Still Me by Christopher Reeve

(No Series)

The whole world held its breath when Christopher Reeve struggled for life on Memorial Day, 1995.  On the third jump of a riding competition, Reeve was thrown headfirst from his horse in an accident that broke his neck and left him unable to move or breathe.

In the years since then, Reeve has not only survived, but has fought for himself, for his family, and for the hundreds of thousands of people with spinal cord injuries in the United States and around the world.  And he has written Still Me, the heartbreaking, funny, courageous, and hopeful story of his life.

With dignity and sensitivity, he describes the journey he has made--physically, emotionally, spiritually.  He explores his complex relationship with his parents, his efforts to remain a devoted husband and father, and his continuing and heroic battle to rebuild his life.

This is the determined, passionate story of one man, a gifted actor and star, and how he and his family came to grips with the kind of devastating, unexplainable shock that fate can bring to any of us.  Chris and Dana Reeve have gathered the will and the spirit to create a new life, one responsive and engaged and focused on the future.

 "I have to stop this cascade of memories, or at least take them out of their drawer only for a moment, have a brief look, and put them back. I know how to do it now: I have to take the key to acting and apply it to my life. There is no other way to survive except to be in the moment. Just as my accident and its aftermath caused me to redefine what a hero, I've had to take a hard look at what it means to live as fully as possible in the present. How do you survive int he moment when it's bleak and painful and the past seems so seductive?"

Being a huge Superman fan, of course I already knew who Christopher Reeve was. He soared into the sky in the original Superman and its sequels when I was born and growing up, but sadly I didn’t pay the man in the blue cape much attention until I became a superhero fan later in life. Even if I wasn’t a big fan of the movies or any of the stories back then, I was one of many who heard the tragic news of his riding accident. I remember my father, who always loved Superman, who always loved horses, discussing the tragedy with my mother. I remember her watching Christopher Reeve in ‘Somewhere in Time’ and remarking what a good movie it was.

Now as a fan of both the man and the legend, I was fascinated by this autobiography, which speaks in great detail of his accident, the tragedy of struggling with it, the medical procedures and all the horrors his body went through at first and would continue to struggle with for the duration. Only after he discussed the tragedy and the aftermath of that wake did he discuss, in detail, how he became established as an actor. The book initially begins with the accident, merging smoothly with reflections on relationships and commitment issues. Once the acting had taken off only is Dana then mentioned, and the relationship sounded from his words as romantic and powerful as it seemed portrayed to the media.

I knew he was an actor already, but I had no idea until this book how active and well accomplished he was with so much – horseback riding obviously, but other than that he always loved playing the piano player. It was a consideration for a lifelong career and he had been playing at concert level since childhood. He was also an enthusiastic sailor who spent weekends with his family, riding the heights of life on the water. He was a pilot as well, again an amazing feat. He also enjoyed playing a large variety of sports.

His enthusiasm for acting is obviously incredible. He speaks of his trials and triumphs, how he learned, his different methods of learning and how he learned through trial and error to try what worked and what not. Any fan of acting, whether you are a fan of him or not, would enjoy these segments of the book immensely. He chronicles his starting point especially and what roles and relationships meant to him. It was particularly interesting when he went back to acting later and discussed in detail directing a movie when he was paralyzed and all the difficulties encountered by it. Also his period of inactivity and frustration with acting when his career was on a bad streak. I do wish he would have mentioned much more about Superman than he did, but he discussed these movies less besides the audition and successes of the first one.

What makes this book work so wonderfully well is Reeve tells his story with utter honesty but not with expecting sympathy (which is impossible not to give). He tells his tales of acting and his enthusiasm with humility and for a love of the art and craft of doing it. He enthuses about all life has to offer and how blessed he’s been in so many sports, music, activities, and of course his family and children.

His writing tone is wonderfully complex but simple – it’s easy to read his emotions coming clear through the writing. Tragedy seeps through the pages easily, and, even though he is not a professional writer, the emotions come through. It does switch around a bit with life and where it’s at and how he came to be who he is, and he doesn’t speak in too much detail of his family life, but overall it is a detailed portrayal of his life and worthy to be called an autobiography.

The end of the book includes speeches he has delivered. The book ends on hope with the potentials of a cure or at least progress for him and for so many others. Throughout the writing of his book you see his struggle to come to terms with his new life and do the best he can with it. But while it is coping as well as it can be coping, the last paragraph especially haunts and I found it especially beautiful.

Christopher Reeve will always stand in my mind as Superman.

   Book Quotes:

"When the first Superman movie came out I was frequently asked 'What is a hero?' I remember the glib response I repeated so many times. My answer was that a hero is someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences--a soldier who crawls out of a foxhole to drag an injured buddy to safety. And I also meant individuals who are slightly larger than life: Houdini and Lindbergh, John Wayne, JFK, and Joe DiMaggio. Now my definition is completely different. I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles: a fifteen-year-old boy who landed on his head while wrestling with his brother, leaving him barely able to swallow or speak; Travis Roy, paralyzed in the first thirty seconds of a hockey game in his freshman year at college. These are real heroes, and so are the families and friends who have stood by them."

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