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Death of a real super hero.

Byline: By Neville Dean

The worlds of film and medicine paid tribute yesterday to Superman actor Christopher Reeve, who has died of heart failure at the age of 52.

Reeve fell into a coma on Saturday after going into cardiac arrest while at his New York home and died on Sunday, his publicist Wesley Combs said.

He became a worldwide advocate for spinal cord research after he was paralysed from the shoulders down in a riding accident in 1995.

Professor Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, said: "Christopher Reeve was known to all of us for his campaigning and for his courage.

"It is absolutely wrong to raise false expectations about the speed with which medical research progresses, but it takes people like Reeve, with their commitment and their certainty that they will be cured, to carry it forward.

"It takes extraordinary individuals like Reeve to recognise that investment and effort is worthwhile in the long run to work for others."

Film director Michael Winner said: "I think he grew to personify a heroic struggle against disability.

"My main memory of him is of his enormous charm. He had great skill as a screen actor and was the archetypal movie star. He had great charisma."

John Cavanagh, of charity Spinal Research, who met Reeve several times, said the star's work had been "extremely significant" in raising the profile of spinal cord research and giving hope to those with injuries.

Total Film magazine editor Matt Mueller said: "He changed people's attitudes. He will be remembered for his incredible bravery. He obviously had these injuries but refused to accept it and feel sorry for himself."

Reeve was being treated at Northern Westchester Hospital for a pressure wound he had developed ( a common complication for people living with paralysis.

In the past week the wound had become severely infected, resulting in a serious systemic infection.

Reeve was a virtual unknown before he shot to superstardom in the 1978 blockbuster Superman.

The movie's producers were looking for an unknown actor to star in the title role alongside Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman.

Reeve screen-tested for the role and, through his meticulous preparation and close physical resemblance to the comic-strip hero, was given the part.

The film and its three sequels turned Reeve into a worldwide star and grossed $300m (pounds 167m).

Reeve broke his neck in May 1995 when he was thrown from his horse during an equestrian competition in Culpeper, Virginia.

Following months of therapy, he was able to breathe for longer and longer periods without a respirator.

Reeve emerged to lobby Congress for better insurance protection against catastrophic injury and to move an Academy Award audience to tears with a call for more films about social issues.

He also returned to directing, and even returned to acting in a 1998 production of Rear Window.

It was an update of the Hitchcock thriller about a man in a wheelchair who becomes convinced a neighbour has been murdered.

"Hollywood needs to do more," he said in his 1996 Oscar awards appearance.

"Let's continue to take risks. Let's tackle the issues. There is no challenge, artistic or otherwise, that we can't meet."

In 2002, his doctors said he was able to move some of his fingers and toes.

He could also feel a pin prick over most of his body and could distinguish between hot and cold and sharp and dull sensations.

At the time, doctors said the progress indicated that he might one day be able to walk again.

In an interview at the time, he said the greatest thing was being able to feel the hugs of his wife and his three children.
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 12, 2004
Previous Article:Change to screening.
Next Article:Highest in the land listened to Reeve.

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