Three weeks after Christopher Reeve’s death, his family and friends celebrated him Friday at a place that was central to his life: The Juilliard School, where he first honed his acting skills and later returned to receive an honorary doctorate.
More than 900 people, including Hollywood stars and Washington politicians, arrived at the school’s Lincoln Center campus for the memorial to Reeve, the strapping actor who played “Superman” on screen and then spent the last nine years of his life as a quadriplegic after a riding accident.
“His courage and inspiration will live on,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said of Reeve, who worked toward finding a cure for paralysis after his accident.
Among those in attendance were Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry; actors Michael J. Fox, Laura Linney, Mary Tyler Moore, Kim Cattrall and Susan Sarandon; television hosts Larry King and Katie Couric; actor Giancarlo Esposito and director Mike Nichols.
Scott Remington, a paraplegic injured in a logging accident, also came to honor Reeve. The Brant Lake, N.Y., man raised $135,000 for the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, and the actor had invited Remington to his home for a visit in February.
“I was very impressed,” recalled Remington. “He was so incredibly knowledgeable.”
The 52-year-old Reeve died Oct. 10 of complications from an infection caused by a bedsore. Days later, a close circle of family and friends attended a private ceremony at his Pound Ridge home in New York’s northern suburbs.
Friday’s service, which was closed to the media, was held at the same place where Reeve received his doctorate in May 1997 before delivering a memorable speech to the graduating class. The tribute, like the graduation, drew a standing-room only crowd.
Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell sang “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha,” and Rui Shi, a young woman who studies piano at Juilliard, performed a piece Reeve himself used to play — Mendelssohn’s “Song Without Words.” The memorial closed with the cast of Broadway’s “The Lion King” performing the song “Circle of Life.”
Speakers included Reeve’s widow, Dana; his Juilliard roommate and lifelong friend, Robin Williams; and actresses Glenn Close and Meryl Streep. Reeve’s children, Matthew, Alexandra and Will, had prepared a 20-minute film about life with their father, and Reeve’s brother, Benjamin, planned to share memories of their childhood.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who worked with Reeve to increase funding for spinal cord injury research, also was on the list of speakers, along with environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Dana Reeve organized the memorial at Juilliard, where her husband studied drama in the early 1970s after graduating from Cornell University.
Reeve won worldwide fame in four “Superman” films from 1978-87. But in May 1995, his riding accident instantly turned him into a spokesman for spinal cord injury victims.
He lost the use of his arms and legs and couldn’t breathe without a ventilator. He was still dealing with the horror of his injury six months later when he decided to use his celebrity to promote attention and funding for scientific study of disabilities like his and to lobby for looser restrictions on stem-cell research.