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Christopher Reeve (1952-2004) was an American actor, director, producer and writer renowned for his film portrayal of Superman/Clark Kent.

Reeve was born in New York City to writer Franklin Reeve and journalist Barbara Johnson. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree at Cornell University in 1974, after which he was selected to study at Juilliard School of Performing Arts under John Houseman. While at Juilliard, he became friends with a wildly improvisational classmate named Robin Williams.

Acting career

Reeve's first big break as an actor came in 1975 when he was selected to co-star opposite Katharine Hepburn in the Broadway play A Matter Of Gravity. Reeve stayed with the play throughout its year long run and was given very favorable reviews. He and Hepburn became very close. Reeve credited the legendary actress with giving him many valuable lessons on acting. Hepburn in turn praised her young co-star. She predicted great things for him and joked that he would support me in my old age. Reeve joked back I don't think I'll live that long Miss Hepburn.

Reeve continued to work on the stage, as well as on the soap opera Love of Life His first role in a Hollywood film was a small part as a submarine officer in the disaster movie Grey Lady Down in 1977. In 1978, he was selected to portray the international icon Superman in the 1978 film directed by Richard Donner. This film was an enormous success and inspired three sequels. Coincidentally, Christopher Reeve's good friend Robin Williams also became a star that same year with the television show Mork & Mindy. Superman was the kind of part Reeve usually disdained. He was a stage actor at heart who preferred doing classical period plays and films that really required him to act. He once said, "I want to challenge myself in my roles, not run around on screen with a machine gun."

In 1980, Reeve co-starred with Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time, a time travel romance. Although this film was not popular at the time it was released, it has since inspired a wide cult following. Seymour thought so highly of Reeve that she named one of her children after him.

In 1984, Reeve won critical acclaim for his role as a 19th century southern lawyer in The Bostonians. He often said this was the best movie role of his career. It was immediately afterwards that he scored another triumph on the stage. This time it was on a London stage. Reeve had always been fond of England and jumped at the chance to co-star with his friend Vanessa Redgrave in The Aspen Papers which was an adaptation of a Henry James novel. Critics were astounded by his performance and headlines blurted Superman can act!

In 1987 he travelled to Chile, at that time under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, to stand in solidarity with several dozen actors and writers who had been threatened with death for their left wing views. Aboard his aircraft, he piloted them to safety and was widely praised as a humanitarian hero. In the same year, the third Superman sequel was released. Reeve helped write the screenplay because he wanted to send a powerful message about world peace. The plot focused on Superman ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Also in 1987, Reeve starred in the gritty Street Smart as a reporter who falsified a story about a pimp. Morgan Freeman won an Academy Award nomination as best supporting actor for his role as the pimp Fast Black. Reeve's performance was dismissed by the critics; one even mocked, "Look up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane... it's Newsman!" In 1988, Reeve co-starred with friends, Burt Reynolds and Kathleen Turner, in the comedy Switching Channels. This was a modern day remake of the 1930s stageplay The Front Page and also provided the first comical role for Reeve. The movie flopped and Reeve was unable to land a major film role for the next four years.

Reeve had a great love for the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He served as an apprentice and on its Board of Directors. Despite becoming famous as Superman, he returned each summer until his accident. Reeve often faulted fellow actors for shunning stagework claiming they were dishonoring their craft. Reeve appeared in over 150 plays during his career.

Later life

On May 27, 1995, Reeve was paralyzed from the neck down after being thrown from his horse, Eastern Express, in a cross country riding competition at Culpeper, Virginia. Reeve later admitted that he briefly thought of suicide after realizing the extent of his disability. He credits his wife with pulling him out of his depression. She told him, "I still love you no matter what. You are still you." Reeve has often said that these were the words that literally saved his life. He largely retired from the production of films after his paralysis, instead devoting his time to rehabilitation therapy. With his wife Dana, he opened the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center, a facility in Short Hills, New Jersey devoted to teaching paralyzed people to live more independently. He also lobbied against the U.S. government's restrictions on stem cell research.

Reeve also appeared in TV movies after his accident, in his wheelchair. As an example he appeared in 1998 in a re-make for TV of the famous film Rear Window, originally by Alfred Hitchcock. This re-make is set in the time in which it was made and is characterized by its depiction of (useful) gadgets for wheelchair users. This distinguishes the film clearly from the original. For example, in the new film he sends emails by using speech recognition software (instead of the telephone used in the original).

On April 25, 1998 Random House published Reeve's autobiography, Still Me.

On February 25, 2003, he appeared in the television series Smallville as Dr. Swann, who provides young Clark Kent with insightful clues as to his origins. The episode, Rosetta, was warmly received by critics and the viewing public as a fitting connection from one generation's Superman to the next. Reeve appeared in the role again in the April 14, 2004 episode Legacy. Shortly following Reeve's death, Smallville announced that Dr. Swann will die in a 2004-05 season episode. Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in the Superman films will continue the plot as Swann's assistant.

Reeve died of heart failure on October 10, 2004 after suffering cardiac arrest and falling into a coma the previous day. He was only 52 years old. In the week prior to his death, Reeve was being treated at Northern Westchester Hospital for a pressure ulcer, a common ailment for paralytics, that had subsequently become seriously infected. Patients with the type of paralysis Reeve had live an average of 7 years, he lasted over 9 years.

Article text released under CC-BY-SA. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Christopher Reeve" (23-Dec-2004)


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