Monday, October 11, 2004

Ode to a Hero

I can't remember a time in my life when there wasn't a Superman.

From the black and white re-runs of George Reeve as the Man of Steel, to the animated Super Friends in the Justice League of America, to the eventual pinnacle of it all with Christopher Reeve in the flowing red cape... All my life he has been crashing through walls, deflecting bullets off his chest, and bravely saving the day.

No more.

The death of Christopher Reeve is, in a very real way, the death of Superman.

In my early twenties, I happened across a DC graphic novel, "The Death of Superman", in which the hero finally meets his match. I remember very little of the actual story, but forever burned in my mind is a single image: A scene of destruction... a piece of wood jutting up from the rubble, holding the torn and tattered red cape with its emblazoned "S" fluttering in the breeze... a distraught Lois Lane holding the broken and lifeless body of Superman...

The utterly unthinkable had happened. The one superhero that you just knew would never be beaten was dead. In that moment, with all the pain and anguish portrayed in Lois' face, the childhood innocence of millions worldwide also died. With the fall of our mightiest hero, we now knew that nothing was certain, nothing lasted forever, and nobody was indestructible.

It was more than the final chapter in a work of fiction that spanned 5 decades and all forms of media... It was the death of an ideal.

In a strange twist of fate, or perhaps more of a tragic cosmic coincidence, barely two years later, Christopher Reeve, the man who's name had become synonymous with "Superman", also lay broken and dying. He didn't battle some monstrous villain, himself succumbing with the final death-blow... He didn't meet his end saving the world... No, as hundreds of people watched in horror, Reeve fell from his horse at an equestrian event and broke his neck.

Superman was down.

But unlike the man in the red-and-blue tights that he portrayed on-screen, Christopher Reeve did not die the day he fell. Despite being completely paralyzed and needing a respirator to breathe, he became the new Man of Steel and a hero all over again.

For nine years, Reeve battled for the cause of stem-cell research from the confines of his wheelchair, not once giving up. He challenged not only himself by re-learning to breathe on his own or to wiggle his finger, but also the entertainment community that he was such a part of, urging Hollywood to make more meaningful films about important social issues.

Christopher Reeve left this world with an enduring legacy. His steadfast resolve to continue fighting in the face of insurmountable odds has brought hope to the hundreds of thousands of people with spinal cord injuries and to those researching cures. But more than that, he has given back to us all the belief in heros.

Godspeed, Superman.

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