Christopher Reeve will forever be remembered for his landmark portrayal of the titular role in Superman, one of the best superhero movies of all time. But the feats pulled off by the “Man of Steel” in the various movies pale in comparison to the real-life heroics of the man who didn’t let a devastating accident and subsequent paralysis stop him from being a hero to countless people around the world and generations to come.

With the upcoming release of Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story, a documentary about the late actor’s life, career, and friendship with Robin Williams, we thought now would be a good a time as any to look back on his life and legacy, and how he’s still a hero to so many nearly 20 years after his passing. 

It’s not a bird, it’s not a plane, it’s a real-life Superman!

Christopher Reeve stands surprised while dressed in period garb in Somewhere In Time.

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

In 1987, Christopher Reeve Flew To Chile To Fight For 77 Actors Threatened With Execution By The Country’s Dictatorial Regime

In 1987, just months after starring in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Christopher Reeve embarked upon an actual quest for peace when he traveled to Chile to offer support for 77 actors who were being threatened with execution by the country’s dictatorial regime. According to the New York Times, the actor, who was between productions at the time, answered the call to fly down to the South American nation and speak in support of the group while also raising awareness for their plight.

Not only was the visit successful in saving the lives of the persecuted actors, but the event changed the way Reeve looked at life and the world around him. In the years that followed, especially after the 1995 equestrian accident that resulted in him being paralyzed from the neck down, Reeve continued to fight for injustices around the world. 

Christopher Reeve as Superman in Superman IV

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Christopher Reeve Was Heavily Involved In Programs Helping Sick Children And The Disabled Throughout His Life

Throughout his life, Reeve was heavily involved with various programs and initiatives that had the goal of helping sick children and the disabled, making the world a better place in the process. In a 1988 Time Magazine profile on the 50th anniversary of the Superman comics, Reeve opened up about how he was impacted by the work the role had allowed him to do, saying:

It’s very hard for me to be silly about Superman because I’ve seen firsthand how he actually transforms people’s lives. I have seen children dying of brain tumors who wanted as their last request to talk to me, and have gone to their graves with a peace brought on by knowing that their belief in this kind of character is intact. I’ve seen that Superman really matters. It’s not Superman the tongue-in-cheek cartoon character they’re connecting with; they’re connecting with something very basic: the ability to overcome obstacles, the ability to persevere, the ability to understand difficulty and to turn your back on it.

Whether it was through his work with the Make-a-Wish foundation, the Special Olympics, or countless others, Reeve was committed to helping those who needed a hero the most. Honestly, the world’s a better place because of it.

Christopher Reeve at the Oscars

(Image credit: The Academy Awards)

Reeve Challenged Hollywood To ‘Tackle The Issues’ At The Oscars, 10 Months After His 1995 Accident

In March 1996, just 10 months after being left paralyzed following a freak horse-riding accident, the actor made an appearance at the 68th Academy Awards that brought the entire crowd to its feet. When presenting a montage on films that address social issues, Reeve spoke about his new life and teased what was to come from him in the years the followed.

The emotional speech, which still sticks with Reeve’s son decades later, also included a call to action for Hollywood to “do more,” continue to take more risks, and “tackle the issues” saying that the film community could do it in ways better than anyone else. Despite everything that had happened to him up to that point, Reeve did just that and continued to “tackle the issues” for the rest of his life and beyond. 

Christopher Reeve in Rear Window

(Image credit: ABC)

Reeve Kept A Positive Attitude And Strove To ‘Do Something’ With His Life Despite His Paralysis

No one would have held anything against Christopher Reeve if he had simply given up after being left paralyzed, but the Superman star wasn’t going to sit back and watch the world go by without doing something. In a CBS News profile about him following his October 2004 death, a quote by Reeve from a previous interview with The Insider’s Pat O’Brien laid out the decision he made after the accident:

You have two choices: you can vegetate and do nothing, or you can get out and active and do something.

And “do something” Reeve did in the final decade of his life. Speaking engagements, books, charity events, and even a career in filmmaking all followed between 1995 and 2004. Doing more in a short stretch of time than most complete in a lifetime, Reeve became a real-life Superman with an enduring legacy.

Christohper Reeve on the Late Show with David Letterman

(Image credit: CBS)

The Superman Actor Was Instrumental In Passing Laws That Helped The Disabled

Reeve’s work for the disabled didn’t stop with speaking engagements, donations, or outreach. In fact, he helped lead a crusade that went all the way to Congress and created legislation that would have an impact on countless people for years to come. According to the Library of Congress, Reeve and the National Organization for Disabilities (NOD) helped pass the 1999 Work Incentives Improvement Act, which allowed people with disabilities to receive their benefits even after going back to work. 

In the final years of his life, Reeve fought tirelessly in support of Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, which was ultimately passed and gave out $3 billion for research. However, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, Reeve passed away before it was passed in November 2004.

Christopher Reeve on Oprah

(Image credit: Harpo Productions)

In The Years Following His Accident, The Actor Founded The Christopher Reeve Foundation

In the years following the accident that changed his life and the world in general, Christopher Reeve, his late wife, Danna, and the American Paralysis Association came together as the Christopher Reeve Foundation (it later became the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation following Dana’s 2006 passing). But, Reeve’s name wasn’t just placed on the foundation, as the Superman star worked tirelessly in the organization’s operations to raise awareness and outreach for the disabled community around the world.

With a mission for “today’s care, tomorrow’s rescue,” the foundation has been instrumental in some of the biggest initiatives impacting people living with a disability for the past few decades, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Though he’s been gone for nearly 20 years, the impact of Christopher Reeve’s heroism can still be felt today. With Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story set for release later on the 2024 movie schedule, we’ll be hearing much more about this real-life Superman for quite some time.

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