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Remembering Christopher Reeve Part II

Aired October 17, 2004 - 21:00   ET


CHRISTOPHER REEVE, ACTOR: I think I am in a position to do more than just sit home and stare out the window, that I can actually be of help. And that wasn't the road I would have picked, but a lot of times things, you know, get picked for you. So the point is, either I give in or I say, all right, let's make the best of this, and there's a lot I can do.


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, the late Christopher Reeve, a look back at the Hollywood's superhero's most courageous battle. The beloved actor in his own words, from his darkest thoughts in the days following his devastating accident...


REEVE: And when I first realized what my situation was, I thought, maybe I'm too much trouble. Maybe this would just be too hard on everybody. Maybe I should just check out.


KING: To the hopes he had for himself and others like him.


REEVE: It takes somebody visible to lead the charge, and it's not a job I would have wanted, but I'm doing it.


KING: Christopher Reeve, a profile in courage, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. When Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in a horse- riding accident in 1995, many thought it might be the end of the road for the 42-year-old actor. But just a few months later, he had gathered the strength to come on our show and talk about it.


KING: You don't remember the accident at all?

REEVE: It's funny how the psyche and the body shut down when you're in real crisis. Mine shut downs at odd moments anyway.

KING: What do you remember about that day?

REEVE: I remember warming up. I remember getting my horse ready to warm up for the cross country. See this is a three day event. There are three phases. I had already done dressage and then we do cross country and then later the next day will be show jumping. Its all three phases. So and this was down in Culpepper, Virginia, a beautiful place.


REEVE: Love it down there. But anyway...

KING: ...your passport.

REEVE: I remember getting my horse ready for cross country and you put on all your stuff including a serious crash helmet, including a chest protector and mind you this is something I've been doing for years. In fact, I was third in the New England championships last year. Not to brag; but this is not something you do for a whim on a Sunday afternoon. I was prepared and ready and I had a wonderful horse. I still love him. His name's Eastern Express.

KING: Do you see him?

REEVE: He's gone to one of the best trainers in New England, Jim Stamidts (ph), and unfortunately, he's for sale because I won't be riding anytime right away, but he's under the best of care.

Anyway, I hopped on, and the next thing I remember is about four or five days after the accident coming to in the hospital.

KING: This is a key to -- help me with this. When you open your eyes, you're in a hospital. What's your first thought?

REEVE: It can't be me.

KING: Do you think you fell off a horse?

REEVE: No recollection. Guys, I'm very lucky, is the first thing I remember is my wife, Dana coming to my side, and then I opened my eyes and there Dana was. And ...

KING: No feelings?

REEVE: My situation -- no, are you kidding? I was snowed. I was on every drug they've ever concocted, plus a few more.

KING: Did she tell you what happened?

REEVE: They had to keep me in traction. See, the main thing about the spine, you want to prevent swelling. And then swelling (UNINTELLIGIBLE), swelling makes it worse, and if you move -- if you move at all, you're in big, big trouble. That's why getting somebody off the field like that is pretty critical. And I'm very lucky to -- you would have lost me there. But fortunately, as I went over the horse, the reason that I injured myself, is that my hands got caught in the horse's bridle and it came off with me.

So he suddenly refused to jump, unfortunately, and I went down with my hands tangled. So all I -- normally this would have been a sprained wrist and me being mad, and that's it. This was very, very odd and very unusual.

But anyway, I woke up in a hospital about Wednesday, and I injured myself on a Saturday.

KING: No anger toward the horse?

REEVE: No anger toward the horse, no. I was surprised. I mean, he'd never done that before. He was my new horse, and he'd been -- he and I been doing cross-country since he was 12. Very experienced horse. And there's conflicting reports as to what happened. Some people say that a rabbit suddenly ran out from the underbrush, and that spooked him for a second. And we were going fairly fast too. This is cross-country; you're not hanging about. You're galloping the jumps, not cantering (ph) them, so we were cruising right along, and he just suddenly put on the brakes. And this is what I'm told. And I did -- you know, I did a field goal through his ears, but I took the bridle with me.

KING: When your wife told you what happened and the condition you were in, were they directly honest with you? Did they tell you what had happened to the spine?

REEVE: Well, oh, yes. And the thing was they didn't -- were working out at that time what to do. Because there's a lot of different disagreements about what you do to someone. The first thing they had to do is they had to stabilize my spine, so I was there in traction with screws in my head and a big heavy sort of ball kind of holding me down. So I couldn't move and I couldn't eat anything. They washed my mouth out occasionally with a little orange and raspberry swabs.

I thought I was done for, and the thing is the doctors, I had one of the greatest surgeons in the world, Dr. John James, and I'm very lucky that I ended up there instead of like East Elbow someplace, you know. And he performed really a miraculous operation that allows me to be recovering the way I am today. But they weren't sure. They said we can't guarantee anything. It's 50/50, we'll see.

KING: Did you ever think of not wanting to live?

REEVE: I thought for about 10 minutes when I first was in the intensive care, and when I first realized what my situation was I thought maybe I'm too much trouble. Maybe this would just be too hard on everybody, maybe I should just check out. And my wife, my beautiful extraordinary wife Dana, put the end to end with one sentence. She said but you're still you and I love you. End of story.

And then my three children came in -- Matthew, Alexandra and Will, and our family was together -- and I thought no way I'm going to miss this. This is my family.

KING: So now you don't feel like you put...

REEVE: Never. I've never even thought about it since May...

KING: 26th?

REEVE: Whatever -- well no, June 1, whatever or whenever that Wednesday was.

KING: Because once you decided your family loves you, you love them, this is a partnership; there was no more going back.

REEVE: Right. No, and you know what you learn -- there's a lot of people been in chairs longer than me that can tell you better. But you learn that the stuff of your life -- I mean, I was a sailor, I was a skier, I was a rider, I did a lot of stuff. A lot of accidents, I'm a very sports oriented, et cetera. I travelled everywhere. And you realize that is not the definition or the essence of your existence.

What is the essence are those relationships, those people in that room, that right there. And while my relations were always good, I mean now they have transcended. My son and I and my wife and I, you know, so that's why I can honestly say I'm a lucky man.

KING: Can you explain what paralysis is like?

REEVE: Well, paralyzes is obviously...

KING: Like your hands, you can't move.

REEVE: No, I can't move below my shoulders. I mean (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

KING: Does your brain want to move them?

REEVE: Yes, absolutely. But at some point you have to wait until they make the connection. What you have to imagine is like a telephone repair man and he's out there -- all the cables are broken, and there's no color coding and he doesn't have a diagram, and at some point he's got to cut it, try to put them all back together. And once he gets the cables back together again, things will start moving.

KING: Now his old reflexes in which the brain went to the finger and moved the finger and that's less than a year ago. They're there, aren't they?

REEVE: Everything works. We're just waiting for the phone man.

KING: Well-put. But that could drive you nuts. Couldn't it?

REEVE: Yes, it could drive you nuts. But why let it drive you nuts? What you have to do ...

KING: So what do you do? REEVE: Well, you just don't go nuts. Because, you know, what can I do? I think the only way to go through life, in any situation, whoever you are, whatever your situation is, you look at your assets and say, what have I got that I can use? Well, fortunately, thanks to my helmet I don't have any brain damage. My brain is whatever it was. And there's a lot that I can do, and so what I do is I've had to learn.

The hardest thing is, I was such an active person, I was really up and at them, doing a lot of things. I've had to accept being still, and what's kind of interesting is that at night, in my dreams, I go everywhere. I go, I'm whole, and I'm still whole now, at least in my head, but I was all in one piece.

And I go on wonderful trips and journeys. And with my wife and family we do things. It's wonderful.

My hardest moment is about 7:30 a.m. when oops -- go frozen. However, I'm living at a time when this can be fixed. I would have hated -- I mean, I feel sorry for Kent Waldrop who is one a wonderful guy I've met. A football player back in 1975, he was injured and think how long he's been...

KING: Nick Bernaconi (ph).

REEVE: Nick Bernaconi (ph). I mean Marc Bernaconi, a wonderful guy.

KING: I was the emcee at the first dinner for Nick...

REEVE: ... all of them have been an inspiration to me and I'm very lucky as I'm sitting here is that at a time when we are closer to the cure we've ever been if the funding would just come through.


KING: Back with more from Christopher Reeve in a couple of minutes, including his take on what it feels like to be paralyzed.



KING: We're back with Christopher Reeve.

I don't know why but people thought that regarding you, money would not be a problem. That either you were wealthy or...

REEVE: Have you seen my career lately?

KING: No, but you were a horse person in Culpepper, Virginia. Chris Reeve is OK.

REEVE: Well, I'll tell you what, I've made some really bad investments in the 80s.

KING: Is this breaking you?

REEVE: It would if I couldn't find work, absolutely. Yes.

KING: You are going to find work?

REEVE: I am going to find work. But the thing is we have to completely redo my house. Otherwise, I'm stuck in two rooms. And that's not that much of a future.

KING: What kind of work?

REEVE: We got to get an elevator. Do you know how expensive an elevator is? Have you ever tried to put an elevator in? I don't recommend it. It's about $70,000 bucks, and we have a lot of -- a lot to do.

KING: What kind of work do you want to do?

REEVE: Well, I'm going to direct. I'm actually going to write a book. I'm going to give speeches around the country. I'm not going to sit home and watch the grass grow.

KING: All those things...

REEVE: Are already in motion now. In fact, we've started on the book. I'm very lucky in that I have great co-author, Roger Rosenblack (ph)...

KING: The best. He's one of the great essayists in America.

REEVE: And I said to him, why would you, a writer of your distinction, why would you want to help me write my story in the first person? And he said to me, it would be an honor. So go figure. But we're having a wonderful time. He comes over with the tape recorder. Right now we work once a week, and he just listens and stuff comes out of me.

KING: Is this an autobiography?

REEVE: Well, it's the story of my life so far. Yes.

KING: What about the Robin Williams story and his health?

REEVE: Robin Williams is the definition of generosity. He and Marsha.

KING: Are you old friends?

REEVE: For 22 years. We go back to Juilliard together, and the man again just defines generosity, said whatever I can do to help. But there is this crazy cockamamie story that went around that we had signed some pact.

KING: Pact?

REEVE: Yes, like what on a napkin in the cafeteria in Juilliard or something.

KING: Saying what?

REEVE: That if either of us gets in trouble that we'll take care of each other in the future.


No, and listen, I'm going to help myself. I'm going to take care of myself the best I can, because the one thing you want when you're injured -- you ask anybody who's injured, you ask anybody who's got a problem. You want control and you want your self-respect. You don't want to take charity.

KING: So how do you feel when it's given to you?

REEVE: Well, I feel very grateful if it's charity that I can accept. Where I feel that in some way I can pay the person back or whatever...

KING: So you owe Robin Williams some kind of debt?

REEVE: But just an emotional debt and a huge debt of friendship. As of yet, I don't owe him a nickel and I'd like to keep it that way.

KING: How about other people and people's reactions to you? Were you a little surprised by the worldwide attention this got?

REEVE: Stunned, because basically I was hanging out in Bedford, New York, where we lived, training my horse six days a week to be ready for these competitions, and you forget that there's a big world outside, because my wife and I really enjoyed the fact that we have a new little guy, Will, our little fellow, and we didn't want to bring him up in the city after 20 years. We enjoy the city, but we also like our privacy in the country. So in a way, I'd go off to work but I kind of forget that anybody is watching. I sort of forget.

KING: So you thought you were a what, a forgotten actor?

REEVE: No, not a forgotten actor. But not the kind of public figure who has a problem going down the street like a Mel Gibson or something.

KING: So you were shocked?

REEVE: So, well, when I got 300,000 letters from people all over the world, the outpouring of love and sympathy and concern and caring, I was blown away, and I must say that's what got me through those days.

What I use to do down in the University of Virginia when I was in intensive care, they let me get up one hour a day to get used to being upright in a wheelchair, and that's pretty heavy duty, because your blood pressure falls apart and you really feel weird, et cetera. But they would wheel me down to the sun room and I would sit there with a blanket like a little old man, and my family would read me these letters from around the world, and that kept me going.

The love of my family and the support of people around the world is just, you know...

KING: This Chris Reeve -- the Chris Reeve I know of is not an emotional person, or if he is he certainly holds it in. Agreed?

REEVE: I guess so, yes.

KING: You hide. I mean, one cannot picture Chris Reeve weeping.

REEVE: I don't, I don't. No not on an interview show.

KING: No, but in -- when you were sitting in that sun room. I mean that's got to -- how about the president? Did the president contact you? REEVE: Oh, yes and a very funny story happened, as a matter of fact. He finally wrote me a letter, because he was trying to call and he was going to call my wife at a certain time, and just at the time my sister calls from Albuquerque, and my wife says, oh great to hear from you but you got to get off the phone -- the president's calling.

And she said, yes, sure, so how are you doing? She says, no, get off, the president's calling. And finally, she just wouldn't get off and the president missed the call.


KING: That's one of the things that made Reeve such a great guy -- made him such a great guy. He could touch you very deeply one minute and tell you a funny story the next. Back with more in a couple of minutes.


ROBIN WILLIAMS, FRIEND: We were in the hospital, I thought, he'll be right. He's so powerful and so tough that, you know, the stuff he's fought through -- he'd beat the odds. I didn't that, you know, when you have an accident like this, you're pretty much (UNINTELLIGIBLE) live way longer. I went, what is it like, it sounds like a rabbit when you go, you know, he's only got two years. But he basically, you know, so powerful. I would never think of him being gone. Yes, he will be missed, but his spirit carries on.



KING: Welcome back. Another of my favorite interviews with Christopher Reeve took place in 1997. He'd just finished his directorial debut, working with Glenn Close and Bridget Fonda for HBO's "In the Gloaming."


KING: Did you want to direct before the accident? REEVE: Yes, it was very funny. About 20 years ago I was doing Superman One...

KING: Twenty years ago, now.

REEVE: Twenty years ago, right now, I was hanging on wires flying around and...

KING: Where did they shoot that?

REEVE: In Pine Wood Studios in England, and I had a lot of spare time. So, what I would do -- you know, because there's a long time between special effects, I'd go around -- I'd go to the editing department, the camera department, sound effects, and I'd say, what are you doing? Why are we doing it? And I would bug the director, Dick Donner, why are we on this lens, et cetera.

KING: You wanted to direct?

REEVE: At the time I was so involved in stuff, so I called Dick Donner when I got this job, and I said, guess what? I'm directing. He says, so what else is new? Because I've been a closet director for a long time.

KING: Does it seem like 20 years?

REEVE: It sure does, yeah, a lot of water under bridge in 20 years, but...

KING: It seems like yesterday. I remember going to see that movie cheering with the audience.

REEVE: Yeah, you know, the premier in Washington was in December of '78, and I remember, there was a reception at the Japanese embassy, just before and Henry Kissinger got up to speak, and he said -- you know, for the openings, he said, I want to thank Warner Brothers for making the story of my life.

KING: You got annoyed with that after a while, didn't you? With being Superman? You didn't want to do the fourth one or something?

REEVE: No, well, the fourth one I felt...

KING: Wasn't a good script?

REEVE: Well, we had different producers and they were doing a mass -- a lot of -- you know, they had like 25, 30 movies in production, or...

KING: Should you not have done the fourth?

REEVE: Not under those circumstances. If it had been a really good script, you know, all it is is the material, the cast, the budget, you get all the ingredients right, then there's no reason not to.

KING: But, you didn't mind the...

REEVE: If it had been great, you know, I would have been very happy.

KING: You didn't mind being tabbed then?

REEVE: No, because actually, believe it or not, Superman brought me opportunities. People think oh, well he played Superman. He lost opportunities. As a matter of fact, you know, I got movies like "Death Trap" and I got -- Merchant-Ivory, as a matter of fact, my first sort of art film was "The Bostonians" in 1983. And Jim Ivory said that he cast me because of the work I had done in "Superman," not in spite of it.

KING: "Death Trap" was wonderful, too.

REEVE: Oh, that was wild.

KING: And, "Ominous," the last movie you did, you were in a chair?

REEVE: Believe it or not.

KING: You played a bad guy.

REEVE: ...1994, it had been just after the earthquake, and I went out. I was playing a guy who is a paraplegic in a wheelchair, so I went out to a rehab center in Van Nuys, and there were a lot of people there who had -- you know, had bookcases fall on them and they'd been spinal cord injured during the earthquake. And I asked questions and I watched them. I remember driving away, every day after I would practice rehab saying, boy, thank God that's not me.

But the point is, any of this stuff can happen to any of us at any time.

KING: Is it difficult when you see films of yourself walking?

REEVE: No. Because I'm glad that I'm -- I have to say I'm very glad this happened to me at 42 and not at 22, or at 12, or 15. That is what really breaks my heart, when I see kids who haven't had a life. I have had wonderful opportunities. I got a lot of good mileage behind me, and I've also got a lot of good mileage ahead of me too.

But, I'm really glad that you know, it -- to be 15 and to realize what a long road you're going to have ahead of you, that breaks my heart. I have had a lot of luck.

KING: Why do you never get down? Or do you and you don't get down, ever when you are doing media?

REEVE: Well...

KING: You never get down!

REEVE: Well, I -- I'm lucky. I'm very lucky, first of all, because I think that I'm in a position to do more than just sit home, stare out the window, that I can actually be of help. Now, that wasn't a road I would have picked, but a lot of times things you know get picked for you, so the point is, either I give in or I say, all right, let's make the best of this, and there is a lot I can do.

KING: The last time you were with us, you had to be moved around. Every break, we had to move you and adjust you -- nothing. What happened?

REEVE: Because at that time, my skin was in a very weak condition, and I couldn't stay in one position for more than a few minutes. And now, I can sit in one position for an hour, hour and a half, without a problem -- so getting stronger.

KING: You've become a hero to the disabled, haven't you?

REEVE: Well, the disabled are concerned. Some of them are concerned that I am spending so much of my time working on research...

KING: Concerned that they'd rather have it spent on...

REEVE: Yeah, on better wheelchairs or better sidewalks.

KING: Something to be said for that too.

REEVE: Yeah, but I am trying to do both. And my foundation, we're dedicated to doing both. A portion of the money we raise goes to individuals and makes grants to people into institutions to improve accessibility and the quality of the life for the disabled. So we are very involved in that. But I take the longer view, because I think research will get us out of this.

KING: Have you thought about, studied, asked, about why we stare at the disabled, or shy?

REEVE: It's uncomfortable for some people. And I think one of the things that I can do is make it more comfortable. I think that the more you can just look past the chair and see the person, the better it is. And we're learning to do that, because the more we see disabled people, the more they come into the mainstream of society. The more we see them in the workplace, you get used to it.

KING: Because there's a mint of jobs they can hold.

REEVE: Sure.

KING: They can be news anchors. Why can't you be a news anchor?

REEVE: All kinds of things. There's all kinds of thing that people can do, we're just not used to it. And in the past, the disabled didn't have so many opportunities. But now, the technology is such that really, a disabled person can do incredible things. And new technologies have really changed things.

KING: So you're saying there is definitely prejudice against the disabled, no doubt about it. REEVE: I think it's an old habit we haven't gotten over yet. I think we will, though, and we need to get that message out, that the disabled can do much more than they think, if we ever give them the chance.


KING: When we come back, my 1998 interview with Chris Reeve, just after he'd finished his book, titled "Still Me." Stay tuned.


REEVE: The spinal cord and the brain are the last frontiers of inner space. And they will be conquered.




SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Chris was a beautiful, hopeful person, full of zest for life, full of caring for other people. He was a great, engaged, creative spirit. And he was an inspiration to all of us. Without leaving his wheelchair, he was able to make great strides toward a cure for conditions like his. And his tireless efforts are always going to be remembered, and they're always going to be honored, and in part because of his work, one day people will walk again.



KING: We're back with Christopher Reeve. The book is "Still Me." All right, everyone who's read about you, these past two, three days -- week, knows of your statements that you're going to walk. What do you base that on?

REEVE: On what the scientists are doing and the pace of the research. I'll give you an example. About a year ago, they did work on rats with an antibody called l-1, and the rats kind of scrabbled around. Their legs were moving, but they weren't really bearing weight, and about nine months later, after further refinements on this antibody, the rats are walking. On a scale of 0-14 where zero is nothing and 14 is complete movement -- they move at a level of 12.5.

The average observer wouldn't even know there's something wrong with them.

Now, what they're doing, particularly led by Dr. Martin Schwab (ph) at the University of Zurich, is figuring out how he can immunize the antibody so that it doesn't cause toxicity in the body or so it doesn't get rejected by the immune system, and then it's possible, if all goes well, that they'll be ready for a human trial within a year.

KING: And you think they will because...

REEVE: Because what?

KING: In other words what keeps you affirmative?

REEVE: All you've got to do is -- well, to immunize an antibody, that's not a hard thing to do. They've done it in the rats, it's just what is it that'll make it safe in humans? And that, that won't take that long, and then the biggest problem -- you know what the biggest problem is? It's that human trials are very, very expensive. They'll cost about $25 to $30 million to do it on the first batch of patients. So, right now Dr. Schwab is negotiating with drug companies, you know, because when the drug companies see profit coming, then they get involved, then there will be profit here because the antibody will be something that will be, you know, it's a drug that will be administered, and also it will have implications for Alzheimer's and for M.S. and stroke and all the diseases of the brain and central nervous system.

KING: There's no bigger story than the cure for some -- I mean, the cancer story breaks the other day and it looks hopeful and it's going to take a year before we know and the world -- the world is all encompassed in it. Do you think that will happen? Let's say this antibody works and they make an announcement "we're on our way, experiments in humans have shown a successful enough way to continue"?

REEVE: Well, I think they'll do it quietly at first, then we'll have the success, then it will be broadcast, but I think the experiments will be done quietly. And certainly I will, you know, when the time comes, sneak off to Zurich or whenever to go be worked on.

KING: Do you think about walking?

REEVE: Oh, absolutely. You know, as a matter of fact, in my dreams -- I have never been disabled in my dreams, so my subconscious insists that I am whole, and I follow my subconscious. But let me say one other thing, that, you know, the Defense Department, the budget, you know, in preparation to fight the enemy and be ready, you know, there are no real enemies. There's Saddam Hussein, OK, but he helps keep the Pentagon in business. But the real enemy, the enemy now is within our bodies, all of these diseases, Parkinson's and on -- that's the future, that's where we've got to fight. And we need to take money from the Defense Department budget and put it into research.

KING: It would seem idiotic, since that enemy obviously exists and is killing people, as we're speaking people are dying...

REEVE: That's right.

KING: You would go to war with that if it were an enemy, if cancer, let's say, were in that army you'd be in a world war.

REEVE: That's right. Right now, the Pentagon's budget for medical research is $39 billion. And of course, they need to do work on nerve -- I mean, germ warfare, et cetera, but you would -- if you were to break off, say, let us have 20 of that and give it to the National Institutes of Health, you'd see results so quick, it's unbelievable.

KING: What has to happen, Chris, for you to walk?

REEVE: Money.

KING: I know that, but what has to happen -- what do they have to -- your spine is separated...

REEVE: Oh, I'm sorry.

KING: I am going to get to the money part, but what has to happen?

REEVE: Right, well, there is a gap of only 20 millimeters in my spinal column at the second cervical vertebra. So nerves would have to regenerate across that gap, and what they have found that's so encouraging is that nerves, as they regenerate, they don't just go wandering around aimlessly. They seek the appropriate connection on the other side of the gap. It's almost as if the body wants to be whole, wants to be put together again, and so, like, for example, if somebody were to chop off your arm at the elbow, they could reattach it and all the peripheral nerves would reconnect because the body wants to do what. But...

KING: Then the difficulty here, then, is what?

REEVE: Is there are two proteins in the spinal column that prevent regeneration. The reason those proteins are there is that as the fetus develops, it keeps the brain from overdeveloping, and if the brain overdevelops it would develop tumors. So it shuts down the development of the brain at the right time, but it also prohibits regeneration of nerves, and that is what -- they have now discovered the antibody to those proteins, and that's why I sit here as optimistic as I am.

KING: So when this comes about it will come about through your -- will you need any physical thing to do, or will it be a medication?

REEVE: Yeah, it'll probably be injections at the site, or maybe some kind of a pump that administers the dosage on a kind of regular basis. It might be an implant that, you know, keeps the drug coming at the rate that's needed.

KING: You've gotten much, much better.

REEVE: Yeah.

KING: I mean, you look better. You look -- look very healthy, in fact.

REEVE: Thanks.

KING: Do you have any feelings at all? I remember you told us once about a twitch in the ankle? REEVE: Well, the main thing since I saw you last is that I didn't have feeling down my spine, and that's really a cause of worry. I mean, that's serious damage. But about a year and a half after the accident, I developed feeling all the way down to the very base of my spine, and that means that I'm incomplete and makes my chances for recovery that much better, plus the fact that the ventral side of the spinal cord, which controls motor function, is completely intact. So Dr. Schwab, in fact, wrote me and said that I'm a prime candidate for regeneration and recovery.

KING: One of the great difficulties you face is you don't have pain, right?


KING: If I put a -- if I put a knife in your hand, you wouldn't feel it, or would you?

REEVE: Well, not in my hand. But I tell you, I had two blood clots right behind my left knee and I...

KING: You felt...

REEVE: ... had sensation down there. I said, "why couldn't it have been the other leg"?


KING: Would you have a heart attack, God forbid, and not know it?

REEVE: No, I'd know it.

KING: You would know it?

REEVE: Oh, definitely I would know it.

KING: We'll be back with more of Christopher Reeve, the phone number 1-800-711-HOPE. That's the Reeve Foundation, and the book is "Still Me" from Random House. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Christopher Reeve. Now, people who have been tuning in and listening hear a little breathing sound every so often. Would you describe the chair you're in and what they're hearing?

REEVE: What they're hearing is the breathing machine called a ventilator. What it really is, is portable life support.

KING: It's behind you, right? There we see it.

REEVE: Behind me; it's got hoses; it comes up to my neck.

KING: And it does what? It breathes for you? REEVE: It breathes for me, yeah, literally pumps the air in and out. And otherwise I would not be here.

KING: OK, but I have heard others where the sound is louder than yours.

REEVE: Uh-huh.

KING: And where they have to stop -- in other words, the breaks are more frequent, where you'll hear -- Sergeant McDougal is an example. Every 15 seconds you'll hear -- then he has to continue. You don't seem to stop.

REEVE: He needs a newer model ventilator.

KING: This is the latest.

REEVE: Yeah, the latest.

KING: Does it feel weird to be dependent, as an independent person on something?

REEVE: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. That's why I do breathing exercises every day. I am now able to move my diaphragm, which is a big improvement. It means I have descended a couple of levels so that I can take this hose off and sit there and open my rib cage and my diaphragm and breathe from that.

KING: For how long?

REEVE: About a half hour, then it gets to be really hard work.

KING: Do you still have to be turned over during the night?

REEVE: No, I can stay in the same position all night.

KING: What changed that?

REEVE: That was just -- I got a special mattress that prevents skin breakdown, and it's a real relief because -- when I was in rehab, it was every two hours, and when I got home it was every four hours. Now I can just sleep through the night.

KING: Simple things. In the movie "Going Home," Jon Voight played a person paralyzed from the shoulder down who had sexual relationships. Can you have sex with your wife?

REEVE: No, not in the ordinary way. But...

KING: But there's still...

REEVE: ... there's creativity.

KING: A fulfillment. Is that something -- it's hard to ask this -- that you miss, but since you don't have the feeling, it's not missing? REEVE: No. You miss it terribly, but there are marriages where, you know, the couple are making love all the time, but they're not really as intimate as they should be, you know -- it's a ritual, or you know, somehow not that fulfilling. But, oddly enough, Dana and I are just as intimate as we ever were, and that's what really counts.

KING: And that's something you must have thought about in the hospital?

REEVE: Yeah, sure.

KING: Will it be, right?

REEVE: Yeah.

KING: Does it surprise you that the intimacy is as strong as it always was?

REEVE: I am very grateful for it. But Dana is an extraordinary person.

KING: Obviously.

REEVE: No, I shouldn't have been surprised, because that's who she is.

KING: All right. Things we don't know about paralysis, before we get into what they're doing about it. When you swallow a piece of food, do you feel it go down?

REEVE: Just normally, yeah, totally normal.

KING: All that hunger is the same?

REEVE: Yeah, but for seven months I couldn't eat. I could not stand the smell of food. And then one day in rehab I decided to be brave and order Chinese.

KING: Chinese.


REEVE: Chinese.

KING: Do you have feelings when you have to go to the bathroom?

REEVE: Let me tell you something, Dana went out and got Chinese, came in, and I thought I'll try it. You know, I hadn't been eating anything. And the smell was so horrible that...


KING: And that is true to this day.

REEVE: ... I had to go eat it in the bathroom.

KING: When do you have to go to the bathroom?

REEVE: That's -- I have a catheter, which comes directly out of the bladder and goes into a bag.

KING: You don't feel the reflex, though?


KING: We'll be back with Christopher Reeve. We'll talk about what's happening with paralysis, make things hopeful, too. Don't go away.


KING: A lot of questions are coming in about faith, and the last time you were with us, I asked this if you prayed and you said you thought that would be hypocritical; you didn't pray before this, why pray now? Has -- have you gotten any feelings of faith or God through all of this? Lot of people are asking that.

REEVE: Well, believe it or not, I think that, you know, God is not an entity that you find when you go to church and pray to God Almighty, you know, and I always remembered that going to church as a kid, you know, and they talk about the vengeance of his terrible swift sword and his armies, I said, "well that's kind of a scary guy." But I think that -- while I don't believe in God, per se, I believe in spirituality. And I believe that spirituality actually is automatically within ourselves, but we have to learn how to access it, and what that is, is realizing there is a higher power; there is...

KING: So it's not atheism?

REEVE: ... more than just us, there is an inner strength, there is something, you know, that comes from -- I don't know where exactly it comes from, but it's -- it really is the best that humans can be and perhaps what it is -- perhaps really what it is is love.

KING: Do you believe in life's lessons, those who might say, this happened to you for a reason?

REEVE: No, I don't. I think it was totally random, but I think the job is afterwards to find a reason, so it didn't happen for a reason, but then I've had to learn how to create one.

KING: This is something, before it happened to you, you probably had no interest in, right?


KING: If there were a show on, you may watch, but you may not have watched. Someone fighting for a cure for spinal injury, right?

REEVE: I have to admit, you know, particularly, I've often told this story, you know, that I was playing a paraplegic in a movie.

KING: That was your last TV movie. They just showed it the other night.

REEVE: Yeah. Yeah,, and I went out to the rehab center in Van Nuys, California, to train, to learn how to...

KING: To learn how to handle a chair.

REEVE: How to simulate getting in and out of a chair, out of a car, and stuff like that, and every time I left that rehab center, I said, "thank God that's not me." I was very smug about it, and relieved to leave the hospital, and I regret that so much because I was so setting myself apart from those people who were suffering without realizing that in a second that could be me.

KING: Even though you were playing the villain, who, in fact, was not ever paralyzed?

REEVE: Well, technically, what had happened to him is a bruise. You can injure your spinal chord and bruise it and be up in a couple of weeks.

KING: Can you watch that when it's shown now, and you're wheeling yourself around, and killing two people, and getting away with it?

REEVE: That's one I prefer not to watch, no.

KING: What?

REEVE: No, because I'm very ashamed of how I behaved when I left the rehab center. I'm ashamed about my smugness, my complacency, you know, and it brings back a bad memory, so I don't watch that one.

KING: And do you think the other people in the center -- center -- sensed it?

REEVE: No, because when I was there, I was very quiet, respectful, interested, but inside I'm thinking, "Oh man, I'm glad this is not me."

KING: What about someone in your position looking in, saying, yeah, that's Christopher Reeve, he gets on television; he has his private planes; everybody caters to him. What about me, I'm here on Third Street in downtown Utica?

REEVE: My job is to try to effect a cure for the guy on Third Street in downtown Utica.

As Rock Hudson's death spurred a growth in AIDS research -- Elizabeth Taylor's involvement, what Betty Ford did for abuse, substance abuse, it takes somebody visible to lead the charge. And it's not a job I would have wanted, but I'm doing it, not only for me, but on behalf of that guy on Third Street in Utica.

KING: What percentage of those with spinal injuries are male? Is it higher in the male...

REEVE: Much more so, because...

KING: They're doing more athletic things?

REEVE: Guys tend to dive into the shallow end of pools more often.

KING: Because they're stupid, right?

REEVE: Yeah.


KING: In other words, are we going to see it grow, though, with more women more competitive in more competitive sports? Are we going to see this happen?


KING: There are women in ice hockey?

REEVE: That's right, and you know, you can take a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) into the boards in hockey and break your neck. It's going to happen.

KING: That's what that guy in Boston did, we put you in touch with him. The young man, his first play on ice.

REEVE: Yes. Eleven seconds.

KING: Eleven seconds.

REEVE: Travis Roy.

KING: Great star in high school, first game, 11 seconds, paralyzed him for life.

REEVE: Right, but he's not sitting around watching the grass grow either. He's back at college, living a very active life, and very aggressive about raising money and so...

KING: When you see people run or just walk out of here, are you jealous?

REEVE: No, not anymore. It would take up too much of my time.

KING: Were you once jealous?

REEVE: Yes, I was. You know, I thought, wait a minute, ...

KING: Why them?

REEVE: Yeah, why them, and also I felt like, you know, this is wrong, you know, I -- there's got to be a mistake here. I'm not supposed to be seated here and then I realized how arrogant that was. I'm no better than anybody else. I wiped out in a freak accident. It could happen to anybody, and what really makes me sad is the family driving along in a car and they stop -- it's a rainy, windy day, and a tree falls over, lands in the car and kills two of the occupants -- the husband and the son, and you know, where is the justice in that? Where is the logic in that?

A tree fell on their car. And the mother is, you know, in a wheelchair with a spinal chord injury. So, you know, the point is that yeah, there can be, you know, dumb things, diving in the shallow end, or whatever. But also the randomness of life, where you can be sitting at a stop sign, a tree falls on your car, you know, it's just -- that's pretty weird.

KING: The day you walk, I guess you'll be coming out of some hospital or somewhere?

REEVE: Well, it will take a lot of rehab, because I'll need to learn equilibrium all over again.

KING: You'll have to learn balance? You have to learn how to walk?

REEVE: Yeah, I'd have to learn to walk.

KING: You would crawl? You would probably crawl for a while?

REEVE: No, I would start on parallel bars, walking between them, being supported or I would use my arms. I would have my arms on the rails and I would go along, but I would imagine probably a year of rehab after they make the reconnection, and then the thing is where do I show up first?

KING: Yes, that's what I'm asking. We could do this show standing up, Chris.

REEVE: That would be great.

KING: You wouldn't have to sit down.

REEVE: That would be cool.

KING: Does the hope every wane -- are there ever moments when you say, it ain't going to happen?



REEVE: No, because I call these guys up and they're not lying to me. Scientists.

KING: I mean, but even if they're not lying, is there ever a moment of doubt?

REEVE: If you're in this condition and somebody said that if we have enough money, that we will be able to achieve regeneration over the next couple of years, wouldn't you be able to get through that? I bet you would.


KING: He was one of the most optimistic men I've ever met. And though he always wanted to walk again, it wasn't meant to be. Last weekend, he died at age 52. Back with a final word in a moment.


KING: Thanks for watching the show tonight. We're planning a tribute to Christopher Reeve after his funeral is held, featuring many of his celebrity friends and co-stars. We hope you'll tune in for that.

For now, stay tuned for more news on CNN. Good night.


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