When I reminisce about my film-school days at NYU, I never forget Christopher Reeve coming in to screen his then-latest film, 1987's Street Smart, which is about a news reporter who fabricates a story that lands him in hot water. What struck me more than the gritty movie and Reeve's intelligent discussion afterward about trying to shed his superhero image was seeing him pass me on the street after he left the building. He actually seemed a bit lonely as he ambled down Broadway that night, the man who played the iconic Superman in four movies. Then again, despite being a friend to the world, wasn't the Man of Steel really alone? My brief real-life revelation underscored what made Reeve so great in the part: He was capable of being not only strong and brave but vulnerable as well. He was not only Superman but also Everyman.
Following his unfortunate equestrian accident in 1995, Reeve became a new sort of superhero, battling paralysis and showing that there is hope of a cure for spinal-cord injuries. In many ways, he became more of a role model in real life than he was on the screen, although his mission was certainly an extension of his art. When I interviewed him a year prior to his death, he embodied the admirable qualities of his on-screen alter ego: intelligence, thoughtfulness, and compassion, with a strong sense of optimism about the future.