September 25, 1952
New York, New York
Deceased: October 10, 2004
Christopher Reeve is the eldest of two sons born to a Russian scholar/
writer/ Ivy League professor and his wife, a newspaper reporter. But before
the boys even entered their teens, their parents were divorced.
Reared in Princeton, New Jersey, Chris attended the Princeton Day School
where he played ice hockey, served as assistant conductor of the school
orchestra, and sang with a madrigal group, as well as appearing with a
professional reportory company. He also apprenticed with the prestigious
Williamstown Playhouse in Massachusetts.
Following high school, Christopher appeared in a touring production of
"The Irregular Verb of Love" with Celeste Holm and later went on to
Cornell University, where he juggled his studies with his acting
assignments. He earned a BA in English with honors and went on to study
at the renowned Juilliard School. Among his schoolmates were William Hurt,
Kevin Kline, and Robin Williams. While at Juilliard, Reeve traveled to
England for research on a thesis he was writing on British repertory
theatre and was employed as a "dogsbody" -- A glorified errand boy, he
later recalled -- at the noted Old Vic theatre, where he wound up teaching
the British actors how to speak with an American
accent. From there he went to Paris where he worked with the Comedie
When he returned to New York, Christopher took a role as Ben Harper on
the soap opera "Love of Life." He was so credible in the role of the
unscrupulous character, that an irate fan smacked him with her handbag,
for at the time, Harper was cheating on his pregnant wife!
Upon leaving the soap, he co-starred with Katherine Hepburn in the play
"A Matter Of Gravity" as the Oscar-winner's grandson. Reeve made his
cinematic debut with a supporting role in "Gray Lady Down." Following a
lengthy search, the young actor traveled to England for a screen test for
the lead role in the big-budgeted film based on the long-running comic
book hero Superman. Director Richard Donner was convinced that the striking,
charismatic actor was right for the part. Interestingly, Reeve's studio driver told
the actor he had the role when he was taken from Pinewood Studios, where
the production was based, to the airport.
While he had the height to seem convincing as the larger-than-life Man
of Steel, Reeve thought that his lanky build did not seem convincing to
portray the mighty hero. The producers told him they would compensate
for it by sewing foam rubber muscles into the costume. The actor thought
that such an idea was ridiculous and he undertook an intense regimen
under the tutleage of an actor, British weightlifter and bodybuilding
champ David Prowse. He dedicated himself to the grueling efforts which
encompassed weightlifting, running, and work on a trampoline.
Upon hearing that his son got the role, Chrstopher's father thought
initially it was in George Bernard Shaw's "Man and Superman." Upon
realizing the part was a comic book hero, the elder Reeve was less
impressed. Interestingly, shortly after completing the film, Christopher
obtained his pilot license; perhaps all of that flying around rubbed off. The actor
had also entered into a relationship with
a modeling agent named Gae Exton, whom he later had two children with.
"Superman: The Movie," was released at the end of 1978, becoming the
year's top moneymaker. It was critically acclaimed with many noting the
believability Christopher brought to the role of the creation of school
friends Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Though the success of the film resulted in several film offers, the
actor was a bit uncomfortable with the idea of being a superstar and sex
symbol, preferring to keep his feet on the ground and continue to
challenge himself as an actor.
Christopher next portrayed playwright Richard Colier, who travels back
in time to romance Jane Seymour -- who would later name one of her sons
after her co-star and friend -- in Jeannot Szwacz' "Somewhere in Time".
The film did little business in theatres but later drew a large
following via its cable broadcasts and release on videotape. It earned a
virtual legion of fans who held gatherings at the beautiful Mackinac
Island in Michigan where the film took place.
Christopher returned to the dual role of Superman/ Clark Kent in
"Superman II." When it opened domestically in 1981, it became one of the
year's top earners. He also served as a second-unit director on "Superman IV: The Quest
for Peace." He only made the film provided Cannon films, headed up by Israeli-born
producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus if he were allowed input into the story
and if Cannon would make the film "Street Smart," a script he had come across and
very much wanted to be in.
Following his portrayal in the title role in the 1982 box office disaster
"Monsignor" and in Sidney Lumet's adaptation of Ira Levin's "Deathtrap,"
which also bombed, Chris again dooned the red, yellow and blue tights to
portray the role that made him a star in Richard Lester's "Superman
III." The film performed well but the actor vowed to never play the role
again. Reeve's follow-up efforts were largely unnoticed. He earned some kudos
for his role in James Ivory's "The Bostonians", but playing
another flier in "The Aviator" did nothing.
In addition to his continuing efforts in theatre, both in America and
England, and roles in telefilms, Christopher guest-conducted orchestras,
became active in Amnesty International, was a founding member of the
Creative Coalition, and was an environmental activist.
In his professional life, he continued to take roles that challenged him, and had
the chance to stretch his abilities in the ensemble farce
"Noises Off", directed by Peter Bogdonavitch. He wed a young actress and
singer whom he had met at Williamstown some years before, named Dana
Morosini in 1992, whom he later had a son with.
In May of 1995, Reeve was thrown from his mount while
competing in a horse show in Virginia. The accident severed his spinal
cord and made him a quadraplegic. After months of grueling rehab and a
determination to one day walk again, he became a prominent voice among
the disabled. He has met with Congressman to support efforts to
federally fund efforts to find a cure. Christopher's appearance at the
Oscar telecast in March 1996 drew a standing ovation, as did an appearance
at the 1996 Democratic National Convention.
Christopher made his full-fledged directorial debut with the HBO
telefilm "In the Gloaming." He also wrote his memoirs "Still Me" and got
a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Photo © Steve Granitz
Written by Robert Baum © 2001 - [Used with permisson]
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