||Christopher Reeve dies at 52
'Superman' actor known for activism in spinal cord research
(CNN) -- Christopher Reeve, who portrayed a hero in the "Superman" films and embodied one as an advocate for spinal cord research after being paralyzed in an accident, has died. He was 52.
Reeve went into cardiac arrest Saturday at his home in Westchester County, New York, after developing a serious systemic infection during treatment for a pressure wound. He slipped into a coma and died Sunday afternoon at a hospital near his home.
Reeve's wife, Dana, issued a statement thanking "the millions of fans around the world who have supported and loved my husband over the years."
"He put up with a lot," his mother, Barbara Johnson, told the syndicated television show "The Insider." "I'm glad that he is free of all those tubes."
Reeve first gained renown when he was selected from 200 candidates to play the title character in the 1978 movie "Superman," which was followed by three sequels. But he made a bigger impact on the public consciousness after becoming paralyzed in May 1995, following an equestrian accident in Virginia.
The actor went through months of therapy to train himself to breathe without the continuous aid of a respirator. He then became an advocate for the disabled, lobbying Congress, appearing at the Academy Awards and returning to acting and directing. His name was mentioned by Sen. John Kerry during Friday's presidential debate when the talk turned to stem cell research.
Reeve himself was vocal on the subject. In 2001, while President Bush considered a decision on stem cell research -- he eventually allowed federal funding of research using existing stem cell lines -- Reeve spoke to CNN's John King about the impact of delaying study.
"That would be a big mistake because you could spend the next five years doing research on the adult stem cells and find that they are not capable of doing what we know that embryonic cells can do now," he said. "And five years of unnecessary research to try to create something that we already have would cause -- well, a lot of people are going to die while we wait."
Christopher Reeve was born September 25, 1952, in New York City, the son of a novelist and a newspaper reporter. He appeared on the soap opera "Love of Life" while attending college at Cornell University; his senior year, he was also one of two students selected to attend New York's prestigious Juilliard School to study under John Houseman (the other, according to the Internet Movie Database, was Robin Williams).
He debuted on Broadway in 1976 in the play "A Matter of Gravity," opposite Katharine Hepburn, and later starred in Lanford Wilson's work "Fifth of July," playing a gay, crippled Vietnam veteran.
But it was "Superman" that thrust Reeve into stardom. At an athletic 6-foot-4, the actor appeared to be a model for the superhero (an image helped by the fact that he performed many of his stunts, including dangerous "flying" exercises) -- and yet, with the merest addition of some glasses and a meek voice, easily turned into the shy and hesitant Clark Kent, often overpowered by Margot Kidder's brash Lois Lane.
Reeve made frequent attempts to avoid typecasting. He starred as a playwright who goes back in time to meet a beauty in "Somewhere in Time" (1980), Michael Caine's rival in the film version of Ira Levin's play "Deathtrap" (1983) and an unscrupulous reporter in "Street Smart" (1987), the film that helped make Morgan Freeman a star.
Among his other films were "The Bostonians" (1984), "Switching Channels" (1988), "Noises Off" (1992) and "The Remains of the Day" (1993).
'Let's continue to take risks'
An active horseman, Reeve was taking part in an equestrian competition in 1995 when he was thrown from his horse. The event changed his life overnight.
After the accident, he told Barbara Walters that he had considered suicide, but thoughts of his children dissuaded him, according to The Associated Press.
"I could see how much they needed me and wanted me ... and how lucky we all are and that my brain is on straight," he said.
He refused to let his injury -- he was left a quadriplegic -- slow him down, and he exhorted others to take chances.
"Hollywood needs to do more," he told the audience at the 1996 Oscar ceremony. "Let's continue to take risks. Let's tackle the issues. In many ways our film community can do it better than anyone else."
He was also master of ceremonies at the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta and delivered an opening-night speech at the Democratic National Convention the same year.
Reeve won a Screen Actors Guild award for best actor for his performance in a remake of "Rear Window," about a man in a wheelchair who becomes convinced a neighbor has been murdered. In the original 1954 film, Jimmy Stewart played a photographer whose legs were encased in a cast after an accident; Reeve's portrayal of the character was all the more starker for his real-life disability.
"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 told the AP. "But I was surprised to find that if I really concentrated, and just let the thoughts happen, that they would read on my face."
In the meantime, Reeve vowed he would walk again. In 2000, the actor was able to move his index finger, and he maintained a strenuous workout regimen to make his limbs stronger. In a commercial for the Nuveen investment firm, Reeve -- with the help of computer animation -- appeared to walk.
Despite some criticism, Reeve stood by the ad.
"It is a motivating vision of something that can actually happen," he told BusinessWeek magazine. "... Rather than just imagining a spinal-cord victim walking in the future, I thought it would be even more powerful to see it actually happening."
Dr. John McDonald, who treated Reeve as director of the Spinal Cord Injury Program at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, called Reeve "one of the most intense individuals I've ever met in my life."
"Before him there was really no hope," McDonald told the AP. "If you had a spinal cord injury like his there was not much that could be done, but he's changed all that. He's demonstrated that there is hope and that there are things that can be done."
Reeve tried to maintain an active life.
"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 told the AP in an interview.
The actor is survived by his wife, Dana, and three children: a son, Will, with his wife, and a son and a daughter, Matthew and Alexandra, by a previous relationship with Gae Exton. Plans for a funeral were not immediately announced.
The family has requested that donations be made to the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.
||Coming to terms with my anger at Christopher Reeve
'Superman's' fame made it go easier for him — or did it?
By SUSAN PARKER
It's hard to believe that I was jealous of a man who could not move his arms or legs, or breathe on his own, but I was.
You see, in 1995 Christopher Reeve became paralyzed from the neck down, just as my husband Ralph did in a Berkeley, Calif., bicycling accident in 1994. But Reeve was less fortunate than Ralph. His injury was higher up on his spinal cord, and he was forced to use a ventilator in order to move his lungs.
Even so, I was suspicious that, because of his celebrity, Christopher Reeve received better treatment from his doctors than Ralph experienced at our HMO.
Despite Reeve's obvious physical frailties, and incredible difficulties, I was unjustly angry at him because I knew
that in addition to his insurance coverage, he could afford to remodel his home and hire assistants out-of-pocket to provide additional, much needed care.
I once saw a photograph of Reeve in a swimming pool surrounded by eight people holding him upright and performing physical therapy.
Since his accident, Ralph has not been in a swimming pool, in part because I don't know where I could find eight warm bodies willing to get in the water with him.
I reluctantly read Reeve's first memoir, envious that he had written a book shortly after becoming disabled.
While I struggled with putting sentences together in order to tell my husband's story, Reeve's memoir was already in print and he was working on a follow-up manuscript.
I learned that when Reeve was transferred from the University of Virginia Medical Center, one of his doctors volunteered to follow him to the next hospital, to ensure that his care was consistent and correct.
No doctor at our HMO has ever followed Ralph anywhere. I concluded bitterly that because of his fame, Christopher Reeve got more attention and superior treatment than other quadriplegics.
For nine years I have listened for, read about and watched Reeve's battle against quadriplegia. Sometimes I didn't want to know how he was faring; other times I had a morbid curiosity about his welfare.
I looked for his photograph on the magazine rack at the supermarket check-out line, I watched for updates on the evening news about his experimental medical treatments, I stalked his wife when she came to the Bay Area to promote a book she had written about her husband's situation.
I gazed with both horror and fascination when he showed up on the Academy Awards, when his image appeared in an advertisement during the 2000 Super Bowl, when he spoke before Congress, acted in movies and directed a film.
But this opinion on the advantages of fame and fortune has changed, now that I know that Reeve died of the same complications to which most quads succumb: a pressure wound on his body became severely infected, resulting in a systemic infection. Reeve fell into a coma and went into cardiac arrest.
Only at this moment do I fully understand that Christopher Reeve suffered just as much as my husband, and that despite his round-the-clock, professional staff of 12, a fully wheel-chair-accessible home, and a fan base of thousands praying for him, he is dead and my husband is still alive.
Years ago, a live-in attendant who took good care of Ralph, (despite a minor crack habit and severe gambling problem), tried to sell me a bag of chicken wings he had either stolen or found on the street.
When I told him no and lamented that Mrs. Reeve didn't have to put up with such ludicrous and ridiculous behavior, he said, "You don't appreciate nothin' I do for you or Ralph."
It has taken the death of Christopher Reeve, a courageous man, to make me appreciate the things I have.