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Super Christopher Reeve

Getty Images / Larry Ellis Collection

Super Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve never planned to be an action hero.

After his legendary performance in Superman, he found that he was being offered action movie after action movie – Romancing the Stone, Lethal Weapon, The Bounty. It's not surprising that producers wanted to capitalize on his newfound image as the world's greatest superhero, but Reeve wasn't interested. A classically-trained actor, he commented, "I found most of the scripts of that genre poorly constructed, and I felt the starring roles could easily be played by anyone with a strong physique."

Reeve turned down the action scripts (with the exception of the Superman sequels), preferring to take roles that offered him an acting challenge and let him stretch his wings – both onscreen and on the Broadway stage. Somewhere in Time was the movie he chose to star in immediately after his breakout success in Superman. It was another sci-fi film… but it didn't call for Reeve to don tights or a cape.

In 1985, Reeve flew again… though this time, in an airplane. The Aviator allowed him to use his skill at flying an airplane – he did his own stunts.

Reeve's 1995 horseback riding accident shocked his fans – thrown from his horse, he suffered a cervical spinal injury and became paralyzed from the neck down. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, but he remained active, taking occasional acting roles, directing and producing, and serving as a passionate advocate for stem cell research. Reeve firmly believed that he could overcome his injury and one day walk again. Indeed, he had begun to make improvements, regaining some feeling and moving his finger on command. But Reeve didn't have time to make a full recovery. In October of 2004, he died of cardiac arrest, probably a reaction to an antibiotic he was taking.

Today would have been Christopher Reeve's 60th birthday. Though we respect his desire to be more than an action star – and we love his smart, nuanced performances in serious movies – we can't help remembering him as a hero. After all, he was Superman.