Creator / Christopher Reeve

"He wasn't just here to be an actor. He was Superman."
Richard Donner

Christopher Reeve (September 25, 1952 - October 10, 2004) was an American actor whose most famous role is Superman and who showed that brilliant acting has a valuable place even in special-effect-heavy fantasy films like the Super Hero genre, but ended up being much more than that.

He initially studied at Juillard's theatrical arts program with his roommate Robin Williams, but eventually graduated from Cornell. His major professional gigs were simultaneously in the Soap Opera, Love Of Life and in the Broadway play, A Matter of Gravity. In the latter, he became a close enough friend to the play's star, Katharine Hepburn, to get the gossip columns fluttering (despite the fact that she was old enough to be his mother). Eventually, he left and eventually appeared in his first Hollywood film, Grey Lady Down.

His most famous role came after the producers had a frustrating hunt for the Super Hero and Reeve himself was rejected three times before director Richard Donner and producer Ilya Salkind finally had a face to face meeting with this unknown actor. At that, he was signed on with an exercise regime supervised by David Prowse (better known to the world as the guy wearing the Darth Vader costume). In the film, Reeve proved a more valuable asset than anyone could have guessed with such skill making the world feel that they could believe a man could fly considering he piloted a glider for a hobby and thus knew how to make his flying scenes seem real. Even more amazingly, Reeve showed that Clark Kenting can really seem to work if you are a good enough actor. At that, Reeve instantly eclipsed his top billed co-stars, Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, as the true star of Superman and a leading light of the rise of the modern fantasy film. For instance, after the The Muppet Show did their gloriously wacky Star Wars episode, the only way to follow up on that classic was to have the other contemporary fantasy superstar, Reeve, do the next one.

After the success of the first two Superman films it appeared that Reeve was poised to become one of Hollywood's next great leading men (John Wayne himself reportedly proclaimed him as such), but his career unfortunately proved turbulent with his artistic standards and desire for roles that would help offset any potential Superman typecasting leading him to turn down roles in American Gigolo, The World According to Garp, Splash, Fatal Attraction, Pretty Woman, Romancing the Stone, Lethal Weapon and Body Heat. Instead he starred in a mixed bag of films like Somewhere in Time, Street Smart, The Remains of the Day and Village of the Damned (1995), while the Superman series was gradually misused by the producers who dismissed Donner and replaced him with Richard Lester, who had a fatal contempt for the comics, which drove the franchise into the ground. His villainous role in Deathtrap is probably Reeve's best non-Superman performance.

Even his real life had heroic moments such as when he went to Chile, which was under the murderous tyranny of Augusto Pinochet, to help a group of artists that were under arrest. Later, he appeared in commercials for the 1988 referendum for the "No" side to urge the people to vote to strip the dictator of his power, which can be seen in the Academy Award-nominated Chilean film No.

In 1995, Reeve had a serious horseriding accident that led to a catastrophic spinal cord injury, rendering him quadriplegic. However, with the help of his wife and Williams, Reeve refused to surrender to his despair and became a universally hailed advocate for spinal cord research and the disabled. He even continued in his artistic career under the circumstances as a director and even starred in a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window on TV and guest appearances on Smallville.

Sadly, he died in 2004 in a typical lifespan for a person suffering his kind of injuries. At the end, he was hailed as a hero who never needed a cape after all.

Tropes invoked by this actor:

  • Becoming the Mask: Not by his own admission, but his personality on and off screen have had fans old and new dub him "The Real Superman".
  • Bittersweet Ending: He died when he was only 52 years old after living with his paralysis for ten years, but at the end he had at least regained some movement in his fingers and toes and had regained more feeling throughout his body allowing him to differentiate hot and cold temperatures again.
  • The Casanova: Reeve was said to have been quite the babe magnet back in his college days. Former roommate Robin Williams said he used to try hooking up with the girls Reeve politely declined to date.
  • Clark Kenting: People to this day still think that Superman and Clark Kent were portrayed by different actors because of Reeve's performance.
  • Determinator: Vowed that he would walk again and was even able to regain quite a bit of movement and feeling in his body.
  • Disabled Character, Disabled Actor: After his accident, all of his roles became this by necessity. He was, though, the original inspiration for the creation of the trope page.invoked
  • Dyeing for Your Art: He trained with David Prowse (the body of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy), and dyed his blonde hair blacknote  in preparing to play Superman.invoked
  • Everyone Went to School Together: Kevin Conroy was also at Julliard at the same time, almost becoming Christopher's roommate before Robin Williams was chosen. You read that right, Superman and Batman could have been roommates.
  • Horsing Around: Reeve was competing at a horse trial when his horse suddenly stopped one or two strides out from a cross-country jump, catapulting Reeve head-first into the fence. No one knows why the horse stopped—Reeve shouldn't have been riding him if he didn't have confidence in him—but the horse apparently either lacked confidence in himself or had his own ideas as to whether that particular obstacle was safe to jump.
    • By all accounts, Reeve was wearing the proper gear (helmet, etc) and was riding properly and not showboating or showing off; this was simply a random accident. Which makes it all the more tragic.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Reeve auditioned for quite a few different projects and several, including his initial Superman screen tests, were not convinced of his acting potential. The thing was he had an unflinching charisma that was atypical of the leading men of his day, as he wasn't trying to mug for the camera and many perceived it as more of a Dull Surprise. But a few recognized that talent, and became emblematic of the Superman character.
  • Large Ham: Although he's primarily known for nuanced dramatic performances, he'd occasionally show off a sillier side and overact his heart out to get a laugh (his performance of Hamlet on The Muppet Show being a good example).
  • Nice Guy: By most accounts Reeve was said to have been a genuinely nice, friendly man in real life.
  • Passing the Torch: The first Smallville guest spot is arguably that moment.
  • True Companions: He and Robin Williams had a very close relationship starting from when they were at Julliard together. While there, they promised each other that whoever made it first would take care of the other. When Reeve had his accident and was about to have a risky surgery that could have killed him, Williams burst into his room pretending to be a Russian proctologist and made Reeve laugh for the first time since becoming paralyzed which made Reeve realize that he still had the will to live. Williams was a constant supporter of Reeve, even helping to cover his friend's medical costs, and after both Reeve and Reeve's wife passed away, swore that he would take care of their now-orphaned son.