Superman Christopher Reeve dies at age 52 - HISTORY
Year
2004

Superman Christopher Reeve dies at age 52

On this day in 2004, the actor Christopher Reeve, who became famous for his starring role in four Superman films, dies from heart failure at the age of 52 at a hospital near his home in Westchester County, New York. Reeve, who was paralyzed in a 1995 horse-riding accident, was a leading advocate for spinal cord research.

Christopher Reeve was born on September 25, 1952, in New York City, and graduated from Cornell University and the Juilliard School. He made his Broadway debut in 1976 in A Matter of Gravity, starring Katharine Hepburn. The 6’4” actor shot to fame in 1978 when he was selected over some 200 other actors for the lead in Superman. Although he would play the action hero in three more films, Reeve was determined to “escape the cape” and avoid being typecast. As a result, he took on a variety of stage and screen roles. His film credits included Somewhere in Time (1980), Deathtrap (1983), The Remains of the Day (1993) and Village of the Damned (1995).

On May 27, 1995, Reeve, a strong athlete and avid horseman, was left paralyzed from the neck down after being thrown from his horse and breaking his neck during an equestrian competition in Virginia. The actor then became a crusader for people with spinal cord injuries and also lobbied for government funding of embryonic stem-cell research. During a speech at the 1996 Academy Awards, Reeve urged the Hollywood community to make more movies about social issues. In addition to his fundraising and advocacy work, Reeve wrote two books about his life experiences and continued his acting career. In 1997, he made his directorial debut with HBO’s In the Gloaming, which was nominated for five Emmy Awards, and in 1999, he starred in a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Rear WindowThe Brooke Ellison Story, a movie based on a true story about the first quadriplegic to graduate from Harvard University.

In 2000, Reeve, who maintained an intensive physical therapy regime since the time of his accident, was able to move his index finger. He stated publicly that he was determined to walk again. In Reeve’s New York Times obituary, one of the doctors who treated him said: “Before [Reeve] there was really no hope. If you had a spinal cord injury like his there was not much that could be done, but he’s changed all that, he’s demonstrated that there is hope and that there are things that can be done.”

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Birth of the U.S. Naval Academy

The United States Naval Academy opens in Annapolis, Maryland, with 50 midshipmen students and seven professors. Known as the Naval School until 1850, the curriculum included mathematics and navigation, gunnery and steam, chemistry, English, natural philosophy, and French. The ...read more

Battle of Tours

At the Battle of Tours near Poitiers, France, Frankish leader Charles Martel, a Christian, defeats a large army of Spanish Moors, halting the Muslim advance into Western Europe. Abd-ar-Rahman, the Muslim governor of Cordoba, was killed in the fighting, and the Moors retreated ...read more

October Crisis in Canada

During the October Crisis, the Quebec Liberation Front (FLQ), a militant separatist group, kidnaps Quebec labor minister Pierre Laporte in Montreal. Five days earlier, FLQ terrorists had seized British trade commissioner James Richard Cross. In exchange for the lives of the men, ...read more

Vice President Agnew resigns

Less than a year before Richard M. Nixon’s resignation as president of the United States, Spiro Agnew becomes the first U.S. vice president to resign in disgrace. The same day, he pleaded no contest to a charge of federal income tax evasion in exchange for the dropping of charges ...read more

Achille Lauro hijacking ends

The hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro reaches a dramatic climax when U.S. Navy F-14 fighters intercept an Egyptian airliner attempting to fly the Palestinian hijackers to freedom and force the jet to land at a NATO base in Sigonella, Sicily. American and Italian ...read more

Eighth Battle of the Isonzo

On this day in 1916, Italian forces during World War I initiate the Eighth Battle of the Isonzo, essentially continuing a previous assault on Austrian positions near the Isonzo River and attempting to increase gains made during previous battles in the same region.The mountainous ...read more

1st Cavalry Division commences operations

In the first major operation since arriving the previous month, the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) joins with South Vietnamese Marines to strike at 2,000 North Vietnamese troops 25 miles from An Khe in the Central Highlands.The 1st Cavalry Division was a new kind of ...read more

Braves beat the Yanks to win World Series

On October 10, 1957, the Milwaukee Braves defeat the New York Yankees to win their first World Series since 1914. (They played in Boston then; the team moved to Wisconsin in 1953.) No one expected the Braves to beat the Bombers: After all, the New York team had already won the ...read more

Truman signs Mutual Security Act

On this day in 1951, President Harry S. Truman signs the Mutual Security Act, announcing to the world, and its communist powers in particular, that the U.S. was prepared to provide military aid to “free peoples.” The signing of the act came after the Soviet Union exploded their ...read more

Custer’s funeral is held at West Point

On this day in 1877, the U.S. Army holds a West Point funeral with full military honors for Lieutenant-Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Killed the previous year in Montana by Sioux and Cheyenne Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Custer’s body had been returned to the ...read more

Darwin publishes work on mold and worms

On this day in 1881, Charles Darwin published The Formation of Vegetable Mold Through the Action of Worms. He considered the work a more important accomplishment than his The Origin of Species (1859), which turned out to be one of the most influential and controversial books in ...read more

Great Hurricane ravages West Indies

A powerful storm slams the islands of the West Indies, killing more than 20,000 people, on this day in 1780. Known as the Great Hurricane of 1780, it was the deadliest storm ever recorded.At the time of the Great Hurricane, the American Revolution was winding down and British and ...read more

A former postal worker commits mass murder

Former U.S. postal worker Joseph Harris shoots two former co-workers to death at the post office in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The night before, Harris had killed his former supervisor, Carol Ott, with a three-foot samurai sword, and shot her fiance, Cornelius Kasten, in their home. ...read more

John Bankhead Magruder sent to Texas

On this day in 1862, Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder is given command of the Trans-Mississippi Department. A Maryland native, Magruder attended West Point and graduated in 1830. He distinguished himself during the Mexican War (1846-48) when he commanded a company ...read more