Childhood & Early Life
Christopher Reeve was born on September 25, 1952, in New York City, USA, to Barbara Pitney and Franklin D’Olier Reeve. While his mother was a journalist, his father worked as a teacher, novelist, poet, and scholar. He had a younger brother named Benjamin. His parents divorced when he was young. Reeve and his brother moved with their mother who married Tristam B. Johnson in 1959.
Reeve attended ‘Princeton Day School.’ Academically brilliant, he was excellent in theatre as well. He was also brilliant in sports and played soccer, baseball, tennis, and hockey.
At the age of nine, Reeve found his passion for acting when he was cast in an amateur version of the play ‘The Yeomen of the Guard.’ By 1967, he was working as an apprentice at the ‘Williamstown Theatre Festival’ in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The following year, he received an offer to work professionally at ‘Harvard Summer Repertory Theatre Company.’ He graduated from ‘Princeton Day School’ in 1970.
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After his graduation, Reeve acted in plays in Boothbay, Maine. He wanted to return to New York City to establish a career in theatre. However, upon his mother’s insistence, he applied for college and accepted an offer from ‘Cornell University.’
At ‘Cornell,’ Reeve continued to fuel his passion for dramatics and theatre. He acted in several plays, including ‘Waiting for Godot,’ ‘Life Is a Dream,’ ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,’ and ‘The Winter's Tale.’
Impressed by his acting skills, Stark Hesseltine, a high-powered agent, proposed to establish Reeve’s acting career and represent him. Monthly visits to New York City and meetings with casting agents and producers helped Reeve find work in a production of ‘Forty Carats.’
Artistically endowed, Reeve soon received a full-season contract with the ‘San Diego Shakespeare Festival.’ Reeve played prominent roles in several plays, including ‘Richard III,’ ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor,’ and ‘Love's Labour's Lost.’
In his final year at college, Reeve took a three-month leave of absence. He traveled to Glasgow wherein he immersed himself in the country’s theatre culture. He then moved to Paris and absorbed European theatre culture, keenly observing the performances of established stage actors. After having observed everything, he returned to the US.
Having found his true calling, Reeve convinced theatre director Jim Clause and the dean of the ‘College of Arts and Sciences’ that he couldn’t comply by the educational requirements at ‘Cornell University’ and that he would achieve more as a student in ‘Juilliard’ than at ‘Cornell.’ Following this, an arrangement was made according to which his first year at ‘Juilliard’ was counted as his senior year at ‘Cornell.’
At ‘Juilliard,’ Reeve befriended Robin Williams and remained his friend for life. The two were the only students selected for Juilliard's Advanced Program. As per the arrangement, Reeve’s completion of first year at ‘Juilliard’ meant that he completed his graduation at ‘Cornell University.’
In 1975, Reeve successfully auditioned for the Broadway play ‘A Matter of Gravity.’ His performance caught the attention of Katherine Hepburn who helped him land a role in CBS Network’s ‘Love of Life.’ For the next one year, Reeve juggled between theatre and television. His Broadway performance earned him critical appreciation.
Reeve made his Hollywood debut with a minor role as a submarine officer in the 1978 naval disaster film ‘Gray Lady Down.’ He then acted in the play ‘My Life’ at the ‘Circle Repertory Company’ with friend William Hurt.
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It was while performing in the show ‘My Life’ that Reeve auditioned for the lead role in the big-budget fantasy action film ‘Superman.’ Previously rejected, he finally landed the role. Though Reeve’s athletic background, soaring height, deep blue eyes, and handsome features were in his favor, his lean figure came in as a hindrance. Refusing to wear fake muscles, he underwent an intense two-month training regimen to build muscles for the role.
‘Superman’ served as the magnum opus of Reeve’s career. A major worldwide blockbuster, the film grossed more than $300 million worldwide. He instantly gained an international star status as critics and audience praised his act as ‘Clark Kent/Superman.’ Reeve’s ability to easily switch between the bumbling, fumbling ‘Clark Kent’ and omnipotent ‘Superman’ were noted as two styles of gallantry and innocence in one role.
Following the magnanimous success of ‘Superman,’ it was only natural for the sequels to follow. Meanwhile, he made appearances in several television shows, including ‘Smallville’ and ‘The Muppet Show.’ Before ‘Superman II’ hit the screens, Reeve had played the character of ‘Richard Collier’ in the 1980 romantic fantasy ‘Somewhere in Time.’ Though the movie failed commercially, it became a cult film 10 years later. It was also Reeve’s first failure as an actor.
Reeve’s next screen outing was for the dark comedy ‘Deathtrap.’ The film was well received and earned him rave reviews. He soon followed it up with the first sequel of the ‘Superman’ series, ‘Superman II.’ The film received positive reviews from the critics who praised the visual effects and story. It grossed about $190 million at the box office.
Following ‘Superman II,’ Reeve played ‘Basil Ransom’ in ‘The Bostonians.’ The film was well received, both critically and commercially. Reeve was bombarded with a host of film offers and he found himself in several noteworthy projects, including ‘The Aviator,’ ‘The Aspern Papers,’ ‘The Royal Family,’ ‘Marriage of Figaro,’ and ‘Street Smart.’
In 1983, he starred in the third edition of the ‘Superman’ series, ‘Superman III.’ Though the film was panned critically, Reeve's portrayal of the evil Superman was highly praised. After the dismal performance of ‘Superman III,’ ‘Superman IV: The Quest for Peace’ was released. This film too failed at the box office and became the lowest-grossing ‘Superman’ film ever.
Reeve’s career seemed to have hit rock bottom. His ‘Superman’ flicks had failed and so were his attempts at resurrecting his film career. Following the dismal reception of his film ‘Switching Channels,’ Reeve assumed it to be the end of his film career. He spent the next couple of years mostly doing plays.
During the late-1980s, Reeve concentrated his energies on other areas. He took horse riding lessons, involved himself in several environmental friendly organizations, became part of governmental councils, took part in political affairs, and so on.
In 1990, Reeve returned to cinema with the ‘Civil War’ film ‘The Rose and the Jackal.’ He next starred in the classic ‘The Remains of the Day.’ The film was a super hit and was nominated for eight ‘Academy Awards.’ Alongside films, he made his presence felt in television as well by appearing in several television shows, such as ‘Bump in the Night.’
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A horse-riding accident left him quadriplegic in the 1990s. After a major surgery and months of recuperation at rehabilitation center, he acted again in films. He appeared in the television production of ‘Rear Window’ and made his directorial debut with the television film ‘In the Gloaming.’
In 1998, his autobiography ‘Still Me’ was published. After spending 11 weeks on the ‘New York Times’ Best Seller list, it eventually won Reeve a ‘Grammy Award’ for ‘Best Spoken Word Album.’
Awards & Achievements
In 1985, ‘DC Comics’ named Reeve as one of the honorees in the company's 50th-anniversary publication, ‘Fifty Who Made DC Great,’ for his work in the ‘Superman’ film series.
A licensed pilot, Reeve used his flying skills to reach Chile where he led a protest march to safeguard the lives of people. For his heroics, he was awarded the ‘Grand Cross of the Bernardo O'Higgins Order,’ the highest Chilean distinction for foreigners. He also received the ‘Obie Prize’ and the ‘Annual Walter Brielh Human Rights Foundation Award.’
His autobiography ‘Still Me’ won him a ‘Grammy Award’ for ‘Best Spoken Word Album.’
He received a ‘Golden Globe’ nomination for his performance in the television remake of ‘Rear Window.’
Other awards won by him include ‘Emmy Award’ in 1997, ‘Screen Actors Guild Award’ in 1998, and ‘Lasker Award’ in 2003.
Personal Life & Legacy
During his lifetime, Reeve dated quite a few women, including Katherine Hepburn before finally tying the knot with Gae Exton. The couple was blessed with two children, Matthew Exton Reeve and Alexandra Exton Reeve. Reeve and Exton headed for splits in 1987.
In April 1992, Reeve married Dana Morosini after dating her for months. The couple welcomed their first child William Elliot ‘Will’ Reeve on June 7, 1992.
Reeve met with a serious horse riding accident in 1995 that left him paralysed from neck down and wheelchair bound. Such was the severity of the accident that he broke his first and second vertebrae, detaching his skull from his spinal cord.
Reeve underwent a surgery that saved his life, but left him physically impaired for the rest of his life. He also required a respirator to assist his breathing. He stayed for months at the ‘Kessler Rehabilitation Centre,’ recuperating from his injuries.
Reeve used his celebrity status for several philanthropic causes throughout his life. He was part of various charitable organizations and campaigns. Following his injury, he became involved in campaigns supporting handicapped children and paraplegics. In 1998, he founded the ‘Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation’ to promote research into spinal cord injuries. He even lobbied for expanded federal funding on embryonic stem cell research.
Reeve died of cardiac arrest on October 10, 2004. His wife Dana passed away in 2006 due to cancer.