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What Happened To Christopher Reeve? The Superman Star's Tragic Accident Explained

The following article contains mentions of suicide.

Christopher Reeve remains the gold standard for Superman in live-action. The talented actor is oft-remembered as one of the greatest to wear the Man of Steel's cape and costume. However, a tragic accident in 1995 left Reeve paralyzed, changing his life forever.

Despite not having many acting credits or experience at the time, Reeve, a Juilliard-trained performer, landed the role of Clark Kent aka Superman in Richard Donner's 1978 "Superman" film. His portrayal of the clumsy reporter Kent and the iconic superhero, alongside Marlon Brando's Jor-El, Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor, and Margot Kidder's Lois Lane, are among the most iconic iterations of the DC Comics characters. Reeve reprised his role in multiple sequels, including "Superman II," "Superman III," and "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace." Even in the less beloved installments, his performance stands out.

Reeve, who was passionate about horse riding and equestrianism, saw his life change significantly in 1995 after he fell off his horse and suffered a major spinal injury, causing him to become paralyzed from the neck down. As a result, Reeve spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. However, the actor didn't let the tragedy defeat him; he continued and evolved his career in entertainment while becoming an advocate for those who endured similar injuries.

How Cristopher Reeve dealt with the tragic accident

Reeve considered ending his own life before entering rehabilitation for his serious spinal injury. His wife, Dana Reeve, was one of his biggest supporters, telling him she was going to stick by his side for the long haul: "I will support you whatever you want to do because this is your life, and your decision," Dana told Reeve according to his "Still Me," autobiography. "But I want you to know that I'll be with you for the long haul, no matter what. You're still you. And I love you." The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation was formed in 1996 and has raised millions of dollars for spinal cord research, disability support, and non-profits.

Reeve continued to work in Hollywood, including making his directorial debut with the TV movie "In the Gloaming." Additionally, he starred in a 1998 remake of Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window." Reeve kept busy, winning a Grammy Award for the spoken word version of "Still Me." In 2003, he even returned to the world of Superman, making a cameo as Dr. Virgil Swann in "Smallville," sharing a scene with Tom Welling. Reeve's last credited role was the A&E TV movie, "The Brooke Ellison Story," telling the tale of the first quadriplegic to graduate from Harvard. 

On October 10, 2004, an infection led to Reeve going into cardiac arrest. He died at 52 years old.

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How Christopher Reeve has been remembered

The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation is still active. Dana took over the charitable organization after the actor's death. She led the foundation until she passed away in 2006, with the couple's children serving on its board today.

Reeve's Superman made a somewhat controversial CGI cameo in 2023's "The Flash," alongside "Supergirl" star Helen Slater. Some considered this in bad taste as the actor has been dead for nearly 20 years, but the choice was defended by "Smallville" actor John Glover, who said Reeve would have wanted to be included in the multiversal movie. In 2024, a new documentary, "Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story," from directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, premiered at Sundance. The film focuses on Reeve's accident and his time as a disability rights activist.

Reeve's Superman remains the blueprint for what the hero should be, with "Superman" director James Gunn revealing in an interview with GQ that the actor's work will influence his take on the iconic DC character. There's little doubt he served an important dual role not just as Clark Kent aka Superman but as a performer and activist. There's a good chance no actor, no matter how excellent of a performance they can give, will ever live up to Reeve's classic take on Kal-El. But they can hope to emulate his grace.