Christopher Reeve (1952 - 2004) was an actor best known for playing Superman in the legendary films based on the DC Comics. After being paralysed from the neck down in a horse-riding accident, he became a fierce advocate for those with a disability.
Despite the worldwide fame generated by Superman, by the mid-90s Reeves’ star had started to fade. He still continued to enjoy a prolific film and theatre career but featured in flops and low-budget, poorly rated films. All of this came to a halt in 1995 when during a competition, Reeve’s show horse pulled out of a jump. Reeve fell from the horse, landing on his head and smashing his first and second vertebrae. He was unable to breathe for three minutes and only the fast response from paramedics saved him. He was to be paralysed for the rest of his life. Due to spinal cord damage, he would also receive daily round-the-clock care from a team of staff, while reliant on a respirator to breathe.
For a while afterwards, Reeve struggled intensely with the reality of his condition. He believed himself to be a burden to his family and even considered taking his own life. Eventually, he was able to find solace in his work. He began undertaking speaking engagements and resumed acting roles. He also began a burgeoning directorial career.
With Reeve still in the headlines, he decided to put the coverage to good use. He chaired the American Paralysis Association and lobbed in public for greater medical and financial support for those with disabilities; specifically, spinal cord injury. He would also publicly lobby President Bush for an increase in funds to undergo valuable stem cell research. The APA later became the Christopher Reeve Foundation, aimed at rapidly improving the lives of those living with spinal cord injury.
Over the years, Reeve underwent various experimental procedures in an effort to improve his condition. Whilst his condition never really improved, he was able to slightly move his head and shoulders and feel slight sensations in his limbs, which he attributed to the experiments. It was never ascertained whether the experiments truly had an effect, but it didn’t matter, as Reeve became even more of an inspiration for millions over the globe.
Despite his progress with activism, Reeve’s health started to decline. He suffered various life-threatening blood clots and infections, as a result of his quadriplegia. His final public appearance was at Chicago’s Rehabilitation Institute, speaking in favour of the hospital’s treatment and research efforts. Five days later, he suffered a cardiac arrest and fell into a coma. He passed away the following day.
Since his foundation’s inception, over $140 million has been donated to stem-cell research, therapeutic cloning and research on spinal cord injuries. It was Reeve’s belief that such innovative and targeted research would dramatically improve the lives of those with spinal cord injury and maybe even help them to one day walk again. During his lifetime, Reeve was universally respected for his advocacy. To this day, he’s credited for the many research developments of the last three decades.