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Remembering Christopher Reeve

Aired October 16, 2004 - 21:00   ET


CHRISTOPHER REEVE, ACTOR: So when I say to people who are paralyzed or something from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and leukemia, et cetera, this is really the dawning of a new age of real hope.


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Christopher Reeve, the courageous and untimely death of a superhero. His optimism and activism inspired millions. Remembering Christopher Reeve next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Welcome to a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Tonight, we honor Chris Reeve, who died last weekend at age 52. Nine years ago the actor known worldwide as Superman fell from his horse and was paralyzed. But Christopher always wanted to walk again and became an internationally known activist for the disabled.

He was a frequent guest on LARRY KING LIVE, we had some great conversations. Two days before his 50th birthday, he and his lovely wife Dana came on to talk about his new book, "Nothing Is Impossible." He wasn't walking yet, but his progress sure impressed us.


KING: What's going on? I mean, you're moving parts -- what's going on?

C. REEVE: Well, it's about time. Only took me five years. What's been happening is that I have been doing a lot of exercise starting in rehab and going on day after day after day. And it turns out that exercise is able somehow to reawaken dormant pathways and get movement.

KING: But how do you explain it in this regard, Chris? I'm trying to picture it as a total layman, if the spine is cut off, how can the finger -- and the brain can't signal the finger, how can the finger move?

C. REEVE: OK. Where you're wrong is in the cut off part, because actually my spinal chord wasn't cut at all. It just has a hemorrhage in the middle of it at one point. And so there are a lot of nerve tracks that have been spared and lot that are reawakening because of exercise.

KING: And how much more can happen? C. REEVE: Unlimited. We really don't know. And -- but we're sure going to find out. I'm going keep exercising because I think the cure is going to come from patients doing exercise to maintain health and prepare for science.

KING: So exercise is going to be a significant part of the cure?

C. REEVE: Yes. And actually now, there are activity-dependent recovery programs that are being developed all around the country just for that purpose.

KING: Dana, were you with Chris -- what was the first thing, Dana, that Chris moved? was it a finger or toe?

DANA REEVE, WIFE OF CHRISTOPHER REEVE: It was his finger. And, yes, we were there. We were having a conversation in our home. And every time he said something where one might gesture, use a hand gesture, his finger was popping up. And we both started to notice it. And then he said, I think I can make that happen on my own. And he did. He sort of literally commanded his finger to move and it did. And then it got to the point where he could just think it.

KING: So it was happening as a reflex action and then he made it happen.

D. REEVE: Well -- right, exactly.

KING: OK. There you see the tape. Let's see some actuality. Chris, we're going to try something here. There, we've got the hand. We've got our camera on your left hand with the wedding band. Let's put it back. Move the finger.


C. REEVE: ... in other words, to show that it's voluntary, you give me the instruction. You say go.

KING: OK. Christopher Reeve, I'm your director here tonight. Move your finger.

C. REEVE: Say go.


D. REEVE: There you go.

KING: Whoa.

C. REEVE: Say stop.

KING: Stop.

C. REEVE: Say go.


D. REEVE: Who's directing who here?

KING: Stop. He's directing me. All right, now, explain what's happening, Chris. As I say, go, what are you doing?

C. REEVE: OK. What's happening is that just as normal, I hear you and my brain deciphers what you've said because I speak English, and then it goes down the spinal cord all the way to the seventh cervical vertebra, which is way below my injury. Then the message goes out to the peripheral nerves and all the way down to the finger and I get instantaneous reaction.

KING: Now I am told...

C. REEVE: And that's why -- sorry.

KING: I'm sorry, go ahead.

C. REEVE: And that's why we got so excited. See, that movement was so random, so unexpected. We figured anything else is possible.

KING: I'm told you can move the right wrist, fingers on the left hand. Now feel a light touch or a pinprick over the body. Can move arms and legs in a pool. Can breathe on your own for about an hour at a time.

C. REEVE: Hour-and-a-half. Somebody reported that I could wiggle my hips. Why would I want to do that? I did that when I was five.

KING: What does it feel like, Chris, when you're off the machine?

C. REEVE: It's great because I used to just gulp for air like a fish out of water. But now I'm able to sit very serenely and use my diaphragm. And listen to classical music and I just let the body happen. It's really been quite remarkable. It's really been exciting.

KING: Dana, what do you make of this?

D. REEVE: Well, it -- somehow it doesn't surprise me that much. And I know that may sound odd because the predictions were dire. But there is nothing yet that anyone has ever said to Chris that he hasn't defied. When they say he can't do something, he makes it a point to actually go ahead and do it. And that's been across the board. He's someone who has defied predictions from the first day. So I'm thrilled. I'm so excited for him. And I think he's a great inspiration and motivator for so many people.

C. REEVE: But the main message, Larry, is it's really not just for me.

D. REEVE: Yes.

C. REEVE: I'm privileged. I have a staff. I have the equipment. But the one thing that I really hope comes out of this is that there's a paradigm shift in the way we look at what insurance should be doing to give people equipment so that they can accomplish the same thing that I have been able to accomplish. And that's really, really key. Otherwise it's just one individual.

KING: And how do you react, Chris, to those who say the reason you can do this is you have the wherewithal to spend the funds, to have the physicians, the equipment, your chair, the kind of people around you that the average person doesn't have?

C. REEVE: Frankly, everything that I can do can be done by a family at home. Well, even if you have a pool in your house, you could do the aqua therapy. But riding on a bike and using electrical stimulation of the muscles, the breathing off the hose, you can do that with your own family. And also you can do it at rehab centers as an outpatient.

The main thing that will make a difference is that insurance companies need to pick up this therapy and pay for it, because they will profit off of it. People like me will stay out of the hospital and people with lower level injuries will get up and get out of their chairs.

D. REEVE: We also, though, there's a bill, the Christopher Reeve bill is about to drop, we hope, in...

C. REEVE: It passed unanimously in both houses.

D. REEVE: Yes, and one of the things it will establish, a center of excellence in all 50 states. So if you can't afford or if insurance is still a snafu for your family, you can go somewhere where it has the exact same equipment that Chris has been using. He is not really Superman, and there is no real (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's that he has tremendous motivation and hard work, and people pushing him. And if we can get those factors for others.

KING: Let me get a break and we'll take calls for Christopher Reeve and his wife, Dana. The new book, "Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life" with an amazing guy and an extraordinary lady. We'll be right back.



C. REEVE: If we keep giving our scientists the funding they need to do the research, very soon I will take my family by the hand and I will stand here in front of this star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.




KING: Dana, I know it's discussed in the book, but when Christopher was on this show, one of the first times he was on, maybe the first time, he said one of the things he thought about doing when this first happened was killing himself.

D. REEVE: Early on.

KING: Did he relay that thought to you at that time, Dana?

D. REEVE: Early, early on, yes. Really right after he had regained consciousness in the hospital in Virginia. He talked about it. We discussed it, actually, as an option. And it was something that he -- I think everyone does this. You have these late night conversations with your loved ones or your friends and you say if such and such ever happens to me, I don't want to live. And that had been a discussion.

C. REEVE: But briefly.

D. REEVE: What's that? Briefly. Well, it had been a brief one, but before the accident, just the idea of what you imagine you can withstand, and then the reality -- they're two different things.

KING: And he told me he stayed alive because of you. But you say in the book that you said, let's give it two years and if after two years you still want to kill yourself, I'll help you?

D. REEVE: Well, that was more of -- you call it a salesman tactic.

C. REEVE: Yeah, that's what a car salesman does.

D. REEVE: If you don't like it, you can return it.

C. REEVE: You try it, you don't like it, bring it back. It will be fine, we'll give you a refund.

D. REEVE: I figured that after...

C. REEVE: You know, two years, two years of living with this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and our dog and our house and our love and is like, no way.

KING: Christopher, what are your days like, though? There's less pausing when you speak now. I notice there's not a heavy breath. There's no longer those heavy intakes about every 10 or 15 seconds. Is life much better, or is it still a lot of terrible aspects?

C. REEVE: No. There are very few terrible aspects. And yeah. I have -- when we first talked, I could only, you know, sit up in the chair for about six hours at a time, because of the skin infections. Now it's 16 hours. And I don't have to be turned in bed every night. A lot of breakthroughs.

But you know one thing? I was seeing the tease, seeing the steps, you know, walking across the pool. I remember that I had said that I hoped to walk by my 50th birthday. Well, my 50th birthday is going to be on Wednesday. And technically speaking, now that I see that, I did it. It took 11 people to hold me up, but I think I actually made the deal. Will you give me credit for that?

KING: You made a promise on this program and you kept it. C. REEVE: Thank you very much. Thank you.

D. REEVE: There you go.

KING: Speaking of keeping, what keeps you going, Dana?

D. REEVE: Well, Chris keeps me going. Our son Will keeps me going. There's not a lot -- life keeps me going. I'm basically a happy person. I don't need a lot of prompting to keep going.

KING: How did your son come up with the idea of doing a documentary, or was it your idea? C. REEVE: No, no. It was actually Matthew's idea. He's an art and art history and art theory student at Brown. And once the finger moved in September of 2000, and Dr. John McDonald (ph) at Washington University wanted to do a study, Matthew came to me and said, can I do a documentary? And I thought, yes, this is a way to help him start with the career he's interested in. Also, I wouldn't want a stranger following me around. That was really important.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that's changed in your life, Chris, and it comes as a surprise to me, because I remember including in my book, when I wrote a book some years back, "Powerful Prayers," asking you, and you said you were kind of an agnostic, you were certainly not a religious person. You didn't look to God. You didn't say please, God, help me get better. Has that changed?

C. REEVE: Well, believe it or not, in my book, "Nothing is Impossible," I have divided it into two chapters: the search for spirituality, one chapter is on faith. The other chapter is on religion. In a way they're kind of different for me. Because as a kid, religion seemed to be a bit scary, that somebody sort of -- you were kind of guilty while going into church. And it sort of sometimes made you feel bad. But over time, you know, I have actually become a Unitarian. And we embrace that because it's all inclusive and it's about the goodness in people. That God, you know, loves us and that he assumes that we are good. And also it just assumes that we have a moral compass inside us. And we kind of know what's right. And I write in the book, actually, I take my belief from something Abraham Lincoln said. He said in 1860, he said, when I do good, I feel good, when I do bad, I feel bad and that's my religion. And I think we all know that. We can understand that.

KING: Christopher is with his wife Dana. And we're going to include your phone calls.

Metairie, Louisiana, Hello.



CALLER: I have been paralyzed for a few months now. And I just want to know, like, I heard all the remarkable things about how he's recovering. And I just think that's so amazing. I just want to know how all that's happening. I want to know if it's possible that I could actually have that done to me or many people are getting it done. I don't know.

KING: Are you paralyzed waist down, sir?

CALLER: From the T-3. That's around the chest.

KING: OK. Chris, I guess you know what that is.


C. REEVE: Yes. You have a really good shot because there is something called treadmill walking therapy which is now being done at many centers around the country. And people have -- who have your level of injury, you've got upper body. You can use your arms I assume. And what you do is get to one of these centers and you go on a treadmill for about an hour a day for about 60 days and after that time you'll be able to walk on your own. It's been done already in about 500 people in this country.

KING: Wow. You explain...

C. REEVE: Let me tell you how to do this. If go to, and that will get you to our resource center and we can help you.

KING: That's Paralysis -- repeat that.



Hayward, California, hello.

CALLER: Good evening, first of all, I want to let you know that you've been a big inspiration to me and my family. I have been battling breast cancer, bone cancer and now leukemia all within the last year. And I just want to know how you both stay so motivated and keep your faith and stay strong and stay together.

C. REEVE: I think...

KING: Dana, you want to start with that?

C. REEVE: That's all right, you go ahead.

KING: Dana, you start.

D. REEVE: I think -- I mean, what you're battling is you have one thing after another. And my heart goes out to you. We support one another and one of the things that both of us have found, that when we're feeling sorry for ourselves, the first thing we try to do is reach out to help someone else. And it's amazing how you can start feeling better because of that. That's one of the things. What were you going to say, honey?

C. REEVE: Not much more I could add to that, really. That's such a great answer. D. REEVE: And a support system. It's key to have a support system. We have people who work for us who are incredible. Family members who are incredible. And I hope that you have the same because that sounds like you're going through a lot.

KING: Christopher, aren't there days when you get down?

C. REEVE: Sure, absolutely.

KING: And what do you do?

REEVE: Take action. And I think whether you're on your feet or not, whether you're healthy or not, it doesn't matter. The thing to do whenever you're feeling depressed is you cannot go down that spiral into negativity about yourself. And the way out of it is to do something active. For example, I'll do extra physical exercise, or make sure I really pay extra attention to Dana or the kids.

D. REEVE: Or reach out to friends.

C. REEVE: Or reach out to friends, or do some work. But it's about being action -- in action. And also, getting the attention off yourself. That's number one.

D. REEVE: Yeah.

KING: By the way, Chris, are you going to act and direct again?

C. REEVE: I'll be directing. Hopefully in the spring. And -- but no plans for -- sorry. No plans for acting right now, but directing coming up.

KING: I bet you could do a role, couldn't you?

C. REEVE: Well, what's amazing is that I acted for 35 years and never won an award. And then I did a movie, "Rear Window," after I was injured, and I got the Screen Actors Guild award for best actor. Go figure. Who knows?

KING: We'll be back with more of Christopher Reeve and his wife Dana on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. More phone calls, too. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She might leave her husband but she's not going to leave her jewelry.

C. REEVE: Well, that's my point. Something must have happened to her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jason, she probably spent the day at a bar or at her sister's or her mother's trying to get up the courage to come home. But she's going to come home. She'll be remorseful. They'll be all lovey-dovey for a few days and then they'll go at it again. Relationships like that are far too complicated to understand from the outside. Next time do us all a favor and don't call 911.

C. REEVE: I'm not sure there's going to be a next time. I think he killed her last night.



KING: What are your thoughts on the passing of Chris Reeve?

MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: I'm just really saddened by it and surprised and still processing it. He was a real role model to me. Someone I admire tremendously. He was an articulate advocate and champion for people in his community and in the wider community of those of us who are in need of the positive outcomes of medical research.

He was just a great man. He was -- he is going to be missed.


KING: We're back with Christopher Reeve, his wife Dana. The book is "Nothing Is Impossible." Back to the calls. San Martin, California, hello.



CALLER: I have two questions, actually.


CALLER: OK. The first question is, how voluntary is your movement? I'm in a wheelchair, and I find that I can actually move my leg if I pull real hard. And my second question is, do you have pain, and how do you deal with it?

C. REEVE: Fortunately the movements that we're talking about are all voluntary, and most of them I do against resistance to build up strength. So if I'm lying in bed with my knee bent and my foot in somebody's shoulder, I have them offer a lot of resistance so I have to push hard to strengthen the muscle. And the second part of the question is, luckily, I don't suffer any pain whatsoever. Often, that happens in spinal cord patients, who develop cysts or cavities, but that hasn't happened to me.

KING: I know that amputees claim that they can sometimes feel their arm and feel their finger.

D. REEVE: Phantom pain.

KING: Phantom pain. Do you get that, Chris?

C. REEVE: No, because I have normal sensation or -- sorry. Nearly normal sensation over about 70 percent of my body. So there's no phantom sensation.

KING: Lake Elsinore, California for the Reeves, hello.

Caller: Hi.


CALLER: My nephew broke his neck a couple of weeks ago, the number one vertebrae. And he's still in critical care. What can we do to help him out mentally, to try to uplift his spirits? Because he has bad days and good days. And we're kind of stuck. And also, therapy- wise, when he gets his neck set, hopefully this Thursday, where do we go from there?

C. REEVE: Well, it's going to be absolutely critical to find a progressive rehab center, where they're going to do more than the bare minimum. And also, to protect him from any further injury. But he needs to start exercising as soon as possible, you know, once he's stabilized from the surgery. And again, do not accept any absolutes from doctors. In other words, you have no idea what might happen.

So what I'm saying is it's the same injury I did. My first vertebrae was so decimated that my head was not connected to my body. And five years later, seven years later, I'm moving.

D. REEVE: But also, again, will get you to the resource center if you need a list of rehab hospitals or practical steps you need to take from the point where he's passed the acute phase into the rehab phase.

KING: Everyone should make a note, the caller as well, of that Internet site, I'm sorry. Go ahead, Chris.

C. REEVE: Larry, if I may. If people would like to get to the foundation to help us...

KING: Oh, sure.

C. REEVE: ... to raise money, if I could just say that there's a couple ways to do it.

D. REEVE: To help the foundation, not us.

C. REEVE: And by the way, I take no money from the foundation.

D. REEVE: Right.

C. REEVE: They don't even pay for gas for the car to come to meetings.

KING: How can people help?

C. REEVE: By donating to just And you can also make a donation through Sorry,


To Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, hello.

CALLER: Hello. Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Reeve. It is a pleasure to be speaking with you. I wanted to ask, what is your most inspirational message that you can give to families who are going through similar circumstances?

KING: Are you, ma'am? Caller, are you going through a circumstance?

CALLER: No, I'm not.

KING: Oh, you just want what the message would be?

CALLER: Well, I just feel that they are inspirational to all of us who are watching them, and I'm wondering what is the most inspirational message that they can give to families who are going through similar circumstances.

KING: Got it.

D. REEVE: There is hope, I think.

C. REEVE: Yes.

D. REEVE: Three simple words.


D. REEVE: Well, no, I think that that is -- if you're going to encapsulate it, there is hope. And that through every dark corridor, there is some door that's going to lead to light. And it takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of support. That's easy after-isms to say, not so much to live. But there really is hope.

C. REEVE: And the other thing is that hope -- hope, I say this in my book in an essay called "The Lighthouse," is that hope is different from optimism or wishful thinking. And hope has to be built on the same solid foundation as a lighthouse. But thankfully, where we are now with science and where we are with physical therapy, it's tremendous what's happening, the breakthroughs all around the world. So when I say to people who are paralyzed or suffering from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and leukemia, et cetera, this is really the dawning of a new age of real hope.

KING: Herbster, Wisconsin for the Reeves, hello.

CALLER: Yes. I wanted to ask, if they approve stem cell research, how long do you think it will be until they begin the surgeries?

C. REEVE: Well, stem cells are the research with embryonic stem cells and stem cells derived from nucleus transplantation. It's still in its infancy because of political controversy in the federal government, which now fortunately has been broken through and adopted by California. But I think they're going to be able to start getting this into humans within the next three years or so.

KING: Last call. Kanata, Canada, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Chris and Dana. I just wanted to say what an inspiration you both are. The love you share is unbelievable. My question is, you have children and I have a daughter who's extremely in love with horses. And the love of riding is a passion that I have never seen. If you could offer any advice as far as safety. As a mother, it's a big fear. I don't have the love of horses but she truly does.

KING: That's a great question. We've got about 45 seconds, Chris, what advice would you give to the horsemen and horseladies?

C. REEVE: OK. Wear a helmet. Don't exceed your abilities. But as a parent, don't make your child afraid. Because if she does it with fear then she might be injured. But my daughter Alexandra, who I taught to ride, she gave it up for a while. And I said, no, continue, you love it. And now she's playing polo for Yale. So you have got to let people go ahead and do their thing and do it safely.

KING: Thank you both so much. You're an inspiration to everybody. And I always love seeing you.

D. REEVE: Thanks, Larry.

REEVE: Larry, thank you so much.


KING: When we come back, Christopher Reeve, the political activist, don't go away.


C. REEVE: Thank you. Thank you very, very much.

Well, I just have to start with a challenge to the president. Sir, I've seen your train go by and I think I can beat it.




SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Chris Reeve was a friend of mine. Chris Reeve exercises every single day to keep those muscles alive for the day when he believes he can walk again. And I want him to walk again.

On Saturday, after the debate, I picked up my cell phone and I had a wonderful, long message from Chris who called me to thank me for talking about the possibilities of a cure and the excitement in his voice -- this is just before he went in the hospital, the excitement in his voice. I had no idea he was going in because he didn't tell me that. The excitement in his voice was just really palpable. And he was so thrilled about where the discussion of stem cell research had come to.


KING: Welcome back to our salute to Chris Reeve, a tireless advocate for stem cell research. It is now, of course, a major political issue and came up during the presidential debate that wrapped up here in Tempe this week.

Four years ago, Reeve was a guest as we covered the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles.


KING: How are you feeling first?

C. REEVE: Very well. A little tired. I've been talking all day, but I'm fine.

KING: Still optimistic?

REEVE: More so than ever. In fact, a recent breakthrough's happened. And a scientist that we fund, Dr. Ira Black, has made a major breakthrough, which I put right up there with the invention of the wheel, and that is that he's been able to take cells, stem cells from bone marrow of an adult and with gene therapy turn them into nerves.

KING: Meaning?

REEVE: And put them into the injured spinal cord and get recovery. It's phenomenal, and I'm proud to say that our foundation financed the work.

KING: So that furthers your belief you will walk?

REEVE: Absolutely, yes.

KING: And many others will walk?

REEVE: Yes, yes. And there are different kinds of spinal cord injury, but it's not only about that. It's about Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's disease, stroke, MS. This approach with stem cells, both human embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells, means hope...

KING: Were you at the Republican...

REEVE: ... for the whole American family.

KING: Were you at the Republican convention?


KING: Because they're not listening to you, because you're a Democrat? Why?

REEVE: Well, basically because it was more difficult to get to Philadelphia.

KING: Because you would have been as welcomed there as you are here.

REEVE: No. I think I have a very good relationship with Republicans. In fact, there's been good leadership on the issue from Senator Hatfield when he was there, from Arlen Specter right now. Working together with Senator Harkin, they've doing great work, and Congressman Porter in Appropriations. So it really is a bipartisan effort. However, I believe that the Democrats really got a step up, and the reason tonight I came out to L.A. was to work on the plank and the platform.

KING: Which says?

REEVE: Which says that we have a commitment, firm commitment, to double the budget for biomedical research and to bring the disabled into the mainstream of society. And it was -- I just heard this afternoon it was adopted unanimously.

KING: Do you expect that would be something that would get bipartisan approval in the Senate and the House?

REEVE: Well, there is some resistance, you know, because it's expensive to make alterations, you know, to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. But we have to do it. You know, it's as important as education. There are just certain obligations that we really must fulfill.

KING: How many Americans are disabled by definition?

REEVE: Right now, either seriously ill or disabled are 54 million Americans. That's one-fifth of the population, and we have to do everything we possibly can to alleviate that situation.

KING: There's going to be -- they're going to honor you tomorrow, the Creative Coalition and "George" magazine, similar to an event held for Michael J. Fox. You've had a lot of these, right? Do they ever get old hat to you?

REEVE: Not at all, not at all. But I really feel that the people who have been doing the work at our foundation, the -- my hats are off to the scientists, because you don't really hear about them, and particularly Dr. Black, you know, has been working for years in New Jersey at the school of medicine on this theory that he could do this with the cells. And now...

KING: And of course....

REEVE: Now -- you know, he's never called attention to himself, and now he's made an incredible breakthrough.

KING: Of course, had there not been you, this wouldn't have happened.

One of the tragedies is we need someone famous to have something happen to them to get spurred on.

REEVE: Well, I think, you know, there have been a lot of people who have done similar work, Michael J. Fox, "Magic" Johnson, I think Mary Tyler Moore with diabetes. But really, the case that has to be made is we're talking about the whole country. And when I can get out there in front of thousands of people and say, listen, there is real hope on the horizon for people who have all these diseases, you know, then I'm not just speaking out of self-interest and I feel glad about that.

KING: When you were hale and hearty, did you ever think about the disabled?

REEVE: No. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't. I really -- you know, I'm quite guilty of walking down the street and not even taking notice.

KING: So how then do we get the message across since Christopher Reeve didn't notice?

REEVE: Well, simply by more people having the courage to appear in public, more people saying, wait a minute, I can work, you know, I can do things. And now that there are new therapies coming along, more and more people will be brought in from the margins of society and you'll get more used to seeing disabled people working now and then getting better.

KING: You're going to direct another film?

REEVE: Yes. But right now, compared to the fact that Dr. Ira Black just about, as I said, invented the wheel, my directing career doesn't seem very important to me.

KING: I look forward to meeting him and always great seeing you.

REEVE: Thank you so much, Larry.


KING: Chris Reeve was always researching the latest scientific developments that might eventually help the disabled. When we come back, his exploratory trip to the Middle East.


KING: What are your thoughts on the passing of Chris Reeve?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: I'm so sad about that, it's like a heartbreaker. He was such a huge inspiration to people. And his will was so strong and his determination was so strong. And he raised millions of dollars for paralysis research, spinal cord injury research. And I think that's really, really important.




REEVE: Fifty-four million Americans are disabled. Our government is supposed to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Beyond that we have a moral responsibility to help others. Time is absolutely critical. If the government forces scientists to attempt to make adult stem cells behave like embryonic stem cells, they might waste five years or more and fail, in the meantime, hundreds of thousands will have died.


KING: Welcome back. A lot of people here in Tempe, Arizona, where the last presidential debate was held, were debating stem cell research among themselves. It didn't come up in the last debate. But there's no debating which side Christopher Reeve stood on. He spent part of what would be his final LARRY KING LIVE appearance talking about stem cells and other research being done in Israel.


KING: How about a quick update on how you're doing?

REEVE: I'm doing very well, and it's a real pleasure to be here in Israel. I'm in the middle of a four-and-a-half-day trip to find out about the science that's going on over here and the rehabilitation, and it's been truly amazing.

KING: All right. Before we talk about that and what they do there, what was the trip over like?

REEVE: The trip over was very nice. I -- this is the second time I've made a long trip. The first was earlier in the year. I went to Australia, which is even further. And it's really been a wonderful experience. The Israeli people have just gone all out to make everything comfortable and to make a trip possible.

KING: Now you flew commercially. Is that difficult for you? How do they handle the chair? How does the plane deal with it?

REEVE: Well, actually, I sit in a regular seat like everybody else, and, fortunately, I'm in good health now and have been for some time so that my skin is strong enough, and I can stay in a seat for 10 hours and recline and enjoy the regular food and be pretty much a regular passenger. It's really quite something.

KING: Is there any effect if there's turbulence on the plane?

REEVE: No, not at all. I can take turbulence just like anybody else. I've always loved flying. I was a pilot for 20 years.

KING: That's right. I forgot.

How about security arrangements? Do they have special things, or do they sort of let you through with all your equipment and stuff?

REEVE: Well, everything was very carefully checked to make sure that it was compatible with the airplane systems -- the ventilator, for example, very important to make sure that it didn't interfere with the navigational equipment -- and they ran extensive tests to make sure everything was working.

And it's all been going just fine.

KING: OK. What are they doing in Israel that's exceptional?

REEVE: Well, the whole attitude towards medical research is exceptional. I think it's the characteristic of the Israeli people that they are curious, and they are people who desire knowledge. And the scientists here are revered. They are not famous, but they are honored, because they are curious and courageous. They don't take the conventional path. They learn and do whatever they can to relieve human suffering, and as you know, in this country, they live every day with urgency. Every day, you never know what can happen here, and so there have been so many people who have been injured and suffered spinal cord injuries and other kinds of injury because of the terrorism, and I found that both in the medical research and the rehabilitation of people who have been injured, they are really trying their hardest to go as quickly as possible, and I think we lack a little bit that sense of urgency in the United States. It's not present all the time.

But I saw something very, very extraordinary I'd like to describe to you. I met a young man who was an Arab Israeli, and he had been injured for two years, but he underwent surgery within two weeks of his injury, and his injury was just a little worse than mine. He was injured from high up in his chest, then paralyzed all the way down. And two years later -- I met him today -- he is able to walk with the use of parallel bars, and this is because of the surgery that has been done here in Israel. And it's the most remarkable case of a human recovery that I've ever seen. It moved me tremendously.

KING: What, Chris, are they doing that doctors elsewhere are not doing?

REEVE: Well, they have a very progressive atmosphere here. They have socialized medicine, so that doctors and patients do not have the problem of profit or of, you know, trying to make money or trying to get insurance companies to pay for treatments. That is one big advantage. And they also work very well together. They share their knowledge. This is a country of 6 million people, about the size of Long Island, and everyone works together, and doing it tremendously. There is very -- no ego here. There is great sharing, and the people of the country benefit from that.

KING: We'll take a break and come right back with more of Christopher Reeve on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE right after this.



KING: We're back with Christopher Reeve in Tel Aviv, Israel.

By the way, this trip was facilitated by Israel's Consul General Yuval Rotem, and Rotem said, quote, "Israel's very excited to welcome Christopher Reeve, a true superhero who inspires us all in his fight and struggle to achieve his motto Nothing Is Impossible."

Do you still have that motto? Do you still think you will walk again?

REEVE: I certainly have the motto that nothing is impossible. I think the question of whether I will walk is going to depend on politics. It's going to depend on collaborations between scientists around the world. It will depend on economics, a lot of factors that I knew very little about when I was injured eight years ago.

And I think my purpose when I was 42 in saying that I would walk by the time I was 50 was to be provocative, to be a voice saying why can't we do this, don't tell me the reasons why not. Well, now I understand some of the difficulties not only in terms of the science but the other forces I was just mentioning. But I do think that these can be overcome. I just can't put a specific date on it.

KING: Do you plan to continue to work? I saw you last Sunday on "The Practice." You were terrific in a script that you had written with a nice twist at the end. Do you plan to continue to both act and direct?

REEVE: Yes, absolutely. I've been an actor for a very long time, and, also, I've loved directing now that I've started doing that in "The Gloaming" for HBO back in '96.

Right now, I'm very involved in the world of politics. In fact, you know, I don't want to feel guilty for turning away and saying, OK, I'm going to go off and direct something now for seven months.

For example, right now, I'm shepherding a piece of legislation. It's the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act that was introduced in both the Senate and the House in May. And we now have about 45 co-sponsors in the House. We've got 15 co-sponsors in the Senate.

And it's a bill that would create centers of research and centers of rehabilitation research and also centers that would improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, accessibility, transportation, all of that. So I'm working -- working to help to get that bill passed, hopefully, this year.

KING: Do you think 9/11 curtailed advances in your area?

REEVE: No, I don't think 9/11 is responsible for the political climate about medical research today. I don't think those two things go together.

I think that politics in the United States is very difficult, and I've talked to many representatives, you know, who feel one way and yet know that it would be politically difficult for them to vote that way, and as long as that's a fact, in my opinion, until we have real campaign finance reform, there's always going to be compromises that will be disappointing.

And I think that the more -- the more that we can keep special interests out of the picture and let politicians who do the greatest good for their constituents and for not only the local people they serve but for the country as a whole, then we're going to regain the preeminence that we deserve.

KING: What keeps you going?

REEVE: Sorry. Didn't -- didn't mean to sound like a sermon there.

KING: No, that's all right. It's right on the mark.

What keeps you going?

REEVE: What keeps me going is -- well, the possibilities of the future, change, the fact that I'm getting better, that technology is improving, that we do have the really brilliant, dedicated people who want to help, and that, also, I have the opportunity to learn so much.

I mean take a trip like this. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to come here, and just today I, as I said before, saw a young man who was cured of his spinal cord injury with a surgical procedure, something that would have been impossible when I was injured in 1995, and here it was, he was operated on in 2001, and he's walking, and -- I mean I've seen it. I've seen it, and there's more to come. It's going to be difficult, but that's what keeps me going, is knowing that it can be done.


KING: Christopher Reeve's optimism and his activism will both be missed. Back with a word about tomorrow night's show in a moment.


KING: Tomorrow night our tribute to Christopher Reeve continues with his first LARRY KING LIVE interview after the accident that left him a quadriplegic.

Stay tuned now as the news continues on the most trusted name in news, CNN.


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