Inspiring Purpose

Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve was born in New York, the son of the novelist, poet and academic F. D. Reeve and the journalist Barbara Johnson. His parents split up when he was four and Christopher and his brother moved to Princeton where Barbara married a banker. Christopher attended the exclusive Princeton Day School where he quickly developed an interest in acting. At the age of nine he appeared in a professional production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeoman of the Guard. He also played in goal for the school ice hockey team and might well have become a professional sportsman.

Reeve began his professional acting career in a touring production of The Irregular Verb to Love before entering Cornell University where he studied English and music. He continued to act professionally at the same time, played various sports and was involved in environmental causes.

As part of his University course he spent some time in London where he did odd jobs and coached British actors in American accents. Back in New York he began acting lessons at the Juillard School. From 1974 to 1976 he financed his acting lessons by playing a handsome young man in the long-running soap, Love of Life. In 1976 he made his Broadway debut in A Matter of Gravity with Katherine Hepburn and his film debut followed in Gray Lady Down starring Charlton Heston.

In 1978, whilst appearing in on off-Broadway show, he auditioned for the role of the hero in the new version of Superman and was successful. As part of his preparation for the part he worked out for two months and put on an extra 30lb of muscle. Reeve also possessed the decency and humanity which were essential in the part, together with a touch of off-beat humour. He said that he had based his characterisation on Cary Grant. Superman and its sequels made Reeve rich and famous but unusually, he continued to pursue a career as a serious stage actor in Somewhere in Time (1980), Death-trap (1982) and Monsignor. Film roles included The Bostonians (1984), Smart (1987), Switching Channels (1988), Speechless (1994) and Village of the Damned . Ironically, one of his last screen roles before his accident was in the part of a paralysed policeman in Above Suspicion

At an equestrian competition in Virginia in May 1995, Reeve fell from his horse and broke his neck. He was totally paralysed for the rest of his life and confined to a wheelchair which he operated by blowing down a straw.

Despite this, he accomplished more in the nine years remaining to him than most people do in a lifetime.

In 1998 he returned to acting as the wheelchair-bound hero in a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Rear Window. The following year his autobiography Still Me was published and he launched the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation to promote research into spinal injuries. He was also involved in several voluntary organisations and campaigned in favour of Federal Funding for stem-cell research. He directed two television movies on health themes, In the Gloaming about a man dying of Aids and The Brooke Ellison Story.

He never gave up hope that medical science would eventually be able to relieve at least part of his paralysis. Christopher Reeve died suddenly of a heart attack on 10th October 2004.

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