September 27, 2007

Reeve ’74, Activist and Hero

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“In this place, Christopher Reeve is a hero,” says Prof. Stephen Cole, theater. Christopher Reeve ’74, the actor, the director and the activist, accomplished many outstanding things in his life, both at Cornell and during his career as an actor. Reeve’s legacy is everlasting, not only due to his famous role in Superman but also for his activities after he suffered a life-altering horseback riding accident. After becoming paralyzed, Reeve became an activist for those with spinal cord injuries and neurological disorders.
Reeve was born on September 25, 1952, in New York City and grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. There, he was involved in school plays and was the President of the Drama Club and the Student Director of The Glee Club at his high school. Upon graduation, Reeve followed in his grandfather’s footsteps in attending Cornell. There was a 90-year legacy between Reeve’s family and Cornell, as Reeve’s grandfather, Horace Lamb ’16 earned both his A.B. degree and his law degree from Cornell in 1919. At Cornell, Reeve excelled in the theater program, staring as 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.
“[Reeve was] a big, beautiful guy who everybody liked,” said Cole, who directed Reeve in The Winter’s Tale. “He was charming and had a fun demeanor.”
Instead of completing his senior year at Cornell, Reeve attended the Julliard School of Performing Arts, where he was one of two students to be accepted into the program — the other student being Robin Williams.
Reeve still received his degree from Cornell, however, becoming a member of the 1974 graduating class. Reeve’s most famous role was his 1978 debut as Superman. He appeared in 17 films, dozens of made-for-TV movies and over 150 plays. Reeve wrote his autobiography, Still Me, in 1998. Reeve also made his directorial debut with In the Gloaming in 1997 and the film went on to be nominated for five Emmys and won six Cable Ace Awards, including Best Dramatic Special and Best Director.
However, Reeve’s life changed drastically in 1995, when he was thrown off of his horse during an equestrian competition and instantly became paralyzed from the neck down. Reeve was able to find strength in this tragedy, as he remained a loving father and husband while becoming an activist for those with central nervous system disorders.
Through his role as the chair of the board of the Christopher Reeve Foundation, a national, non-profit organization supporting research on paralysis caused by nervous system disorders, and Vice Chair of the National Organization on Disability, Reeve was instrumental in raising awareness for and researching spinal cord injuries.
Reeve passed away of heart failure in 2004 at the age of 52. In Reeve’s memory, Cornell dedicated a plaque to him at the Schwartz Center and created the Christopher Reeve ’74 Scholarship Fund. Christopher Reeve will be remembered forever, as he was more than just a talented and handsome actor, but an advocate for others and an inspiration to us all.