Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Actor, director, and activist are just some of the words used to describe Christopher Reeve. From his first appearance at the Williamstown Theatre Festival at the age of 15, Christopher established a reputation as one of the country’s leading actors.
When he became paralyzed in an equestrian competition in 1995, Christopher motivated neuroscientists around the world to conquer the most complex diseases of the brain and central nervous system while he put a human face on spinal cord injury.
In 1999, Christopher was appointed as Chairman of the Board of the Christopher Reeve Foundation, which later became the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation after his wife’s untimely passing.
The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation is dedicated to curing spinal cord injury by advancing innovative research and improving quality of life for individuals and families impacted by paralysis.
Under his leadership, the Reeve Foundation grew to become the preeminent spinal cord injury and paralysis foundation that it is today, funding some of the earliest discoveries in basic science and debunking the centuries-old dogma that the spinal cord could never be repaired.
While the world knew him for his incredible role as Superman, those who knew him personally remember him to be so much more than an exquisite actor.
Christopher was an extraordinary father, a loving husband, a human rights advocate, an avid adventurer, an environmentalist, an author, a director, and an accomplished pianist. He was also a pilot who had made two solo trips across the Atlantic, a outdoor enthusiast who skied, sailed, scuba dived, played tennis, and canoed alone into the wilderness.
In 1985, at the age of 33, Christopher began horseback riding and by 1989 was competing in events, which included cross-country jumping. On May 27, 1995 Christopher injured his spinal cord when he fell from his horse during a competition.
After months of grueling rehabilitation and therapy, Christopher returned home with new purpose. He delved into ways he could use his name, his celebrity and his voice to urge the scientific world to work faster and harder; to help the patient community be heard and improve their quality of life; and to impact legislators to increase federal funding for spinal cord injury research.
Christopher’s generosity in spirit was infinite and resonated through all those he touched. He conveyed his valiancy through his passion for his work and how he chose to live his life. As a result of his courage, determination, international renown, and his conviction that ‘nothing is impossible,’ Christopher initiated a sea change.
Christopher Reeve died October 10, 2004, of heart failure. He was 52 years old. Christopher is survived by his children Matthew, Alexandra, and Will, all of whom are actively involved with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation
After graduating from Cornell University in 1974, Christopher pursued his dream of acting, studying at Juilliard under the legendary John Houseman.
He made his Broadway debut opposite Katharine Hepburn in A Matter of Gravity in 1976 and then went on to distinguish himself in a variety of stage, screen and television roles with passion.
Film credits include: Superman in 1978 and its subsequent sequels, Deathtrap, Somewhere in Time, The Bostonians, Street Smart, Speechless, Noises Off, Above Suspicion and the Oscar-nominated The Remains of the Day. Stage credits include: The Marriage of Figaro, Fifth of July, My Life, Summer and Smoke, Love Letters and The Aspern Papers.
Christopher made his directorial debut with In the Gloaming on HBO in April 1997. The film was met with rave reviews, was nominated for five Emmys and won six Cable Ace Awards, including Best Dramatic Special and Best Director.
His autobiography, Still Me, was published by Random House in April 1998 and spent a staggering 11 weeks on The New York Times Bestseller List. His audio recording of Still Me earned Christopher a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album in February 1999.
His second book, Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life, was published by Random House in September 2002. The audio rendition of Nothing is Impossible garnered Christopher his second Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word Album.
In his first major role after becoming paralyzed, Christopher starred 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.
Christopher’s ongoing directing work in television and film as well as his arts-advisory service also continued as a board member of the Williamstown Theatre Festival. In early 2001, he began combining his directing efforts with his activism, through such projects as directing four Johnson & Johnson commercials featuring Ray Romano, Randy Newman, Toni Morrison and himself for the company’s “Talk to Your Kids” campaign. The same year he filmed a spot for the American Red Cross that celebrated volunteerism.
In August 2004, Christopher completed directing The Brooke Ellison Story. This fact-based A&E cable television movie, which aired 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.
Christopher’s advocacy efforts included:
A documentary film about his advocacy and road to recovery entitled Christopher Reeve: Courageous Steps aired on ABC television in the United States in 2002. The documentary was directed by Reeve’s eldest son Matthew and has been distributed around the world.
In September 2003, Christopher was awarded the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service in Support of Medical Research and the Health Sciences from the Lasker Foundation. Recognized for perceptive, sustained and heroic advocacy for medical research in general, and people living with disabilities in particular, Christopher was selected for this distinction by a jury of scholars and scientists.
Christopher’s community and political involvement was a life-long endeavor. Over the course of many years, he served as a national spokesman on behalf of the arts, campaign finance reform and the environment; post-injury, he advocated for the paralysis community in numerous capacities.
A founder and co-president of The Creative Coalition, he helped to create recycling in New York City and to persuade state legislature to set aside one billion dollars to protect the city’s water supply.
Since 1976, he was actively involved with Save the Children, Amnesty International, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Environmental Air Force and America’s Watch. In 1987, he demonstrated in Santiago, Chile on behalf of 77 actors threatened with execution by the Pinochet regime. For this action, Christopher was given a special Obie Award in 1988 and the annual award from the Walter Briehl Human Rights Foundation.
As Vice Chairman of the National Organization on Disability (N.O.D.), Christopher worked on a number of quality of life issues for the disability community. In partnership with Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont, he helped pass the 1999 Work Incentives Improvement Act, which allows people with disabilities to return to work and still receive disability benefits.
Christopher served on the Board of Directors of World T.E.A.M. Sports, a group that organizes and sponsors challenging sporting events for athletes with disabilities; TechHealth, a private company that assists in the relationship between patients and their insurance companies; and LIFE (Leaders in Furthering Education) a charitable organization that supports education and opportunities for the underserved population.