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Last Updated: Monday, 11 October, 2004, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
In the shadow of Superman
Christopher Reeve as Superman
Reeve shot to fame as Superman in 1978
Christopher Reeve, who has died aged 52, was a little-known actor before his role as comic book hero Superman in the 1978 blockbuster film catapulted him into the limelight.

But for Reeve, it was the culmination of a dream which first began at the age of nine when he won a part in Gilbert and Sullivan's Yeoman of the Guard.

Six years later, the New Yorker attended a summer school at the Williamstown theatre festival in Massachusetts.

After leaving high school, Reeve studied at Cornell university while also doing some acting work.

Meteoric rise

He then attended the famous Juillard School of Performing Arts alongside Robin Williams.

It was a role that defined his career but I'm not sure he was altogether pleased about that and would like to have been remembered for other things than Superman
Barry Norman, film critic
Reeve made his Broadway debut opposite Katharine Hepburn in A Matter of Gravity in 1976.

He made a brief big screen appearance in 1976 movie Gray Lady Down but his life changed when he successfully auditioned for Superman the same year.

The film, based on the 1938 comic book character, earned Reeve a Bafta award for best newcomer for his natural portrayal of the fumbling Clark Kent who transformed into the no-nonsense hunky hero.

He said he based Kent on Cary Grant's character in Bringing Up Baby.

Typecast

The film was a smash hit across the globe, and went on to become the highest grossing film in Warner Bros history up to that time.

Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve
Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve became friends at drama school
Reeve went on to star in Superman II, III and IV - he co-wrote the latter although it was not a big success.

He had been initially reluctant to do a fourth film.

Speaking in 1993, he said: "Look, I've flown, I've become evil, loved, stopped and turned the world backward, I've faced my peers, I've befriended children and small animals and I've rescued cats from trees.

"What else is there left for Superman to do that hasn't been done?"

Film critic Barry Norman told the BBC: "I thought he was a splendid Superman. It was a role that defined his career but I'm not sure he was altogether pleased about that and would like to have been remembered for other things than Superman.

"Indeed he tried to do other things but that was the role that every knew him for and will remember him."

Christopher Reeve
Reeve became well known in later years for his stem cell research campaign

His Superman co-stars over the years included Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp and Susannah York.

He kept only one piece of memorabilia from the films - a Superman 'S' that he cut from one of the capes.

But while Reeve went on to appear in numerous other films including Somewhere in Time (1980) and Street Smart (1987) alongside Morgan Freeman and Kathy Baker, he would always be best remembered for Superman.

Period dramas

He once said: "I asked Sean Connery on how to avoid being typecast and he said, 'First you have to be good enough that they ask you to play it again and again'".

Smallville
Reeve made a guest appearance on Smallville

He apparently turned down several roles in films such as 1987's The Running Man and 1990's Total Recall, which both went to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Reeve did take up the lead role of James Ivory's The Bostonians opposite Vanessa Redgrave in 1984.

He teamed up with Ivory again for 1993's Remains of the Day with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

And ironically, he played a cop who had been paralysed in an accident in thriller Above Suspicion in 1995.

"The change that would happen if you pick someone who is six foot four and a football player... and for him to face the fact that for the rest of his life he's going to see the world from three feet high... the psychological effect of that is profound," he said after making the movie.

Courageous campaigner

Later that year, Reeve was paralysed after a riding accident in 1995 but it did not deter him from acting.

He appeared in a 1998 production of Rear Window, a modern version of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller about a man in a wheelchair who becomes convinced that a neighbour has been murdered.

The role won him a Screen Actors Guild award.

He turned to directing in 1997 with HBO TV film In the Gloaming - it won rave reviews and was nominated for five Emmys.

And he recently made a guest appearance as an astronomer in Smallville, the TV series based on Clark Kent's teenage years.

One of his final projects was directing a TV film about a girl paralysed in a car crash.

In recent years, Reeve became almost more known for his medical research campaigns than his acting career but for many, he will be remembered first and foremost as the man of steel.




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