I have recently been hearing about Man of Steel, the latest Superman film soon to hit the cinemas, starring Henry Cavill as the eponymous superhero. I am reminded at this point of one of the previous actors who played Superman, my favourite and the one I best remember, Christopher Reeve. I vividly recall going to the movies to see him in the first film when I was around 12 years old, with my mother and two brothers, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. So, no doubt due to that experience being in my formative years, he is the actor I always think of as Superman, and was the best in my opinion.
This famous disabled actor was also a screenwriter, producer, author, director and activist. He became very prominent in activism for the disabled after being confined to a wheelchair himself. Unfortunately he became paralysed and wheelchair-bound as a result of an accident in 1995, where he was thrown from a horse, whilst riding in a competitive event. He was thrown off over the horse’s head, and landed on his own head. At 6’4” tall, the whole of his body weight crushed his neck and it snapped, and his skull literally became separated from his spinal cord, and had to be surgically reattached. After his accident he needed breathing apparatus and the wheelchair for the rest of his life (a period of only around 9 years after that). Unable to use his arms to operate his wheelchair, he used a specially-powered one which was activated by blowing air through a straw.
After Reeve broke his neck and was left quadriplegic, he went on to become a tremendous campaigner for spinal injuries and disability rights, until his untimely death in 2004. He set up the Christopher Reeve Foundation, (now called the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. It is currently being headed by Reeve's widow, Dana). This organisation is dedicated to finding cures for spinal injuries, including the use of embryonic stem cell research (A controversial subject, something I am in two minds about myself. In principle I don't like the idea of experimenting on embryos, but if it helps to save lives and to give people back their health and quality of life, I can see that it may have its place in medicine).
Apparently Reeve always dealt very bravely and stoically with his disability, which must have been completely devastating to him, especially as he had been a very strong and physically active man before. There is something really tragically ironic about an actor who played the Man of Steel, the invincible superhero, ending up completely paralysed and wholly dependent on other people. He always fervently hoped and worked to find a cure for his own spinal injury so that he might be able to walk again, but sadly that never happened in the remainder of his life. However he left behind not only an impressive legacy in films, but also the charitable foundation which bears his name, which has given new hope to so many similarly paralysed people. So he was not just a superhero on screen, but also a superhero for the disabled.
Hope you enjoyed this blog. Your votes and comments are always appreciated.
Picture courtesy of www.realistichd.com