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Actor/Activist Christopher Reeve Passes Away at 52

Guest Author - Michelle Snow

He came to fame playing Superman on the big screen, but then became a real-life superman after a horseback riding accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. This weekend, actor/activist Christopher Reeve passed away at age 52.

According to his publicist, Wesley Combs, Reeve went into a coma on Saturday when he suffered a heart attack during treatment for an infected pressure wound and died on Sunday afternoon, around 5:30pm, without regaining consciousness.

Christopher and wife Dana at a CRPF event [Marion Curtis/Reuters]Kathy Lewis, President and CEO of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation (CRPF) elaborated: "Mr. Reeve fell into a coma after going into cardiac arrest while at home. He was being treated for a pressure wound that he developed, a common complication for people living with paralysis. In the past week, the wound had become severely infected, resulting in a serious systemic infection. Mr. Reeve’s death was not a direct result of his spinal cord injury, but an example of how secondary complications can have fatal consequences for people living with paralysis."

Christopher Reeve was born September 25, 1952, in New York City. When he was four, his parents divorced and his mother moved with him and brother Benjamin to Princeton, New Jersey. After graduating from high school, Reeve studied at Cornell university, while at the same time working as a professional actor. In 1974, his final year of Cornell, he was one of two students selected to study at New York's famous Juilliard School of Performing Arts, under the renowned John Houseman. Reeve roomed with the other student -- future star Robin Williams -- and the two became lifelong friends.

He made his Broadway debut opposite Katharine Hepburn in A Matter of Gravity in 1976 and then went on to fame in the first Superman movie in 1978. Reeve's athletic, 6-foot-4-inch frame and love of adventure made him a natural, if largely unknown, choice for the title role, in which he even insisted on performing his own stunts. He went on to play the role in the three subsequent sequels, as well.

Christopher as Superman [Warner Bros]In the interim, he made every effort to, as he often put it, "escape the cape." His second biggest role after Superman came when he turned down the lead role in American Gigolo to play a lovestruck time-traveler in the 1980 romantic movie Somewhere in Time. He and his co-star in the film, Jane Seymour, became such good friends that she later named one of her sons after him.

He went on to star in a variety of film roles, including Deathtrap, The Bostonians, Street Smart, Speechless, Noises Off, Above Suspicion and the Oscar-nominated The Remains of the Day.

In May 1995, Reeve's life changed completely after he broke his neck when he was thrown from his horse during an equestrian competition in Virginia. He endured months of therapy just to allow him to breathe for longer and longer periods without a respirator. But above all, he refused to let his paralysis deter him from continuing the work he loved to do.

Reeve made his directorial debut a mere two years later, with In the Gloaming on HBO in April 1997. The film was nominated for five Emmys and won six Cable Ace Awards, including Best Dramatic Special and Best Director. In 1998, he acted his first major role since becoming paralyzed, starring in an updated version of the classic Hitchcock thriller Rear Window, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries. He also served as Executive Producer of the film.

Reeve and Seymour in Somewhere In Time [Sony Pictures]Reeve's autobiography, Still Me, was published by Random House in April 1998 and spent 11 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. His audio recording of Still Me earned Reeve a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album in February 1999.

In 1999, Reeve founded the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation (CRPF). CRPF, 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.

In 2000, Reeve was able to move his index finger, and a specialized workout regimen made his legs and arms stronger. With rigorous therapy, involving repeated electrical stimulation of the muscles, he also regained sensation in other parts of his body.

In the last few years, his passionate advocacy for stem cell research helped it emerge as a major campaign issue between President Bush and his Democratic opponent, John Kerry. His name was even mentioned by Kerry during the second presidential debate Friday evening. During a press conference today, Kerry put aside his prepared speech to eulogize his friend.

Dana's tribute to her husband [CRPF]"He was an inspiration to all of us and gave hope to millions of Americans who are counting on the life-saving cures that science and research can provide. He met every challenge with a courage and character that broke new ground in this struggle," Kerry said.

Former roommate Robin Williams echoed that sentiment in a statement on the loss of his friend: "The world has lost a tremendous activist and artist, and an inspiration for people worldwide. I have lost a great friend."

In August 2004, Reeve completed directing his latest project, The Brooke Ellison Story. This fact-based A&E cable television movie, which will air October 25, 2004, is based on the book Miracles Happen: One Mother, One Daughter, One Journey. Brooke Ellison became a quadriplegic at age 11 but with determination and the support of her family, Ellison rose above her disability and went on to graduate from Harvard University. The film stars Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Lacey Chabert and John Slattery.

Reeve often seemed to be a larger-than-life force, for himself, his family and the millions of people suffering from paralysis and spinal cord injury. "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.

Marcie Roth of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association issued a statement saying, "We thank Christopher for his leadership, and for his tireless advocacy. And, we especially thank him for letting the world see life after spinal cord injury. We celebrated his return home, his strong and loving marriage, and his return to work. When the world saw Chris getting on with his life, the message they got was that it's possible to live a wonderful life after spinal cord injury. For all of his gifts, and especially for this one, we are eternally grateful."

Reeve is survived by his mother Barbara Johnson and his father Franklin Reeve, his brother Benjamin Reeve, his wife Dana, their twelve year old son Will and his two children from a former relationship, Matthew (25) and Alexandra (21).

Dana Reeve, Christopher's wife, issued this statement to the public:

"On behalf of my entire family, I want to thank Northern Westchester Hospital for the excellent care they provided to my husband. 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 years."

At this time, no plans for a funeral have been announced.


For those who care to do so, the family has requested that donations be made in his honor to the Foundation. Cards may be sent to the family in care of the Foundation at 500 Morris Avenue, Springfield, NJ 07081. You can also leave an online message for the Reeve family.

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Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation
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Content copyright © 2014 by Michelle Snow. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Michelle Snow. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Trina Boice for details.

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