Remembering the Reeves

A family friend's intimate portrait of a remarkable love

 

I met Christopher Reeve when he was about to become faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It was 1977. He was 25 and filming Superman, a role that would make him an American icon; I was a photographer shooting celebrities for magazines and stills on movies.

Working on Superman, I came to like this tall, strapping actor. He and I got together for dinner one night, but I had no inkling then that he’d have such an impact on my life.

The following year, when Superman was released, I was assigned to shoot a magazine story on him, and we hung out for five days. He was great to work with – unassuming and fun. When he showed up later at an Independence Day barbecue at my home, none of my friends could believe it was Christopher Reeve, Superman.

We had lots of common interests – sports, literature, film, plays and TV. He was always curious about my work because, in addition to shooting movies, I covered wars and world events. But what really brought us together was the fact that Chris trusted me. He knew that I would never release a photograph of him unless I asked first.

In 1980, Superman II came out, and I shot another story on Chris. By then he had a son, Matthew, with modelling executive Gae Exton; two years later, daughter Alexandra arrived. I came to know the family well, often sharing holidays or downtime with them.

Warner Bros sent me to western Canada to shoot for Superman III. While scouting locations, I had a chance to go sailing and whitewater rafting with Chris. I got an idea for a spectacular shot and asked Chris if he’d ever been up in a balloon. "I’ve always wanted to, but my contract says that while I’m making Superman, I can’t fly my plane," he said. He paused, then flashed an impish grin. "But it doesn’t say anything about a balloon!"

The next day, the balloon pilot picked us up late. It was pitch-black when we landed – on a tree stump in a field. Chris and I flew out of the basket. Dazed, I stood up and yelled, "Chris, Chris." There was no answer. I thought, I’ve killed Superman! I heard moaning. "Oh, God, I think I broke everything in my body," Chris said, sounding terrible. I ran as fast as I could, and, in a shaft of moonlight, spotted him sprawled on the ground. As I knelt down to help him, Chris looked up and began laughing hysterically. I could have slugged him – he was absolutely fine.

It was sad when Chris and Gae broke up in 1987; they’d been together for about ten years. He was upset and worried about the kids; he and Gae shared joint custody.

Then, that summer, Chris met Dana Morosini.

She was singing in a cabaret. After their first meeting, Chris told me he knew she was the person he’d been looking for all his life. When I met her the next day, I asked Chris, "Does she have a sister?" She was so lovely and fun – and she gave the best hugs.

They married in 1992, and after their son Will was born, moved to Pound Ridge, New York. I’d stop by to visit on the way to my summer home. Their life seemed perfect.

Then in May 1995, their world collapsed in a moment, Chris injured his spinal cord in a horse-riding accident and was paralysed from the neck down.

A couple of months later, after Chris was transferred to a rehab centre, Dana called me. "Chris wants you to come," she said. "Bring your cameras."

When I saw my friend, paralysed, it took everything not to break down in front of him. It was difficult for Chris to talk then, but he made it clear that he wanted me to photograph him for a book he was planning. So I returned to his bedside many times.

Chris worried about the toll his condition would take on Dana. He told her, "It’s not fair for me to put this burden on you." And she said, "You have love for me, I have the same feelings and love for you, and you’re still you."

I think the only reason Chris didn’t pull the plug on himself was because of Dana’s love and her belief that they could make a life for themselves. When Chris got home, Dana became more than his wife and lover and the mother of his child. She was his nurse, his driver, his exercise therapist, his everything. She took care of him 24 hours a day, feeding him, helping him blow his nose, anything – gladly, with such joy. And she maintained her sense of humour. One night, when we were having a barbecue at their house, Dana grasped an ear of corn and announced, "Watch ‘Jaws’ in action!" She held the ear in front of Chris, and he went across it in two seconds!

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