WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Dana Reeve, the singer-actress who married the strapping star of the “Superman” movies and then devoted herself to his care and his cause after he was paralyzed, has died of lung cancer, a year-and-a-half after her husband. She was 44.
Although Reeve had announced her cancer diagnosis in August — to an outpouring of sympathy and support from admirers around the world — her death seemed sudden. As recently as Jan. 12, she looked healthy and happy as she belted out Carole King’s “Now and Forever” at a packed Madison Square Garden during a ceremony honoring hockey star Mark Messier, a friend.
“Unfortunately, that’s what happens with this awful disease,” said Maggie Goldberg of the Christopher Reeve Foundation, where Dana Reeve had succeeded her husband as chair. “You feel good, you’re responding and then the downturn.”
Reeve, who lived in Pound Ridge, died Monday night at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Medical Center in Manhattan, said foundation president Kathy Lewis.
Officials would not discuss Reeve’s treatment or say when she entered the hospital. But Lewis said she visited her there on Friday, when Reeve was “tired but with her typical sense of humor and smile, always trying to make other people feel good, her characteristic personality.”
“The brightest light has gone out,” said comedian Robin Williams. “We will forever celebrate her loving spirit.”
Former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton described Reeve as “a model of tenacity and grace.”
“Despite the adversity that she faced, Dana bravely met these challenges and was always an extremely devoted wife, mother and advocate,” they said.
Christopher and Dana Reeve married in 1992. Life changed drastically for the young show-business couple three years later when Christopher Reeve suffered near-total paralysis in a horse-riding accident and almost died.
In his autobiography, “Still Me,” Reeve wrote that he suggested early on to his wife, “Maybe we should let me go.” She responded, “I’ll be with you for the long haul, no matter what. You’re still you and I love you.”
Those were “the words that saved my life,” Christopher Reeve said.
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For his remaining nine years, Dana Reeve was her husband’s constant companion and supporter during the ordeal of his rehabilitation, winning worldwide acclaim and admiration. With him, she became an activist in the search for a cure for spinal-cord injuries.
“Something miraculous and wonderful happened amidst terrible tragedy, and a whole new dimension of life began to emerge,” she wrote in a 1999 book, “Care Packages: Letters to Christopher Reeve from Strangers and Other Friends.” “What we had yet to discover were all the gifts that come out of sharing hardship, the hidden pleasures behind the pain.”
After her husband’s death in October 2004, Reeve said she planned to return to acting. She had appeared on Broadway, off-Broadway and regional stages and on the TV shows “Law & Order,” “Oz,” and “All My Children,” and she’d had to give up a Broadway role when she was widowed.
“I am an actress and I do have to make a living,” she said.
However, her mother died of complications from ovarian cancer and her own diagnosis came the next summer, two days after the lung cancer death of ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, a smoker.Video: Remembering Dana Reeve
“I thought that after everything that she had gone through with Chris that she would have time to smell the flowers and be in the sun,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. “But apparently that was not meant to be.”
From the start, Reeve expressed confidence she would beat lung cancer. And four months ago, wearing a long formal gown at a fundraising gala for the foundation, Reeve provoked wolf whistles from Williams and said she was responding well to treatment.
“I’m beating the odds and defying every statistic the doctors can throw at me,” Reeve said. “My prognosis looks better all the time.”
At about the same time, Reeve taped a PBS show, “The New Medicine,” about how doctors are paying more attention to a patient’s cultural values and lifestyle as part of treatment. In her introduction to the program, Reeve said, “It has become clear to me that high-tech medicine, with all its wonders, often leaves out that all-important human touch.”
PBS said Tuesday that the show will be broadcast as scheduled March 29.
Survivors include the Reeves’ 13-year-old son, Will; two grown stepchildren, Matthew and Alexandra; her father, Charles Morosini; and two sisters.
Goldberg said Will was “in the loving care of family and friends” and that his mother had arranged for his future.
The foundation said no plans for a funeral have been announced.
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