Christopher Reeve, who as Superman was able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, now requires the strength of two adults to get him into his underpants each day. Preparing for bed is a two-hour procedure requiring a nurse and an aide who, at one point in the routine, must help the 45-year-old actor move his bowels onto a plastic sheet by pushing into his stomach to force stool down through his intestines. In the night, his feet and arms are strapped to splints to prevent clenching and atrophying, and medication is required to keep his body from going into spasms. In the morning, the ritual begins again — and that’s on a good day, an uneventful day without infections, ulcers, blood clots, bone breaks, or any one of the countless health emergencies familiar to those living with spinal cord injuries.
If only for that small window into everyday life as he has known it since he broke his neck in a horseback riding accident three years ago, Still Me would be a remarkable book. But Reeve’s autobiography is distinguished not only by the dignified candor with which he describes his utterly changed world — that of a rich and famous movie star whose affluence and celebrity cannot buy the ability to hug his wife and three children — but also by his emotional directness. ”Sometimes it can take nearly an hour to complete the bowel program, and it seems like an eternity,” Reeve writes. ”When I’m unable to detach myself mentally, I still can’t help agonizing over the accident and the twist of fate that caused me to end up this way.”
Readers will wish for all the world that Reeve had never had cause to agonize. (Had he landed with his head just the slightest bit to the right, a doctor told him, he might have gotten away with little more than bruises, rather than becoming a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic; a little more to the left and he would have died instantly.) But Still Me (an allusion to immobility, but also, unfortunately, to one of those plucky celeb-memoir titles like Sammy Davis Jr.’s Yes, I Can or Ronald Reagan’s Where’s the Rest of Me? that demeans the integrity of the text) may be the most important contribution Reeve could ever make to his healing, to his family, to his public. Because out of immeasurable struggle, the actor reveals more passion, determination, and purpose than has ever been evident — to this moviegoer, at least — in over 20 years of playing strapping, handsome, WASPy characters.
Indeed, long hours of soul-searching have resulted in a heightened eloquence. Katharine Hepburn, with whom Reeve had a close relationship in the ’70s and ’80s, used to tell her young colleague, ”Be fascinating, Christopher, be fascinating.” But with the desire to fascinate replaced by a far more elemental desire to survive, the Reeve we meet in Still Me reviews his life with strikingly little posturing and score settling for a star bio. He describes the effects of a complicated childhood with divorced parents, his rocky relationship with his brother, the ambivalence that ended his longtime relationship with Gae Exton (the mother of his 18-year-old son, Matthew, and 14-year-old daughter, Alexandra). He tells of meeting his wife, Dana Morosini, whom he married in 1992, and with whom he has a 5-year-old son, Will. He tracks his up-and-often-down acting career. (Best line: ”The less said about Superman IV the better.”)
And, of course, he talks of his accident, of his ongoing, exhausting regimen of rehabilitation, of his new role as a highly visible advocate for research and treatment toward a cure for spinal cord injury paralysis. Reeve communicates so well, in fact, that it’s easy to forget that every word of Still Me has been wrested from a body in revolt against a mind clarified by adversity. This is a feat to daunt even Superman. A