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Christopher D'Olier Reeve (September 25, 1952 - October 10, 2004) was an American actor, director, producer and writer. He established himself early as a Juilliard-trained stage actor before portraying Superman/Kal-El/Clark Kent in four films, from 1978 to 1987. In the 1980s, he starred in several films, including Somewhere in Time (1980), Deathtrap (1982), The Bostonians (1984), and Street Smart (1987). He also starred in many plays, including the Broadway plays Fifth of July (1980 - 1982) and The Marriage of Figaro (1985). In 1987, he led a public rally in support of 77 Chilean actors, directors, and playwrights who had been sentenced to death by the dictator Pinochet for criticizing his regime in their works. Pinochet canceled the sentence after the ensuing media coverage, and Reeve was awarded with three national distinctions from Chile for his actions. In the 1990s, Reeve acted in such films as Noises Off (1992), The Remains of the Day (1993), and Village of the Damned (1995).
In May 1995, Reeve was paralyzed in an accident during the cross country portion of a three day equestrian competition. He was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He lobbied on behalf of people with spinal cord injuries, and for human embryonic stem cell research. He founded the Christopher Reeve Foundation and co-founded the Reeve-Irvine Research Center. Reeve died at age 52 on October 10, 2004 from cardiac arrest caused by a systemic infection. Director Richard Donner dedicated his new version of Superman II (2006) to Reeve. The TV series episode "Devoted" from season four of Smallville, which aired in 2004, is also dedicated to his memory. Also, Everyone's Hero, which he directed, and 2006's Superman Returns are dedicated to him and his wife, Dana.
Reeve married Dana Morosini in April 1992, and they had a son, Will. Reeve also had two children, Matthew and Alexandra, from a previous relationship with Gae Exton. Dana Reeve died of lung cancer in March 2006.
Reeve was born in New York City on September 25, 1952. His father, Franklin D'Olier Reeve, was a teacher, novelist, poet and scholar. He was a Princeton University graduate and, when Christopher was born, was studying for a master's degree in Russian language at Columbia University. Franklin's father, Colonel Richard Henry Reeve, had been the CEO of the Prudential Financial for over twenty-five years. Despite being born wealthy, Franklin Reeve spent summers working at the docks with longshoremen. Reeve's mother, Barbara Pitney Lamb, a journalist, had been a student at Vassar College, but transferred to Barnard College to be closer to Franklin, whom she had met through a family connection. They had another son, Benjamin, born on October 6, 1953. Richard Henry Reeve was a descendant from a sister of Elias Boudinot, and also from Massachusetts governors Thomas Dudley and John Winthrop. Barbara Pitney Lamb was the granddaughter of Mahlon Pitney, a US Supreme Court Justice, and was also a descendant of William Bradford, a Mayflower passenger.
Franklin Reeve's interests in socialism and English language and literature became increasingly important to him, and he and Barbara divorced in 1956. She moved with her two sons to Princeton, New Jersey, where they attended Nassau Street School. Franklin Reeve married Helen Schmidinger in 1956, a Columbia University graduate student. Barbara Pitney Lamb married Tristam B. Johnson, a stockbroker, in 1959. Johnson had Christopher and his brother, Benjamin, enroll in Princeton Country Day, a private school. Reeve was one of the few kids to excel in both academics and sports; he was on the honor roll and played soccer, baseball, tennis and hockey. Reeve later admitted that he put pressure on himself to act older than he actually was in order to gain his father's approval.
Reeve found his true passion in 1962 at age nine when an amateur group held tryouts for the play The Yeomen of the Guard, and he was cast; it was the first of many student plays that he would act in. In the summer of 1968, at age fifteen, Reeve was accepted as an apprentice at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The other apprentices were mostly college students, but Reeve's older appearance and maturity helped him fit in. In a workshop, he played a scene from A View From The Bridge that was chosen to be presented in front of an audience. After the performance, actor Olympia Dukakis said to him, "I'm surprised. You've got a lot of talent. Don't mess it up." The next summer, Reeve was hired at the Harvard Summer Repertory Theater Company in Cambridge for $44 per week. He played a Russian sailor in The Hostage and Belyayev in A Month in the Country. Famed theater critic Elliot Norton called his performance as Belyayev "startlingly effective." The 23-year-old lead actress in the play, a Carnegie Mellon graduate, turned out to be Reeve's first romance. She was engaged to a fellow Carnegie Mellon graduate at the time; they mutually ended the relationship when he made a surprise visit to her dorm room at seven in the morning and found Reeve with her. Reeve's romance with the actress fizzled a few months later when the age difference became an issue for them.
After My Life, Stark Hesseltine told Reeve that he had been asked to audition for the leading role as Clark Kent/Superman in the big budget film, Superman: The Movie (1978). Lynn Stalmaster, the casting director, put Reeve's picture and resume on the top of the pile three separate times, only to have the producers throw it out each time. Through Stalmaster's persistent pleading, a meeting between director Richard Donner, producer Ilya Salkind and Reeve was set in January 1977 at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel on Fifth Avenue. The morning after the meeting, Reeve was sent a 300 page script. He was thrilled that the script took the subject matter seriously, and that Richard Donner's motto was verisimilitude. Reeve immediately flew to London for a screen test, and on the way was told that Marlon Brando was going to play Jor-El and Gene Hackman was going to play Lex Luthor. Reeve still did not think he had much of a chance. Though he was 6 ft 4, he was a self-described "skinny WASP." On the plane ride to London, he imagined how his approach to the role would be. He later said, "By the late 1970s the masculine image had changed... Now it was acceptable for a man to show gentleness and vulnerability. I felt that the new Superman ought to reflect that contemporary male image." He based his portrayal of Clark Kent on Cary Grant in his role in Bringing up Baby. After the screen test, his driver said, "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but you've got the part."
Although Reeve was tall enough for the role and had the blue eyes and handsome features, his physique was slim. He refused to wear fake muscles under the suit, and instead went through an intense two-month training regimen supervised by former British weightlifting champion David Prowse, the man under the Darth Vader suit in the Star Wars films. The training regimen consisted of running in the morning, followed by two hours of weightlifting and ninety minutes on the trampoline. In addition, Reeve doubled his food intake and adopted a high protein diet. He put on thirty pounds of muscle to his thin 190 pound frame. He later made even higher gains for Superman III (1983), though for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) he decided it would be healthier to focus more on cardiovascular workouts.
Reeve was never a Superman or comic book fan, though he had watched Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves. However, he found that the role offered a suitable challenge because it was a dual role. He said, "there must be some difference stylistically between Clark and Superman. Otherwise, you just have a pair of glasses standing in for a character."
The film grossed $300,218,018 worldwide (unadjusted for inflation). Reeve received positive reviews for his performance:
"Christopher Reeve's entire performance is a delight. Ridiculously good-looking, with a face as sharp and strong as an ax blade, his bumbling, fumbling Clark Kent and omnipotent Superman are simply two styles of gallantry and innocence." - Newsweek
"Christopher Reeve has become an instant international star on the basis of his first major movie role, that of Clark Kent/Superman. Film reviewers - regardless of their opinion of the film - have been almost unanimous in their praise of Reeve's dual portrayal. He is utterly convincing as he switches back and forth between personae." - Starlog
Reeve used his newfound celebrity for good causes. Through the Make-a-Wish Foundation, he visited terminally-ill children. He joined the Board of Directors for the worldwide charity Save the Children. In 1979, He served as a track and field coach at the Special Olympics, alongside O.J. Simpson.
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