Christopher Reeve rose to fame after starring in the 1978 Superman film and reprising the role in three future films, but Reeve was a very different kind of hero in his personal life – Christopher Reeve was a dad. Reeve faced an enormous amount of hardship throughout his life, with a horseback riding accident that left him paralyzed and subsequently having to re-learn how to live. But He remained an amazing father, philanthropist, and even continued acting after the injury that changed his life.
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Before his accident, Christopher Reeve acted in a range of projects from the soap opera “Love of Life” to the Superman role that skyrocketed him to fame. But on May 27, 1995, the larger-than-life superhero’s life would change forever. He was participating in an equestrian competition as he had done countless times in the past, riding his horse Buck. This time, on a sunny spring day, Buck stopped suddenly and Reeve toppled head-first over a barrier. At just 42 years old, Reeve’s spinal cord was injured and he was permanently paralyzed from the neck down.
Had he fallen just a centimeter farther to the left, the accident would have taken his life. If Reeve had fallen the same distance to the right, he likely wouldn’t have been paralyzed at all. After embodying a role as heroic and invincible as Superman, spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair was an enormously difficult thing to accept for the talented actor. Reeve sank into a deep depression.
Fortunately, Reeve had incredibly supportive friends and family by his side. His second wife, Dana, famously told Reeve “You’re still you. And I love you.” The phrase reawakened Reeve’s love of life, and later inspired the name of his bestselling memoir “Still Me.” And it was true. Despite his rise to fame playing a man with super strength, Reeve’s value was not tied to his physical abilities.
After Reeve’s accident, he took a break from acting and public appearances. When he attended the 1996 Oscars, he returned to the public eye, met with a chorus of thunderous applause. He wasted no time demonstrating that he hasn’t lost his sense of humor, stating “What you may not know is that I left New York in September and just arrived here this morning.” He continued, “and I’m glad I did – because I wound’t have missed this kind of welcome for the world.”
After Reeve passed away on October 10, 2004 from cardiac arrest, his three kids continued to keep his memory alive. Reeve’s youngest son Will, and the only child of Christopher and Dana, spoke to People Magazine in 2016. He expressed gratitude for how dedicated and involved his parents were before they both tragically passed when he was just 13 years old.
Will recalled, “They were the people who told me to turn off the TV,” he said, adding, “to eat my broccoli, to go to bed.” He continued, “I understand that not every child experiences going to the grocery store and seeing their dad on the magazine at the checkout aisle, but … it was a totally normal childhood.”
He explained that his dad’s paralysis presented challenges. For example, every activity had to be carefully planned. There were no spontaneous trips, but the bit of extra preparation didn’t deprive Will and his dad from doing normal father-son things.
In fact, Reeve even taught his youngest son to ride a bike. Will recalled, “I didn’t believe it was gonna work. I’m terrified, but I have my dad’s voice behind me going, ‘Steady, steady, left, right, left, right. By the third lap, I’m smiling, looking at my dad, waving, and he’s smiling. That meant so much to him. Later on, I would race in him the wheelchair. He’d let me win.”
Even with the challenges his injury presented, Reeve continued being a loving husband and an amazing dad to his three kids. Dana and Christopher even founded their own organization dedicated to helping people and families impacted by spinal cord injuries. The organization’s website explains that they are “dedicated to curing spinal cord injury by advancing innovative research and improving quality of life for individuals and families impacted by paralysis.”
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“When Chris was first injured, there was very little out there that we could turn to,” Dana said in 2005. “It didn’t seem like there was one place where we could call and ask five different questions that seemingly had nothing to do with one another.” Dana Reeve created the Paralysis Resource Center (PRC) for those living with paralysis. Since the PRC opened in 2002, more than 101,000 people have received information and assistance from its information specialists. The PRC has given over $30 million in quality of life grants to other non-profits throughout the U.S, helping to improve the lives of people living with paralysis. Read more at ChristopherReeve.org/Blog #HopeHappensHere
Reeve raised awareness about spinal cord injuries, lobbied congress, and through his organization raised over $130 million for research in various spinal cord injury treatments.
Peter Wilderotter, president and CEO of the foundation, told ICON, “No one has accelerated the pace, interest, and support of paralysis research caused by spinal cord injury like Christopher. He toured the world to meet scientists, public representatives, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists. He became the voice, and above all the beacon of hope, of all those who live with paralysis.”
16 years after his passing, Reeve’s kids continue to keep his memory alive – especially for his grandkids, who sadly never had the privilege of meeting him. “We have photos of him in our home, ”Matthew Reeve told Closer Weekly. “What’s been interesting since I’ve become a parent myself is thinking back on our relationship and certain experiences I remember as a child and viewing them through the lens as a parent now. I’m thinking about how to talk to them about him — what movies we would show, what home movies, how to talk about his accident. My daughter knows her grandfather was Superman. We have pictures of him flying an airplane. Anytime she sees a plane, she points to the sky and says ‘Fah-Fah,’ which is very sweet. In Swedish, muh-fah is mother’s father; fah-fah is father’s father. They differentiate there.”
Reeve’s daughter Alexandra echoed her brother’s sentiments about keeping their dad’s memory alive. She explained, “I have two young children. Personally, I view things differently because I’m a parent. When you become a parent, it changes the way your view your own parents. I look back and see ways of continuing his legacy — not just continuing the foundation, but the values he stood for and embraced, how he tried to define our family, continuing to be part of this community and carrying on the fight and thinking about the broader community that is impacted by these issues.”
All three of Reeve’s kids have now forged impressive paths of their own. Matthew works as a TV writer, a fitting career path for someone who spent so much time on sets with his dad. Alexandra was recently named President & CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, advocating for civil liberties and justice. Will is a correspondent with ABC news, working in front of the camera just like his dad. Though each of Reeve’s children have gone in different directions, they are united for a very important cause. They all continue to be extremely active with the Christopher and Dana Reeves foundation, a touching tribute to their dad and his dedication to families impacted by spinal cord injuries.
Though each of Christopher’s kids are successful in their own right, Will explained that success wasn’t the ultimate goal to his dad. When asked how his dad would have felt about his impressive career Will explained, “He didn’t define success by what you do, but by who you are. I would hope proud as always.”