Christopher Reeve Dead at 52

Christopher Reeve, the "Superman" actor who showed the world Herculean bravery after a near-fatal spinal cord injury, died Sunday of heart failure. He was 52.

With his family at his side, Reeve fell into a coma Saturday after going into cardiac arrest at his New York home, said his publicist, Wesley Combs.

"On behalf of my entire family, I want to thank Northern Westchester Hospital for the excellent care they provided to my husband," his wife, Dana Reeve, said in a statement.

"I also want to thank his personal staff of nurses and aides, as well as the millions of fans from around the world who have supported and loved my husband over the years."

'This Can't Be My Life'

With an "S" emblazoned across his chiseled chest, Reeve became the most famous movie actor to take on the role of the comic book hero from planet Krypton, who could bend steel, repel bullets and fly through the air to save damsels in distress, occasionally taking them back to his crystal lair.

In the 1978 blockbuster and a series of sequels, Reeve epitomized the Ivory-soap goodness of a superhero. Then, in an equestrian competition in 1995, he was paralyzed from the neck down after he was thrown from his horse.

When Reeve realized he could not breathe without a respirator, he contemplated "pulling the plug," he admitted in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters just months after the tragedy.

"You look out the window, and you can't believe where you are," he said. "And the thought that keeps going through your mind is, 'This can't be my life. There's been a mistake.'"

But despair turned into determination, and Reeve's will to live prevailed. With the support of his wife, he became America's leading advocate for spinal cord injury research, raising money, writing books, testifying before Congress and giving motivational speeches all over the country.

Reeve Vows to 'Escape the Cape'

Born in Manhattan and raised in Princeton, N.J., Reeve wanted to be an actor all his life, and by the age of 16, had an agent and an Actors' Equity membership card.

At the Juilliard School for Drama in New York, he met his roommate and lifelong friend, Robin Williams.

In 1975, Reeve debuted on Broadway in the short-lived "A Matter of Gravity" with Katharine Hepburn, and soon got a small part in a nuclear submarine disaster movie "Gray Lady Down."

For his career to take off, however, Reeve had to put on a red cape. He told Walters that at first he thought the role was beneath him.

"I was sort of a snob about it," he said. "I thought it would be kind of hokey and I didn't quite get it that this guy is a cultural icon."

But the 6-foot-4-inch actor seized the opportunity, lifting weights to add 30 pounds of muscle for the screen test, wiping out 200 other wannabe Men of Steel.

While filming his most famous movie in London, Reeve met Gae Exton, a modeling agency executive with whom he had two children, Matthew, now 25, and Alexandra, now 21. He and Dana also had a son, Will, now 11.

An instant celebrity, Reeve was deluged with scripts, and the actor confounded fans with strange choices for movie parts, struggling not to be typecast in the role that made him famous, vowing to "escape the cape."

His first post-"Superman" film was the low-budget, poorly received "Somewhere in Time" with Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer.

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