‘Superman’ star Christopher Reeve’s accident while horseback riding was devastating, but he still inspired his fans (1995)

Christopher Reeve as Superman and after his horse riding accident - Christopher Reeve's accident

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Christopher Reeve’s accident was a shock to the nation

On May 27, 1995, actor/producer/equestrian Christopher Reeve was jumping his horse in a competition when his Thoroughbred stopped short just before a jump. Reeve was thrown forward, landed head-first, then lost consciousness and stopped breathing.

Thanks to lifesaving measures taken by paramedics, doctors, and other hospital workers, Christopher survived… but he would never be the same. He had broken his first and second vertebrae, injuring his cervical spine, which paralyzed him from the shoulders down. 

Christopher Reeve horse injury newspaper stories - Paralyzed in 1995

While he went through periods of extreme grief, eventually, he was able to avoid giving in to despair. In fact, after some time, he did the opposite, and became a strong advocate and activist for people living with paralysis.

With his wife Dana at his side, Reeve helped advance innovative research to improve the quality of life for injured people and their families, and also dedicated a considerable amount of energy to helping neuroscientists find a way to repair damaged spinal cords.

The couple joined forces with the American Paralysis Association (APA), and formed the Christopher Reeve Foundation around 1999.

As the foundation’s website explains, “Christopher Reeve put a human face on spinal cord injury and had an unrelenting drive to pursue the best research in the world. It was his vision, his passion, and his brilliance that attracted young scientists to take on the cause and advance the field of spinal cord research.”

Dana Reeve and husband Christopher Reeve in 2000
Dana Reeve and her husband Christopher Reeve in 2000 (Photo by Laurence Agron | Dreamstime.com)

Christopher Reeve died on October 10, 2004, at age 52, leaving behind his wife and three children — a son and daughter from a previous relationship, and a son, Will, born in 1992.

In another heartbreaking turn of events, Dana Reeve died of lung cancer on March 6, 2006. 

The foundation was renamed to honor the couple, and their goals continue to be fulfilled. Here’s how their mission was defined as of 2023:

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation is dedicated to curing spinal cord injury by funding innovative research and improving the quality of life for individuals and families impacted by paralysis. By uniting the brightest minds in the field, we are working tirelessly to accelerate scientific discovery across the field of spinal cord research by investing in labs across the globe.

Additionally, through a cooperative agreement with the Administration for Community Living, the Reeve Foundation’s National Paralysis Resource Center (NPRC) promotes the health, well-being, and independence of people living with paralysis, providing comprehensive information, resources, and referral services assisting over 120,000 individuals and families since its launch in 2002.

Superman, starring Christopher Reeve

‘Superman’ star Reeve paralyzed in fall from horse (1995)

Charlottesville, Va — Actor Christopher Reeve, star of “Superman” movies, was paralyzed and breathing with the help of a respirator Wednesday after suffering a severe neck injury over the weekend, doctors said.

Reeve, 42, was thrown off a horse Saturday during trials for an equestrian event and landed on his head.

“Mr Reeve currently has no movement or spontaneous respiration. He may require surgery to stabilize the upper spine in the near future,” said Dr John Jane, chairman of the neurosurgery department and Reeve’s attending physician.

Reeve was in serious but stable condition at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Jane said. He said it is premature to speculate about the actor’s long-term prognosis.

Actor Christopher Reeve horse accident newspaper headlines

Reeve was riding in Commonwealth Park in Culpeper, Va, along with 300 other contenders hoping to qualify for the Commonwealth Dressage and Combined Training Association, according to local newspaper reports. He was on the third of 15 jumps on a cross-country course when his horse, Eastern Express, stopped, throwing Reeve.

Reeve, an accomplished rider who owns several horses, was injured despite wearing protective gear.

“He has sustained complex fractures to the first and second cervical vertebrae that have resulted in an injury to the spinal cord,” Jane said in a statement. “The extent of the damage is not known.”

Relatives of the actor — who played the title role in “Superman” in 1978 and in three sequels — had gathered at the hospital, including his wife Dana Morosini and former girlfriend Gae Exton, with whom Reeve has two children.

Christopher Reeve's accident - People magazine cover - June 12 1995

Reeve began his acting career in summer stock and appeared on the television soap opera “Love of Life” while still in college.

Reeve debuted on Broadway in “A Matter of Gravity” in 1976, playing Katharine Hepburn’s grandson, and later starred in “Fifth of July.”

Despite his acting credits and he-man good looks, Reeve was a virtual unknown when he was chosen out of 200 candidates to become the big screen’s incarnation of “Superman.”

In 1993, he was seen in the film “The Remains of the Day,” which was filmed in the English countryside, and gave Reeve the chance to indulge his passion for the horses. But even there, it was hard to shrug off his superhero image.

“I managed to sort of sneak away and go riding with the Duke of Beaufort’s master of the hunt,” Reeve said in a 1993 interview on Cable News Network. “It is very strange to walk into the House and Hound, some pub from the 15th century in the middle of Wilshire someplace, then — ‘Aye, it’s Superman, here he comes…'”

ALSO SEE: Time travel & romance lit up the 1980 movie ‘Somewhere in Time,’ starring Christopher Reeve & Jane Seymour

Christopher Reeve’s accident did not keep him from helping others (2001)

Christopher Reeve is seen here at the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation gala in New York on November 13, 2001.

Christopher Reeve in 2001
Photo by CJ Contino/everett225/Deposit Photos

Dana Reeve & baby Will Reeve on the cover of Working Mother magazine before Christopher Reeve’s accident (March 1994)

Dana Reeve on the cover of Working Mother magazine (March 1994)

AND DON’T MISS: Superman, starring Christopher Reeve, turned a superhero into a movie star (1978)

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