The unexpected death of actor and political activist Christopher Reeve this past weekend largely impacted UM students and our University community. We felt touched by Reeve’s meaningful life and were deeply saddened by losing him.
Before suffering the equestrian accident that left him paralyzed, Reeve was renown for his good looks, charm, fine acting skills and famous portrayal of Superman in the movie of the same name. But what is most admirable is that, even after the accident, Reeve continued to work, not only as an actor, but also as an advocate for spinal chord injury and paralysis research, including embryonic stem cell investigation.
Regardless of one’s point of view concerning this controversial topic, Reeve’s tenacity, optimism and strength were undeniable. Like the Man of Steel hero he played – the part that largely immortalized him as an actor – Reeve served as an inspirational role model and an icon for survival.
It takes a real-life Superman to fight as Reeve did against the difficult consequences of his accident. Faced with the same circumstances, not all of us would be able to maintain the contagious spirit and positive will to live that Reeve did. Although Reeve had access to some of the best care available in large part due to his fame and income, he used his experience to become a voice for the less fortunate in the same position as him. There are numerous examples of real-life heroes that, like Reeve, have to confront adversity and situations far too daunting for some of us to imagine. His death reminds us of the importance of overcoming obstacles and fighting for our beliefs, and this applies to individuals, groups and – why not? – even nations.
Because of his public support for embryonic stem cell research, Reeve’s name has been used in politics in the past. Sen. John Kerry brought up the actor’s name in the second presidential debate last Friday night, two days before Reeve’s passing, and Kerry said later that Reeve called him and appreciated being mentioned. Now that he’s gone, however, politicians should refrain from using his name for political benefit. In fact, Sen. John Edwards has already been criticized for speaking of Reeve in a political context after his death, and his wife was on the Today show justifying it.
Although it may be that Reeve (and his family) would have appreciated his cause being talked about, it would be lamentable that his death be over-politicized. Politicians would do well to remember this, particularly in such an intense election year where other people, like the Iraqi Olympic soccer team, have controversially been used in political advertising.
Reeve’s life would be just as memorable if this were not an election year; the significant effects of his actions were important before the election and will continue to be felt after it. Above all, Reeve will be remembered for the fine actor, role model and survivor he was…and Superman will be missed.