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Book Review: Still Me by Christopher Reeve

On May 27, 1995, actor Christopher Reeve was competing in an equestrian competition in Culpepper, Virginia when he was thrown from his horse, causing a C2 spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic for nine years until his death in 2004.

The heartbreaking irony is not merely that an actor best known to the general public as Superman was left permanently disabled. The worst part was that Reeve did not even want to be at this particular competition in Culpeper that weekend. He had originally planned to compete in Vermont.

Such begins the memoir of a man I’ve looked up as a hero since the Still Me by Christopher Reeveage of seven when I first saw Superman: The Movie. Reeve opens his life story at a point where he had been certain his life would end, delving into excruciating detail about the damage inflicted on his body and mind as a result of the accident. At one point, after receiving the initial news of his condition, he urged his wife, Dana, to let him go. She replied that she would do so only if that was what he truly wanted, but reminded him that, “You’re still you and I’m still me.” According to Reeve, that was all he needed to hear to bolster his will to live.

However, a true of man of steel cannot be kept down and despite the odds against him, despite the many post-accident setbacks, despite the personnel and equipment necessary to keep him alive and as healthy as possible,  Reeve persevered. He went on to make several public speeches advocating an increase in funding for the NIH and the National Endowment for the Arts. He also directed the critically acclaimed and award-winning 1997 film, In the Gloaming, starring Glenn Close, David Strathairn, Bridget Fonda, Robert Sean Leonard, and Whoopi Goldberg.

Interspersed with tales of his treatment and battles with insurance companies, Reeve takes us on a tour of his broken family life as a child, through his college years at Cornell, and his acceptance into Juilliard—under the iron scowl of John Houseman—and his burgeoning friendship with Robin Williams.

He shares his love of sailing, flying, and equestrian sports and his general zest for life, but above all else, his love for his family shines through as he remembers the birth of his three children and the first time he met his future wife, Dana Morosini. Dana was a member of the Cabaret Corps of singers at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts while Reeve was appearing in a play called The Rover by Aphra Behn. He practically fell in love with her at first sight.

Although he was ranked as an “A” list film actor for many years, Reeve’s stage career was far more impressive, having worked on and off Broadway with such names as Katherine Hepburn (A Matter of Gravity), Jeff Daniels (Fifth of July) and many others. His stage credits include Death Takes a Holiday, Richard III, Summer and Smoke, Love Letters, and dozens more. During his time at Juilliard, he worked in the Acting Company with Kevin Kline, David Ogden Stiers, Patti LuPone, and others.

Then came Superman as well as Somewhere in Time, Deathtrap, The Aviator, The Bostonians, Remains of the Day and other films of which Reeve speaks highly. On the other hand, he blames such flops as Street Smart, Superman III and IV, and Switching Channels for knocking him out of Hollywood’s “A” list.  In fact, his comment on Superman IV was simply, “The less said about Superman IV, the better.” Although he takes partial blame for its failure.

All told, Still Me is a journey through the extreme highs and plummeting lows of a life that was fully lived by a man who many consider a hero to this day. I count myself among them.

Chris Reeve: What is a Hero

History Has Indeed Repeated Itself

After a nine-year gap, I am once again a CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate).

I renewed my long-expired certification this afternoon to conclude a four-day, instructor-led “boot camp” course at the Poconos facility of Training Camp. Unfortunately, other than a brief walk after arrival on Sunday, I was able to spare no time during the week to enjoy the peaceful surroundings at the Fairview Resort in Bushkill, PA.

However, I was pleased that my accommodations this time were a vast improvement over the outdated and shabby villa from nine years ago. This time, I was given the “A” level–the upper floors–of the building versus the downstairs “B” level.

View from the Villa at the Treetops resort Deck view at the Treetops resort Villa kitchen at the Treetops resort Villa at the Treetops Resort Villa at the Treetops

My fellow students and I spent about 10 hours in the classroom each day followed by five to six hours of studying in the evenings. This, of course, meant no dinner, no working out, no writing, no editing, and little sleep. I knew all of this going in, of course. It was a repeat of the same course at the same facility nine years ago.

On Thursday afternoon, I was amazed to learn that I scored the highest among the class on the first exam. Passing score was 832 out of 1000. Mine was 941. On the second exam, passing score was 811 out of 1000. I finished with a 918. I’m not sure how I ranked among my classmates after the second exam since most of them departed shortly after they finished.

As a respite from the stress and intensity of the course, I read one chapter per night of actor Christopher Reeve’s autobiography, Still Me. Those who know me are well aware of my admiration for Mr. Reeve as someone I’ve looked up to as a hero since 1978 when I first saw him as Superman. I’m thoroughly enjoying his memoir, which provides excruciating details about the accident that left him paralyzed in 1995, interspersed with tales of his early acting career. A full review of the book is forthcoming here on the blog.

I’m finally home again and in desperate need of a long nap. I intend to reward myself by getting some fishing in later this weekend and then next week, it’s back to work, to writing, and to editing submissions to the next Middle of Eternity anthology.

 

Actor, Writer, Princess, General – Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)

Star Wars caught me at the tender age of six back in 1977 and has never let go. I remain a fan and collector to this day. I had the pleasure of meeting Carrie Fisher, for the first and only time, at a comic con in New York City about 10 years ago. While waiting in her autograph line, a lady ahead of me began a conversation with Ms. Fisher about a recent article that she had written for a travel website (or newspaper, I can’t recall) about her trip to Acapulco.

The conversation went something like this:

“So what did you think of it [the article]?” Ms. Fisher asked.

The woman shrugged. “Well, it wasn’t exactly great literature.”

Ms. Fisher, without looking up from the item she was signing for a fan, responded, “So you’re saying it was shit!”

Of course, everyone in the room broke out into laughter. Such was the acerbic, sometimes trenchant, humor of Carrie Fisher. I, for one, simply thanked her for coming and told her that it was an honor to meet her. She thanked me in return and signed my vintage 12″ boxed Princess Leia figure from Kenner (see below).

As Leia Organa, Ms. Fisher was a hero to me alongside Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford. It was Star Wars that led to me watching reruns of Star Trek when I was a kid and I became hooked on science fiction and space opera, which then inspired me to become a writer and storyteller in my own right.

2016 has been a tumultuous and tragic year, taking from us many talented artists. For me, however, the loss of Carrie Fisher cuts deeper as did the passings, within the last 20 years, of such icons as Gene Roddenberry, DeForest Kelley, Christopher Reeve, and Leonard Nimoy, just to name a few.

I cannot help but to think my own mortality as we watch the performers of my childhood exit the world stage for the final time. I only hope that I can leave behind such enduring legacies. Carrie Fisher was a marvelous, witty writer and an advocate for those suffering from mental illness. May the Force of her personality and strength be with us always.

Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back

 

Carrie Fisher as General Leia in The Force Awakens

 

Carrie Fisher Autograph
Vintage Kenner Leia and Luke figures from 1978
Star Wars Cast Members
Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew