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I met Christopher Reeve when he was about to become faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It was 1977. He was 25 and filming Superman, a role that would make him an American icon; I was a photographer shooting celebrities for magazines and stills on movies. Working on Superman, I came to like this tall, strapping actor. He and I got together for dinner one night, but I had no inkling then that he'd have such an impact on my life.
The following year, when Superman was released, I was assigned to shoot a magazine story on him, and we hung out for five days. He was great to work with – unassuming and fun. When he showed up later at a July 4th barbecue at my home, none of my friends could believe it was Christopher Reeve, Superman.
We had lots of common interests – sports, literature, film, plays and TV. He was always curious about my work because, in addition to shooting movies, I covered wars and world events. But what really brought us together was the fact that Chris trusted me. He knew that I would never release a photograph of him unless I asked first.
In 1980 Superman II came out, and I shot another story on Chris. By then, he had a son, Matthew, with modelling executive Gae Exton, and two years later, daughter Alexandra arrived. I came to know Chris's family well, often sharing holidays or downtime with them.
Warner bros. sent me to western Canada to shoot for Superman III. While scouting locations, I had a chance to go sailing and white-water rafting with Chris. I got an idea for a spectacular shot and asked Chris if he'd ever been up in a balloon. ''I've always wanted to, but my contract says that while I'm making Superman, I can't fly my plane,'' he said. He paused, then flashed an impish grin. ''But it doesn't say anything about a balloon!''
The next day, the balloon pilot picked us up late. It was pitch-black when we landed – on a tree stump in a field. Chris and I flew out of the
basket. Dazed, I stood up and yelled, ''Chris, Chris.'' There was no answer. I thought, I've killed Superman! I heard moaning. ''Oh, God, I think I broke everything in my body,'' Chris said, sounding terrible. I ran as fast as I could, and, in a tiny shaft of moonlight, spotted him sprawled on the ground. As I knelt down to help him, Chris looked up and began laughing hysterically. I could have slugged him – he was absolutely fine.
It was sad when Chris and Gae broke up in 1987; they'd been together for about ten years. He was upset and worried about the kids; he and Gae shared joint custody. Then, that summer, Chris met Dana Morosini.
She was singing in a cabaret. After their first meeting, Chris told me he knew she was the person he'd been looking for all his life. When I met her the next day, I asked Chris, ''Does she have a sister?'' She was so lovely and fun – and she gave the best hugs.
They married in 1992, and after their son Will was born, moved to Pound Ridge, New York. I'd stop by to visit on the way to my summer home. Their life seemed perfect. Then in May 1995, their world collapsed. In one dizzying moment, Chris injured his spinal cord in a horse-riding accident and was paralysed from the neck down.
A couple of months later, after Chris was transferred to a rehab centre, Dana called me. ''Chris wants you to come,'' she said. ''Bring your cameras.''
When I saw my friend, paralysed, it took everything not to break down in front of him. It was difficult for Chris to talk then, but he made it clear that he wanted me to photograph him for a book he was planning. So I returned to his bedside many times.
Chris worried about the toll his condition would take on Dana. He told her, ''It's not fair for me to put this burden on you.'' And she said, ''You have love for me, I have the same feelings and love for you, and you're still you.''
I think the only reason Chris didn't pull the plug on himself was because of Dana's love and her belief that they could make a life for themselves. When Chris got home, Dana became more than his wife and lover and the mother of his child. She was his nurse, his driver, his exercise therapist, his everything. She took care of him 24 hours a day, feeding him, helping him blow his nose, anything – gladly, with such joy. And she maintained her sense of humour. One night, when we were having a barbecue at their house, Dana, grasping an ear of corn, announced, ''Watch ‘Jaws' in action!'' She held the ear in front of Chris, and he went across it in two seconds! Once, while doing a shoot for a women's magazine, Dana threw her leg over him. ''Let's get a little racy,'' she said.
I was an only child; my dad died when I was two. Watching Chris and Dana show Will how much they loved him often made me think, I wish I could have had parents like that. Chris would go to Will's hockey games, and that was an ordeal. They'd hook him up to all these machines, transport him in a specially equipped van, and Dana would bundle him up, because his body temperature couldn't go below a certain point. It was all worth it to Chris. When Will scored, Chris's face would look like one of those yellow smiley faces, magnified ten times.
Chris started the Christopher Reeve Foundation to find a cure for spinal cord injury, and it raised more than $65 million. He began his political fight to hasten stem-cell research in hopes of reversing paralysis, and travelled the world to learn about
He never gave up hope that he would walk again, even though he kept having setbacks. In the summer of 2004, while in New Orleans directing a TV film about a quadriplegic teen, Chris landed in the hospital. One of the pressure sores that he was so prone to had become infected and compromised his immune system. When he got out, he invited me to go to dinner. ''It's such a beautiful night, let's just walk,'' he said.
Dana pushed Chris through the streets, and traffic stopped for him. People got out of their cars, shouted, ''Welcome to New Orleans!'' I never imagined it was the last time I'd see him and Dana together.
On September 25, 2004, Chris celebrated his 52nd birthday. Fifteen days later, an infection stemming from another pressure wound raged through his body and stopped his heart. Devastated, I met with Dana, and we just embraced for a long time and cried.
Dana became chairwoman for the foundation and carried on Chris's fight for stem-cell research. She also picked up her acting and singing career.
Often I would stop by the house to see if she was okay. In June 2005 she called, excited to tell me she'd gotten a cabaret gig in New York City and needed photos for the promotional posters. She came down to my studio, and, my God, she looked gorgeous. We shot all day. Her enthusiasm was infectious, even though she didn't feel well. She kept coughing, and said, ''I've got this cold and can't shake it.''
A couple of weeks later, however, she was still coughing. I said, ''Gee, Dana, you ought to go see a doctor,'' and she said she had an appointment scheduled.
It was the next month that she told me she had lung cancer. I was speechless. ''Don't worry,'' she said. ''I've never smoked a day in my life, and we caught it early. I'll have treatment. Probably in six or seven months, I'll be clear of the whole thing.''
Dana had had so much more than her share of adversity. To me, it was as if she were caught up in a ferocious avalanche of bad luck. In February 2005, four months after she lost Chris, her mother died after ovarian cancer surgery. That November, while her
father was visiting for Thanksgiving, he suffered a stroke. It seemed unfair each time something terrible happened to this giving, beautiful person.
Dana called me early in January to say she was going to sing at Madison Square Garden for Mark Messier, who was retiring from the Rangers. I watched on television and thought, She's really beating it!
Three weeks later she took a nosedive. Over the phone, Chris's eldest son, Matthew, levelled with me. ''She's in the hospital, Ken,'' he said. ''I don't think she's going to make it.'' A week later, Dana died, on March 6, 2006, at the age of 44.
I asked myself, Can there be someone up there who let this happen to two people who did not deserve it? But I also had this feeling that Dana was called to be with Chris. Maybe she did too. At her husband's memorial, Dana had looked up and said, ''I'll be there with you one day, Chris.''
A few months before she died, Dana taped an introduction to a PBS documentary called The New Medicine. She told viewers, ''For years, my husband and I lived on – and because of – hope. Hope continues to give me the mental strength to carry on.''
It has given me strength as well. As a photojournalist, I have had an extraordinary life, travelling the globe and meeting the newsmakers of our time. But one of the greatest experiences of my life was becoming close friends with Chris, then doubling that by meeting Dana too.
|Rebecca on 22 November 2012 ,15:29 |
It's an awesome article. Tears rolled down my cheeks. Inspiring as I strive to find for a cure for psoriasis.
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