998)

While Reeve was filming Somewhere in Time (1980), the local theater decided to show his breakout hit Superman (1978). Many Somewhere in Time cast members joined locals for the event. Early into the screening, the sound went out. Reeve, who was seated next to co-star Jane Seymour, stood up in the audience and delivered all the lines.

April 9, 1979: After meeting Reeve at the Academy Awards, John Wayne, then ill with cancer, turned to Cary Grant and said, “This is our new man. He’s taking over.” Two months and two days later, June 11, 1979, Wayne died.

At the height of his popularity as Superman, a group of children who recognized him in a park purposefully threw their Frisbee over a fence and then asked him to fly after it. Trying hard not to hurt their feelings, Reeve replied he couldn’t fly after the Frisbee because his cape was in the washer, so they settled for him just reaching over the fence and handing it back to them.

Godfather and namesake of Christopher Keach, Jane Seymour’s son.

Following Superman (1978), he was offered a number of scripts for action films, one of which he claims was a script for a film about the Viking Eric the Red. He turned them down because he felt they didn’t require much in the way of acting. Instead, he chose Somewhere in Time (1980) as his first post-Superman film, against the advice of his agent, because he liked the script and the character.

He was of English, and smaller amounts of Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Scots-Irish/Northern Irish, German, and French, ancestry. He was a descendant of the prominent D’Olier family of France, and also descended from Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester and 1st Earl of Pembroke, son, brother, and uncle of three famous King Henrys, as youngest (fourth) son of King Henry IV of England, youngest brother of King Henry V of England, and uncle of his brother’s son, King Henry VI of England.

Was a caller into Dr. Frasier Crane’s radio show on the second episode of the situation comedy Frasier (1993).

Was a licensed hang glider pilot. This proved useful during the making of Superman (1978), as his knowledge of how flying works allowed him to create distinctive movements for Superman during the flight scenes.

Was offered Richard Gere’s role in Pretty Woman (1990). When he went in to do a reading, he was not given actress Julia Roberts to read with, but the casting director, giving a half hearted effort at best. Reeve felt this was extremely unprofessional and chose not to do the film.

Biography in: “The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives”. Volume 7, 2003-2005, pages 452-454. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007.

He had a love of Scotland and its countryside. He often visited Scotland with his family.

Among the lead roles turned down were Julian Kaye in American Gigolo (1980), Richard Lestrange in The Blue Lagoon (1980), Ned Racine in Body Heat (1981), T.S. Garp in The World According to Garp (1982), Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Allen Bauer in Splash (1984), Daniel Jack T. Colton in Romancing the Stone (1984), Dan Gallagher in Fatal Attraction (1987), Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon (1987), Edward Lewis in Pretty Woman (1990) and Fletcher Christian in The Bounty (1984) (when David Lean was attached as director).

Studied acting with Michael Howard in New York City.

Received a two-minute standing ovation at the 68th Annual Academy Awards in 1996. He was introducing a film montage recognizing how Hollywood has tackled social issues.

Cousin of Elizabeth Hubbard.

Said he had originally planned for 1995 to be his comeback year, with lead roles in Village of the Damned (1995) and Above Suspicion (1995) and other major roles in the works, including a film reuniting him with director Richard Donner. Unfortunately, his comeback was cut short by his tragic horseriding accident.

He was posthumously inducted into the 2012 New Jersey Hall of Fame for his contributions to Arts and Entertainment.

He was the first actor to play Superman who was born after the character was created in 1938.

Before 2011, he held the record for playing the same comic book character more times than any other actor. He was overtaken by Hugh Jackman who has played Marvel Comics hero Wolverine in five films. Reeve does still have the honor of playing a titular hero more times though.

He was the first and, so far, only actor to play a DC Comics title character (Superman) in more than three films.

Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on April 15, 1997.

Had twice played a character who traveled back in time for a woman that he loved: Superman (1978) and Somewhere in Time (1980).

His great-grandfather, Mahlon Pitney of New Jersey, was appointed by President William Howard Taft as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, serving in the position from 1912 to 1922, which included a one-year overlap with his appointer Taft, who was himself appointed to the Supreme Court as Chief Justice of the United States in 1921.

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He was considered for the role of Westley in The Princess Bride (1987), which went to Cary Elwes.

Had played a playwright in both Somewhere in Time (1980) and Deathtrap (1982).

He was the only actor to play Clark Kent/Superman in more than one live-action film until 2013, when Henry Cavill was announced to reprise the role for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).

He was considered for the role of James Bond in The Living Daylights (1987) before Timothy Dalton was cast. Had he gotten it, he would have been the only American (as of 2018) to have that role in a feature film. Barry Nelson had portrayed Bond on American television in Climax!: Casino Royale (1954), which was broadcast October 21, 1954, almost exactly eight years before the first James Bond feature film, Dr. No (1962), premiered in United Kingdom theaters on October 10, 1962.

Had appeared with Ned Beatty in four films: Gray Lady Down (1978), Superman (1978), Superman II (1980) and Switching Channels (1988).

An actor best known to play Superman, he was born on the same year and the same month that the pilot episode of Adventures of Superman (1952) first aired.

Was considered for the lead role in Arthur (1981), a role which was ultimately portrayed by Dudley Moore, who at 5’2½” tall was more than one foot and one inch shorter, and born in April 1935, was 17½ years older than Reeve, at 6’4″ tall and born in October 1952..

The ending credits of Superman Returns (2006), a sequel of sorts to his Donner-directed films, features a tribute to him and his wife Dana Reeve that reads: “To Christopher and Dana Reeve, a pair of real-life superheroes”.

Casting directors were reportedly not impressed with many of his early auditions and screen tests, including the ones for Superman, due to his acting style being radically different from many other popular actors of the day.

Superman’s adopted Kryptonian son Chris Kent from the 2006 ”Last Son of Krypton” story arc was named after him. The story was written by Geoff Johns and Superman (1978) director Richard Donner.

Close friend Robin Williams dedicated his winning of the Cecil B. DeMille award to Reeve, 2004.

Reeve chose The Graduate (1967) as his favorite film for “Private Screenings,” a publication sponsored by the AFI.

Was the second of three male Reeves (genetically) in a row, after his own father F.D. Reeve and before his first son, Matthew Reeve, to be 6’4″ tall. Additionally, his daughter, Alexandra Reeve Givens, is 6’0″ tall, a height which is considered extraordinarily tall for a woman.

Shares a birthday with Will Smith and both have played super heroes. Smith in Hancock (2008) and Reeve in Superman (1978).

Shares a birthday with Will Smith who also played a super hero: Namely, Hancock (2008).

In an interview he gave about the upcoming “Superman II” movie, Christopher Reeve revealed how he had been associated with different repertory companies whilst in England. This was before he was cast as Superman/Clark Kent for the first film.

He had suffered from alopecia areata, a disease which causes hair loss, since the age of sixteen and often combed over bald spots before shaving his head in his final years.

Reeve was offered the part of primary antagonist Mason Verger in Hannibal (2001). Not having read the novel, Reeve was initially enthusiastic about the opportunity. However, upon realizing that Verger was a quadriplegic, facially disfigured child rapist, Reeve withdrew from the project in disgust.

Acted on stage with Celeste Holm and Katharine Hepburn, who picked him from some 500 to do a six-month tour with her.

Reeve had attended drama school with William Hirsch, Robin Williams and Treat Williams.

He had a great passion for flying and particularly gliding.

Appeared in one film nominated for Best Picture Oscar: The Remains of the Day (1993).

The Muppet Show: Jim Nabors (1976)(#1.6) aired on his birthday.

On September 25, 2021, he was honored with a Google Doodle.

His father taught Russian literature and his mother was a journalist and novelist.

Had stated that he was not actually even aware of the Superman character until he was older, as he didn’t have comics or a television in his home.

He has appeared in one film that has been selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant: Superman (1978).

He based his portrayal of Clark, Kent on Cary Grant’s character in Bringing up Baby.

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