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Christopher Reeve - Obituary

Story by: Jack Foley

SUPERMAN star, Christopher Reeve, who became paralysed from the shoulders down following a fall from a horse nine years ago, has died at the age of 52.

The actor, who had been suffering from an infection as a result of a pressure wound, passed away on Sunday, October 10, 2004, after he suffered a heart attack at his New York home and slipped into a coma.

Reeve, who became a household name for his portrayal of Superman, was paralysed, in 1995, when he suffered a broken neck after being thrown from a horse during an equestrian competition.

He went on to become a leading campaigner for further research into spinal chord injury and remained determined to overcome his injury.

He had even regained some sensation in different parts of his body in recent years, and continued to appear in movies, refusing to become inhibited by his disability.

A statement issued by his wife, Diana, read: "On behalf of my entire family, I want to thank Northern Westchester Hospital for the excellent care they provided to my husband.

"I also want to thank his personal staff of nurses and aides, as well as the millions of fans from around the world who have supported and loved my husband over the years."

Born in 1952, in Manhattan, Reeve was inspired to turn to acting by the split of his parents, and he read English and Music Theory at Cornell University.

Together with fellow prospective actor, Robin Williams, the two were selected to study drama at New York's elite Juilliard School, and took the first tentative steps into the profession.

However, success did not come overnight. He appeared on Broadway, alongside Katharine Hepburn, and then went to Hollywood, briefly, during which a loss of motivation almost spelled the end of his acting career.

However, a supporting role in the off-Broadway production of My Life, in January 1977, proved to be his unlikely salvation, as it was during this run that film producers, Alexander and Ilya Salkind, who had bought the rights to Superman, opted to screen-test Reeve for the high-profile part, after determining to look for an unknown star in the superhero role.

Thanks to his meticulous preparation and close physical resemblance to the comic-strip hero, Reeve won the part.

The original, which co-starred Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, proved so popular that it spawned three sequels, and earned over $300 million as a franchise.

It also helped Reeve to find some equally memorable roles in the likes of romantic drama, Somewhere in Time (which remains one of Hollywood's most enduring 'weepies') and the thriller, Deathtrap, alongside Michael Caine.

However, his career and life were to change dramatically, following the accident in 1995, which resulted in his paralysis.

Reeve determined to walk again and received much love and support from his wife, close family and fans.

And he did regain movement in a lot of places thanks, in no small part, to an operation in 2003 which allowed him to breathe unaided for several hours at a time.

Steely determination and rigorous exercise also enabled him to recover the use of various parts of his body.

Reeve even made a dramatic return to acting following his accident, most prominently in a 1998 remake of the Hitchcock classic, Rear Window, about a man in a wheelchair who becomes convinced that a neighbour has been murdered.

His performance was rightly recognised with a Screen Actors' Guild award.

Away from the screen, Reeve campaigned tirelessly for research into spinal chord injuries and other disabilities and was seen regularly at the US Congress, lobbying for better funding.

He even set up the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation to fund research into paralysis.

Its president, Kathy Lewis, commented: "His memory will serve as inspiration for the work of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and we will continue in his honour to be steadfast in our goal of finding treatments and cures for paralysis."

Past colleagues, family and friends have been paying tribute to the actor ever since news of his death was made official.

Among those leading the tributes was Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, who counted Reeve as a friend.

He spoke for many when he said: "He was an inspiration to all of us and gave hope to millions of Americans who are counting on the life-saving cures that science and research can provide.

"He met every challenge with a courage and character that broke new ground in this struggle."

Any donations can be made to the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, which is based in New Jersey.

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