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
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
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'
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.