What makes a Hollywood Legend?

Christopher Reeve died yesterday. The first reports I heard of his death were this morning, and were in the form of “Hollywood Legend Christopher Reeve has died.” Please know I intend no disrespect for the man who became the face and outspoken advocate of spinal chord research.

What Christopher Reeve has accomplished since a horse-riding accident in 1995 left him paralyzed is certainly admirable. His advocacy has made stem-cell research a key issue in the current presidential campaign. John Kerry mentioned him by name in last week’s debate.

But was Reeve a “Hollywood Legend”? I don’t think so, and don’t understand how journalists could so characterize him. He is best known for starring in the “Superman” movies of the 80s. While many people saw these movies, and they propelled him into other roles, they were hardly the stuff of which legends are made.

Journalists are trained to seek a headline, and what better way to get a headline than to tie it to Hollywood, the capital of glitz and curiosity. I admit that when I heard the teaser on the radio, that a Hollywood Legend had died, it got my attention. I waited patiently through the commercials to get the story.

There are Hollywood Legends. Bogart, Hepburn, Ford, Spielberg, and many others, are people whose lives are synonymous with the motion picture industry. Could Reeve have continued his acting career and achieved that status? Quite possibly. He did, in fact, continue to act, but his roles were limited, and best understood as an aspect of his advocacy.

Reeve reached fame through Hollywood, but he did not reach greatness until after Hollywood. When he choose to focus his life on increasing awareness and raising research dollars for a cause that could help thousands if not millions of people, Reeve found a cause that was much larger than even the superhero he had portrayed. Was Christopher Reeve a Hollywood Legend? I don’t think so; but he may have actually become Superman, and done so from a wheelchair.

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