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Christopher Reeve
C Reeve in Marriage of Figaro Opening night 1985.jpg
Reeve after the opening night of The Marriage of Figaro at the Circle in the Square Theatre, New York City, 1985
Christopher D'Olier Reeve

(1952-09-25)September 25, 1952
New York City, U.S.
Died October 10, 2004(2004-10-10) (aged 52)
  • Actor
  • director
  • author
  • activist
Years active 1970–2004
Full list
Board member of Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
(m. 1992)
Partner(s) Gae Exton (1978–1987)
Children 3, including Matthew
  • F. D. Reeve (father)
  • Franklin D'Olier (great-grandfather)
  • Mahlon Pitney (great-grandfather)
  • Beatrice Pitney Lamb (grandmother)
  • Mary Schenck Woolman (great-great-grandaunt)
  • Ferdinand Schureman Schenck (great-great-great-great-grandfather)

Christopher D'Olier Reeve (September 25, 1952 – October 10, 2004) was an American actor, film director, author, and activist, best known for playing the title character in the film Superman (1978) and three sequels.

Early life and education

Reeve was born on September 25, 1952, in New York City, the son of Barbara Pitney Lamb, a journalist; and Franklin D'Olier Reeve (1928–2013), a teacher, novelist, poet, and scholar. Many of his ancestors had been in America since the early 17th century, some having been aboard the Mayflower. Other ancestors of Reeve came from the French aristocracy. His paternal grandfather, Colonel Richard Henry Reeve, had been the CEO of Prudential Financial (when it was called Prudential Life Insurance Company) for over 25 years.

Franklin and Barbara divorced in 1956, and she moved with Christopher and his younger brother to Princeton, New Jersey, where they attended Nassau Street School and then Princeton Country Day School (today called the Princeton Day School). Reeve's parents both remarried. Reeve excelled academically, athletically, and onstage; he was on the honor roll and played soccer, baseball, tennis, and hockey. The sportsmanship award at Princeton Day School's invitational hockey tournament was named in Reeve's honor.

Reeve had a difficult relationship with his father, Franklin. He wrote in 1998 that his father's "love for his children always seemed tied to performance" and he put pressure on himself to act older than he actually was in order to gain his father's approval. Between 1988 and 1995 the two barely spoke to each other, but they reconciled after Reeve's paralyzing accident.

Reeve found his passion for acting in 1962 at age nine when he was cast in an amateur version of the operetta The Yeomen of the Guard; it was the first of many student plays. His interest was solidified when at age fifteen, he spent a summer as an apprentice at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

After graduating from Princeton Day School in June 1970, Reeve acted in plays in Boothbay, Maine. He planned to go to New York City to find a career in theater. Ultimately, however, at the advice of his mother, he applied for college. He was accepted into Princeton University, Columbia University, Brown University, Cornell University, Northwestern University, and Carnegie Mellon University. Reeve said he chose Cornell primarily because it was distant from New York City and this would help him avoid the temptation of working as an actor immediately versus finishing college, as he had promised his mother and stepfather. Reeve joined the theater department in Cornell and played Pozzo in Waiting for Godot, Segismundo in Life Is a Dream, Hamlet in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Polixenes in The Winter's Tale.

Late in his freshman year, Reeve received a letter from Stark Hesseltine, a high-powered New York City agent who had discovered Robert Redford and who represented actors such as Richard Chamberlain, Michael Douglas, and Susan Sarandon. Hesseltine had seen Reeve in A Month in the Country and wanted to represent him. Reeve was very excited and kept re-reading the letter to make sure of what it said. Reeve was impatient with school and eager to get on with his career. The two met, but Reeve was surprised to find Hesseltine strongly supported his promise to his mother and stepfather to complete college. They decided instead of dropping out of school, Reeve would come to New York once a month to meet casting agents and producers to find work for the summer vacation.

Reeve received favorable responses to his introductions and auditions arranged by Hesseltine but had to forgo several desirable opportunities because they began before school ended. In the summer, he toured in a production of Forty Carats with Eleanor Parker. The next year, Reeve received a full summer contract with the San Diego Shakespeare Festival, with roles as Edward IV in Richard III, Fenton in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Dumaine in Love's Labour's Lost at the Old Globe Theatre.

Before his third year of college, Reeve took a three-month leave of absence. He traveled to Glasgow, Scotland, and saw theatrical productions throughout the United Kingdom. He was inspired by the actors there, and often had conversations with them in bars after their performances.


Reeve's first role in a Hollywood film was a very small part as a junior officer in the 1978 naval submarine disaster movie Gray Lady Down, starring Charlton Heston. He then acted in the play My Life at the Circle Repertory Company with friend William Hurt.

Reeve is best known for playing Clark Kent/Superman in the big budget film Superman (1978). He was 24 at the time, 6 ft 4 in (193 cm) tall, but his physique was slim. Reeve went through an intense two-month training regimen with former British weightlifting champion David Prowse supervising. The training regimen consisted of running in the morning, followed by two hours' weightlifting and 90 minutes on the trampoline. He added thirty pounds (14 kg) of muscle to his "thin" 189-pound (86 kg) 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. One of the reasons Reeve could not work out as much for Superman IV was an emergency appendectomy that he had in June 1986.

Reeve was never a Superman or comic book fan, though he had watched Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves. Reeve found 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."

On the commentary track for the director's edition of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz spoke of how Reeve had talked to him about playing Superman and then playing Clark Kent. Mankiewicz then corrected Reeve, telling him he was "always, always playing Superman" and when he was Clark Kent, he was "playing Superman who was playing Clark Kent." Mankiewicz described it to Reeve as a role within a role.

The film, made without the use of computers for special effects, was the first attempt to realistically show a person flying. Roy Field, the film's optical supervisor, said, "There were many techniques used to make Superman fly, but the best special effect of all was Christopher Reeve himself. We discovered very early on he, being a glider pilot, could hold his body aerodynamically. So when he got into the harness, the whole shot began to come alive."

The film grossed $300.2 million 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, 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

For his performance, Reeve won a BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles. Reeve described Superman as "the closest opportunity I've had to playing a classical role on film, the closest expression to something of mythical dimension." His co-star Margot Kidder said after his death with the Superman films, Reeve "knew he'd done something meaningful. He was very aware of that and very happy with that role."

After his acclaimed performances in Superman and Superman II, Reeve declined many roles in action movies, choosing instead to work in small films and plays with more complex characters. He later appeared in critically successful films such as The Bostonians (1984), Street Smart (1987), and The Remains of the Day (1993), and in the plays Fifth of July on Broadway and The Aspern Papers in London's West End.

On May 27, 1995, Reeve broke his neck when he was thrown from a horse during an equestrian competition in Culpeper, Virginia. The injury paralyzed him from the shoulders down, and he used a wheelchair and ventilator for the rest of his life. Reeve returned to creative work, directing In the Gloaming (1997) and acting in the television remake of Rear Window (1998). He also made several appearances in the Superman-themed television series Smallville, and wrote two autobiographical books, Still Me and Nothing Is Impossible. Over the course of his career, Reeve received a BAFTA Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, an Emmy Award, and a Grammy Award.

Beginning in the 1980s, Reeve was an activist for environmental and human-rights causes and for artistic freedom of expression. After his accident, he lobbied for spinal injury research, including human embryonic stem cell research, and for better insurance coverage for people with disabilities. His advocacy work included leading the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and co-founding the Reeve-Irvine Research Center.

Personal life

While filming the first two Superman movies in England, Reeve began a ten-year relationship with modeling executive Gae Exton. Jane Seymour revealed at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2022 that Reeve and Exton had broken up prior to filming of Somewhere in Time, and during production, Reeve and Seymour fell in love. However, Reeve ended the relationship and returned to Exton upon learning that Exton was pregnant with their son Matthew Exton Reeve, who was born on December 20, 1979, followed by a daughter, Alexandra Exton Reeve, in December 1983. Both were born in London, England. In February 1987, Reeve and Gae Exton separated amicably with joint custody of their children, and Reeve returned to New York. Matthew and Alexandra remained in London with their mother and often spent their holidays with Reeve.

In June 1987, Reeve met his future wife Dana Morosini, a singer and actress. By 1991, they were living together but Reeve, remembering his parents' painful divorce and other failed marriages in his family, could not bring himself to commit. After they almost broke up, Reeve began about a year of therapy, primarily to talk through his fears about marriage. Then one night during dinner, he said "I just put down my fork and asked her to marry me." They were married in April 1992, and their son William was born on June 7, 1992. The couple remained happily married until Reeve's death.


Reeve died on October 10, 2004. His remains were cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery. His ashes were sprinkled in the wind by his family. A memorial service for Reeve was held at the Unitarian Church in Westport, Connecticut, which both Reeve and Dana had attended. Another private memorial service held at the Juilliard School three weeks later was attended by more than 900 people, with speakers.


Reeve's widow, Dana Reeve, headed the Christopher Reeve Foundation after his death. Although a non-smoker, she was diagnosed with lung cancer on August 9, 2005. She died at age 44 on March 6, 2006, and the foundation was subsequently renamed the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

Reeve's children Matthew, Alexandra, and William all serve on the board of directors for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, while Will is also a reporter for ABC News. In 2015, Alexandra and her husband welcomed a son, Christopher Russel Reeve Givens.

Google Search showed a Doodle in some countries on September 25, 2021, to celebrate Christopher Reeve's 69th birthday.


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See also

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