On May 27, 1995, Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in an accident during the cross country portion of an Eventing competition. He was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He lobbied on behalf of people with spinal cord injuries, and for human embryonic stem cell research after this accident. He founded the Christopher Reeve Foundation and co-founded the Reeve-Irvine Research Center. Reeve died at age 52 on October 10, 2004 from cardiac arrest caused by a systemic infection.
After My Life, Stark Hesseltine told Reeve that he had been asked to audition for the leading role as Clark Kent/Superman in the big budget film, Superman: The Movie (1978). Lynn Stalmaster, the casting director, put Reeve's picture and resume on the top of the pile three separate times, only to have the producers throw it out each time. Through Stalmaster's persistent pleading, a meeting between director Richard Donner, producer Ilya Salkind and Reeve was set in January 1977 at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel on Fifth Avenue. The morning after the meeting, Reeve was sent a 300 page script. He was thrilled that the script took the subject matter seriously, and that Richard Donner's motto was verisimilitude. Reeve immediately flew to London for a screen test, and on the way was told that Marlon Brando was going to play Jor-El and Gene Hackman was going to play Lex Luthor. Reeve still did not think he had much of a chance. Though he was 6 ft 4, he was a self-described "skinny WASP." On the plane ride to London, he imagined how his approach to the role would be. He later said, "By the late 1970s the masculine image had changed... Now it was acceptable for a man to show gentleness and vulnerability. I felt that the new Superman ought to reflect that contemporary male image." He based his portrayal of Clark Kent on Cary Grant in his role in Bringing up Baby. After the screen test, his driver said, "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but you've got the part."
Although Reeve was tall enough for the role and had the blue eyes and handsome features, his physique was slim. He refused to wear fake muscles under the suit, and instead went through an intense two-month training regimen supervised by former British weightlifting champion David Prowse, the man under the Darth Vader suit in the Star Wars films. The training regime consisted of running in the morning, followed by two hours of weightlifting and ninety minutes on the trampoline. In addition, Reeve doubled his food intake and adopted a high protein diet. He put on thirty pounds of muscle to his thin 190 pound frame. He later made even higher gains for Superman III (1983), though for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) he decided it would be healthier to focus more on cardiovascular workouts.
Juxtaposed images of Superman and Clark KentReeve was never a Superman or comic book fan, though he had watched Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves. However, he found that the role offered a suitable challenge because it was a dual role. He said, "there must be some difference stylistically between Clark and Superman. Otherwise, you just have a pair of glasses standing in for a character."
On the commentary track for the director's edition of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz spoke of how Reeve had talked to him about playing Superman and then playing Clark Kent. Mankiewicz then corrected Reeve, telling him that he was always, always playing Superman and that when he was Clark Kent, he was "playing Superman who was playing Clark Kent." Mankiewicz described it to Reeve as a role within the role.
During the production of the first two films, both Reeve and actor Jack O'Halloran (who played Kryptonian criminal Non in both productions) clashed in a dispute. In a October 2006 interview with Starlog Magazine, O'Halloran stated that Reeve had been polite to some of the crew and rude to others. O'Halloran would later go record as describing Reeve as an egotist. Despite this dispute, O'Halloran would later give high praise to Reeve for his work in spinal cord research and the helping of others with spinal cord injuries.
The film grossed $300,218,018 worldwide (unadjusted for inflation). Reeve received positive reviews for his performance.
Much of Superman II was filmed at the same time as the first film. After most of the footage had been shot, the producers had a disagreement with director Richard Donner about going over budget and fired him. He was replaced by director Richard Lester, who changed the script and reshot some of the footage. The cast was unhappy with this, but Reeve later said that he liked Lester and considered Superman II to be his favorite film of the series. Due to fan encouragement, Richard Donner's version of Superman II, titled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, was released on DVD in 2006 and dedicated to Reeve.
Superman III, released in 1983, was filmed entirely by Lester. Reeve believed that the producers ruined it by turning it into a Richard Pryor comedy. He missed Richard Donner and believed that Superman III's only saving grace was the junkyard scene in which evil Superman fights Clark Kent in an internal battle.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, released in 1987, was initially never going to be made; after Superman III, Reeve vowed that he was done with Superman. However, he accepted the role on the condition that he would have partial creative control over the script. The nuclear disarmament plot was his idea. The production rights were given to Cannon Films, who cut the budget in half to $17 million. The film was a major flop and Reeve later said, "the less said about Superman IV the better."
On February 25, 2003, Reeve appeared in the television series Smallville as Dr. Swann in the episode "Rosetta". In that episode, Dr. Swann brings to Clark Kent (Tom Welling) information about where he comes from and how to use his powers for the good of mankind. The scenes of Reeve and Welling feature music cues from the 1978 Superman movie, composed by John Williams and arranged by Mark Snow. At the end of this episode, Reeve and Welling did a short spot inviting people to support the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.
Reeve also appeared in the Smallville episode "Legacy", in which he met again with fellow stage actor John Glover who played Lionel Luthor in the show. "Rosetta" set ratings history for The WB network
- Superman - Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
- Dr Virgil Swann - 2 episodes