- The Washington Times - Monday, October 11, 2004

Christopher Reeve, who found box office success as “Superman” and later became a highly visible activist for spinal cord injuries after a 1995 horseback-riding accident left him paralyzed from the neck down, died Sunday. He was 52.

The cause of death, said his publicist, was complications from an infection caused by a bedsore. Mr. Reeve went into cardiac arrest Saturday and died the following day in Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y.

In recent years, the indomitable Mr. Reeve, through his intense lobbying efforts aimed at spinal cord research, used his star power to inspire millions who suffered debilitating injuries. The issue — primarily stem-cell research — has sparked intense debate in this year’s presidential campaign, pitting liberals against conservatives.

“We are distraught at the loss of our vice chairman, ” said Michael R. Deland, chairman of the National Organization on Disability. “During his quest for the cure, he managed to find time to comfort” millions of people with disabilities.

Former President George Bush serves as honorary chairman of the group. Yesterday, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry called Mr. Reeve “truly America’s hero.”

The once-strapping Mr. Reeve struggled to breathe through a tube, but his personal commitment and belief that a cure for paralysis would be found turned him into a national spokesman. Friends say it often took him up to four hours to dress, but he was determined to attend meetings on Capitol Hill and make television appearances.

He vowed he would walk again.

Immediately after the 1995 accident, Mr. Reeve wanted to remove his breathing tubes. He was ready to die. Robin Williams showed up at the hospital, wearing green scrubs and a mask, burst into Mr. Reeve’s room and announced himself — in a rough foreign accent — as the patient’s new proctologist.

“It was then that Christopher laughed and realized that he had much to live for,” Mr. Deland said.

At 6-foot-4, the graceful actor continued his career after breaking his neck. He appeared most recently on the WB series “Smallville” and in 1999 won a Screen Actors Guild award for best actor for his performance in a television remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”

“Setting a goal that seems a bit daunting actually is very helpful toward recovery,” he once said.

With his matinee-idol good looks, Mr. Reeve was a natural for Hollywood. Born Sept. 25, 1952, in New York City, he made his first stage appearance at 10 in a Princeton, N.J., theater. After graduating from Cornell University in 1974, he attended the Juilliard School in New York, where he roomed with Mr. Williams.

He starred in four of the “Superman” films, from 1978 to 1987. Mr. Reeve later showed his comedic bent in several films and dabbled in directing. He also wrote a book about his ordeal, “Still Me.”

Mr. Reeve is survived by his wife, Dana, 12-year-old son Will, and two children from a previous relationship, Matthew, 25, and Alexandra, 21.

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