Reeve, Christopher 1952-
REEVE, Christopher 1952-
PERSONAL: Born September 25, 1952, in New York, NY; son of Franklin D'Olier (a poet and literary scholar) and Barbara (Johnson) Reeve; married Dana Morosini (a singer and actress), 1992; children: (with companion Gae Exton) Matthew, Alexandra, (second marriage) Will. Education: Cornell University, B.A., 1974; attended drama division of the Juilliard School.
ADDRESSES: Home—Williamstown, MA; Bedford, NY. Office—C.R. Paralysis Foundation, 500 Morris Ave., Springfield, NJ 07081
CAREER: Actor, director, author. Appeared in regional theater, mid-1970s; cast as Ben Harper on the soap opera Love of Life, 1974-76; made first Broadway appearance with Katharine Hepburn in A Matter of Gravity, 1976. Movies and television films include Gray Lady Down, Universal Pictures, 1977; Superman: The Movie, Warner Bros., 1978; Superman II, Warner Bros., 1980; Somewhere in Time, Universal Pictures, 1980; Monsignor, 20th Century-Fox, 1982; Deathtrap, Warner Bros., 1982; Superman III, Warner Bros., 1983; Bostonians, 1984; The Aviator, United Artists, 1985; Anna Karenina, 1985; Street Smart, Cannon Films, 1987; Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Warner Bros., 1987; Switching Channels, 1988; Great Escape II: The Untold Story, 1988; The Rose and the Jackal, 1990; Bump in the Night, RHI Entertainment, 1991; Death Dreams, ABC Video Enterprises, 1991; Noises Off..., Touchstone Pictures, 1992; Mortal Sins, 1992; Nightmare in the Daylight, Saban/Scherick Productions, 1992; Morning Glory, Academy Entertainment, 1993; The Sea Wolf, Turner Pictures, 1993; Remainsof the Day, Columbia Pictures, 1993; Speechless, MGM, 1994; Village of the Damned, Universal Pictures, 1995; Above Suspicion, HBO, 1995; Black Fox, 1995; Black Fox: The Price of Peace, 1995; Black Fox: Good Men and Bad, 1995; Nine, 1996; A Step toward Tomorrow, 1996; and Rear Window, ABC, 1999. Also directed the television movie In the Gloaming, HBO, 1997. Notable television guest appearances include The Muppet Show, 1979, Tales from the Crypt, 1989, Carol and Company, 1990, Road to Avonlea, 1990, The Carol Burnett Show, 1991, Frasier, 1993, The Unpleasant World of Penn and Teller, 1994, and Inside the Actors Studio, 1994. Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, chairman of the board, 1999—. Member of board of directors, Williamstown Theatre Festival, World T.E.A.M. Sports, TechHealth, and LIFE (Leaders in Furthering Education).
MEMBER: Creative Coalition (founder and co-president), National Organization on Disability (vice chairman), Funding First (member of executive committee).
AWARDS, HONORS: Special Obie Award and Walter Briehl Human Rights Foundation Award, both 1988; Grammy Award, 1998, for recording of Still Me, and Grammy Award nomination, 2003, for recording of Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life; Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries, both 1999, both for Rear Window.
Still Me, Random House (New York, NY), 1998.
Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
(Narrator) Still Me (recording), Simon & Schuster Audio (New York, NY), 1998.
(Narrator) Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life (recording), Simon & Schuster Audio (New York, NY), 2002.
Also author of the story treatment for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, 1987.
SIDELIGHTS: Actor Christopher Reeve, best known for his portrayal of the comic-book hero Superman in several films of the same name, became the focus of sympathetic media attention when a fall from his horse left him a quadriplegic. Reeve detailed his experiences in the 1998 memoir Still Me.
Reeve was born on September 25, 1952, in New York City to Franklin D'Olier Reeve and Barbara Johnson. When his parents divorced when he was four years old, Reeve moved with his younger brother Benjamin and his mother to Princeton, New Jersey. There Barbara met and married Tristam Johnson. As a child, Reeve spent time living with both parents. He went to public school for a short time before being enrolled at Princeton Day School, a private institution. By the time Reeve was eight years old, he began appearing in school plays and showed an affinity for music that led his parents to arrange piano lessons for him. Reeve also became involved in Princeton's professional theater, the McCarter Theater, where he would take any part available in his spare time. Feeling that he had lost his parents following their divorce, the one stable place in Reeve's life became the theater. When Reeve was nine years old, the McCarter Theater cast him in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
Reeve continued to land parts in plays and at age fifteen received a summer apprenticeship to the Williamstown Theater Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts. By the time Reeve hit his sixteenth birthday, he signed on with an agent. Following high school Reeve attended Cornell University, where he studied music and English but remained interested in theater. After completing his undergraduate studies at Cornell in the fall of 1974, Reeve was offered the chance to attend New York's Juilliard School under special circumstances. There he met comedian Robin Williams. The two became good friends and made a pact that if either made it in show business, they would help each other in a crisis. During Reeve's stay at Juilliard, he received further tutelage from John Houseman. After successful performances at London's Old Vic and the Comedie Francaise, Reeve returned stateside, where his first role in a television soap opera, Love of Life, led to a 1976 Broadway debut in A Matter of Gravity, in which he again received good notices playing opposite Katharine Hepburn.
In 1977, Reeve was offered an opportunity to audition for the role of Superman. He initially thought the role so silly, so beneath theater, he almost passed on the tryout. Reeve was chosen from a pool of over 200 hopefuls to play Superman. To get himself ready for the role once he was cast, Reeve entered a fitness program to whip himself into requisite shape. Reeve's charming humility breathed life into the comic book hero and his name became synonymous with Superman. The success of Superman resulted in three popular sequels, and Reeve appeared in seventeen other feature films. His performances in Merchant-Ivory's Remains of the Day, Sidney Lumet's Death-trap, Street Smart with Morgan Freeman, and Broadway outings in Lanford Wilson's Fifth of July and The Marriage of Figaro illustrated his versatility to take on any role and make it his own.
Reeve's love of physical and artistic accomplishments led him to host numerous documentaries and television specials related to two of his passions, sailing and aviation. Reeve's love of sports included sailing, flying, skiing, scuba diving, and competitive horseback riding. Following the first Superman film, Reeve celebrated by sailing from Connecticut to Bermuda. Reeve also flew his own plane solo twice across the Atlantic. He had a great love of riding and owned a number of horses, including a twelve-year-old chestnut thoroughbred named Eastern Express. On Saturday, May 27th, 1995, Reeve was set to compete in the spring horse trials of the Commonwealth Dressage and Combined Training Association—a three-day event held on 200 sparsely wooded acres of the Commonwealth Park equestrian facility in Culpepper, Virginia.
During the event, Reeve steered Eastern Express toward a zigzagged, three-foot-high rail jump, the third of seventeen jumps they were to maneuver on the two-mile course. As Reeve and Eastern Express came to the jump, the horse suddenly stopped. Reeve had not anticipated the sudden halt, which threw him over the horse's body. Hitting his head on the rail fence, he landed on his forehead. Despite his safety equipment, the fall caused multiple fractures of the first and second cervical vertebrae and left him unable to move his limbs or to breathe without the use of a respirator. Many who had worked with him on Broadway or in films—including Katharine Hepburn, Jane Seymour, Margot Kidder, and Robin Williams—came forward publicly to show their support for Reeve.
When Reeve first awoke in the hospital after the accident and was told that he was a quadriplegic, he contemplated suicide. However, after seeing the faces of his wife and family, he reconsidered the alternatives and decided that even though his body must remain stationary, his mind did not share the same fate. Determined to help his own cause and that of 250,000 other paralyzed people in the United States, Reeve launched a one-man publicity and lobbying campaign that garnered impressive results. In 1999, Reeve became chairman of the board of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation (CRPF). The foundation, "a national, nonprofit organization, supports research to develop effective treatments and a cure for paralysis caused by spinal cord injury and other central nervous system disorders. CRPF also allocates a portion of its resources to grants that improve the quality of life for people with disabilities," according to a statement posted at the organization's Web site. Since its inception, the CRPF has given some $30 million in research grants to neuroscientists.
In his autobiography Still Me, Reeve recollects his life prior to the riding accident, and writes of that fateful day in great detail. Still Me chronicles his long, difficult road to a semblance of recovery. A glimpse into his daily life, with its many indignities, is also matterof-factly chronicled. More poignantly, Reeve also writes with clarity about the mental challenges and realizations that quadriplegia brings to its victims. "It's always a shock in the morning when you wake up and realize where you are," Reeve explained in the first chapter. "You think: This can't be my life: There's been a mistake."
Reviews of Still Me were positive. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly called it an "outspoken, wise and tremendously moving" work. In Entertainment Weekly, a contributor termed Still Me an "unflinching, compelling memoir," and declared that "Reeve's autobiography is distinguished not only by the dignified candor with which he describes his utterly changed world—that of a rich and famous movie star whose affluence and celebrity cannot buy the ability to hug his wife and three children—but also by his emotional directness." The magazine's reviewer found fault only with the title, deeming it "one of those plucky celeb-memoir titles . . . that [demean] the integrity of the text."
Reeve picks up his story in the memoir Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life, focusing on the rehabilitation efforts he has been undergoing since the accident. Reeve works with Dr. John McDonald of the Washington University School of Medicine, who believes that "electrical muscle stimulation combined with repetitive motion exercises might regenerate nervous-system cells," as Galina Espinoza noted in People. These efforts have resulted in Reeve regaining some movement in his feet and hands, feelings of pressure and of hot and cold, and the ability to move about in a pool. While Nothing Is Impossible recounts Reeve's experiences, "the focus of the book is the potential for all of us to transcend our limitations, both internal and external, and not just to accept difficulties and problems but to beat them," Maryam Naeem wrote in the Student British Medical Journal. Reviewing the audio edition of the book, in which Reeve himself reads the full text, the critic for Publishers Weekly praised it as "a uniquely powerful audio message of hope."
In March of 2003 Reeve underwent experimental surgery meant to prepare him for breathing independently of his ventilator. The surgeons inserted "four tiny electrodes in Reeve's diaphragm muscle and wired them to an external battery pack, which stimulates the muscle and sends air to the lungs," Joan Raymond explained in Newsweek. Reeve is now able to breathe on his own for some fifteen minutes every hour; in time, it is hoped that he will be freed from the ventilator entirely. Raymond wrote: "When doctors first removed the whooshing, hissing ventilator, [Reeve] found himself astonished by the simplest thing imaginable. 'All you could hear was me breathing. I haven't heard that sound since May 1995.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Newsmakers 1997, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Nickson, Chris, Superhero: A Biography of Christopher Reeve, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1998.
Accent on Living, December, 1996, p. 30.
Booklist, July, 2002, review of Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life, p. 1799.
Chicago Tribune, April 13, 1993; June 3, 1996.
Detroit Free Press, April 18, 1997, pp. D1, D7.
Entertainment Weekly, May 8, 1998, p. 66; June 2, 2000, Clarissa Cruz, "After the Fall: Ex-Superman Christopher Reeve Was Thrown from His Horse and Paralyzed Five Years Ago," p. 84.
Europe Intelligence Wire, March 13, 2003, "Reeve Undergoes Surgery to Recover Independent Breathing Abilities."
Good Housekeeping, August, 1997.
Kindred Spirit, spring, 2003, "Superman Improvement," p. 7.
Ladies Home Journal, April, 1996, p. 131.
Library Journal, February 1, 2003, Gordon Blackwell, review of audio edition of Nothing Is Impossible, p. 134.
McCall's, September, 1987; January, 1991.
Newsweek, April 21, 1997, p. 78; March 24, 2003, Joan Raymond, "Now for a Breath of Fresh Air," p. 67.
New York Times, April 11, 1996, p. C1; April 30, 1998, pp. E1, E4.
People, August 10, 1987, p. 8; August 7, 1995, p. 55; December 30, 1996; April 21, 1997, p. 19; September 23, 2002, Galina Espinoza, "Whispers of Hope: Lifting a Finger; Feeling a Son's Touch: For Christopher Reeve, Seemingly Simple Moments Add Up to a Medical Marvel," p. 78; March 31, 2003, "One Breath at a Time: An Experimental Procedure May Help Christopher Reeve Stay Off His Ventilator," p. 71.
Publishers Weekly, May 4, 1998, p. 200; November 4, 2002, review of Nothing Is Impossible, p. 25.
Saturday Evening Post, May-June, 2003, p. 14.
Student British Medical Journal, February, 2003, Maryam Naeem, review of Nothing Is Impossible, p. 39.
Time, August 26, 1996, pp. 40-52.
Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation Web site,http://www.apacure.com/ (April 28, 2003).