Sometimes at night, Christopher Reeve said in an interview at his home in Bedford, N.Y., he dreams he is sailing aboard his yacht, Sea Angel. A gentle breeze fills the sails as he steers the boat along the reflection of the full moon. "At night I am always whole," he said. "I've never had a dream in which I am in a wheelchair."
In his new book, Still Me, Reeve, Superman to millions of people, tells the story of his life on both sides of the riding accident that in 1995 essentially severed his head from his body, paralyzing him from the neck down.
For the first time, he reveals in the book that his injuries were so grave that his mother begged his doctors to withdraw life support. And he writes, also for the first time, that he himself considered ending his life but was dissuaded by the words of his wife, Dana Morosini: "I will support you whatever you want to do, because this is your life, and your decision. But I want you to know that I'll be with you for the long haul, no matter what."
Then, he wrote, "she added the words that saved my life: "You're still you. And I love you.'
Reeve reflected on his life and his book, which was published in April, as he sat in a wheelchair in the office of his gray shingled house, which overlooks a broad sweep of green meadow and a tranquil pond.
As Reeve, 45, spoke, the whooshing sound of the ventilator that forces room air into his lungs through a tracheotomy filled the room. He sat upright in a wheelchair, his head held immobile in a brace to protect it from spasms. He spoke in full sentences, his voice quite clear, his handsome features still mobile. But his hands, and the rest of his 6-foot 4-inch frame, rested lifelessly in the wheelchair.
"The thing that made me most angry was that I was never reckless," he said. Reeve has flown solo across the Atlantic twice, and he cited a dictum from an FAA handbook: "The outcome of any maneuver must never seriously be in doubt."
"That was the rule I lived by in all the sports I did," he said.
What happened to Reeve on that day in May 1995 is widely known. Since the accident, he has turned himself into a leading spokesman for people with spinal-cord injuries, raising money for research through the Christopher Reeve Foundation. But his book relates new facts about his injury and his adjustment to nearly total paralysis.
The book describes in detail for the first time the surgery a few days after his accident that essentially reattached his head to his body with wire. As he lay waiting for the operation, he writes, his best friend from the Juilliard School, Robin Williams, arrived in his room, dressed as a doctor. "He announced that he was a proctologist and had to examine me immediately," Reeve writes. "And for the first time since the accident, I laughed."
Reeve describes his anger at one doctor who he said misled him into believing there was more hope than there really was. And he describes a terrifying moment when the tube of his ventilator popped out of the machine, leaving him without air and unable to talk. As he lay frozen in the darkness, he struggled for breath, waiting for a nurse to come and reattach the hose.
Since the accident, Reeve said, he has regained some sensation above the neck, across his shoulders and down his left arm and leg, but he has no control over bodily functions. "We have a team of 10 nurses and five aides," he said, "round the clock." As he spoke, he adjusted his wheelchair, called a "sip and puff" because he maneuvers it by breathing into a straw.
It takes two attendants to get him up in the morning, and another two to get ready for bed, Reeve said, but he can turn his head 70 degrees on each side and breathe on his own for up to half an hour. "I do it as conditioning for the time when there is regeneration" of the nerves of the spinal cord, Reeve said, speaking of it as a certainty.
His health is perilous. In the book, he reveals that since the accident he has come near to death twice, from a drug reaction and from dysreflexia, a condition that results from a blocked bowel or urinary tract.
"The stark difference between before and after the accident is almost too much to bear," Morosini said in a telephone interview later. "I never discuss the accident. I did once, for Chris' book." But she said she could not bear to recount it again.
With Morosini, an actor and singer, and his 5-year-old son, Will, Reeve seeks a semblance of normal family life.
"We decided I must be his wife and not his nurse," said Morosini. "Though I occasionally do his hair shampoo because it's a sexy, intimate thing. Chris is incredibly resilient. He will occasionally get down, hit rock bottom. I just listen and try to find things that can help. Close physical contact is helpful."
Reeve counts himself lucky to have the financial resources to tend to his condition.
He plays ice hockey with Will, driving his wheelchair in a zigzag and pretending to smooth out the ice. They play board games, but Will has to roll the dice.
Reeve wrote Still Me himself, dictating it to an assistant. Originally, he contracted with columnist Roger Rosenblatt to write the book, for which Reeve received a $3-million advance. But "I began to see I needed to tell my own story," he said. "Roger very graciously bowed out."
On the morning of May 27, 1995, Reeve was supposed to ride in a cross-country event in Culpeper, Va. He had taken up riding only recently, in a way, he writes, as a substitute for his stalled acting career.
Reeve was increasingly frustrated because he seemed frozen in time, forever Superman in the eyes of the world as a result of the popular movies. He tried to audition for the role that eventually went to Richard Gere in Pretty Woman but was turned away.
Reeve writes that he had walked the cross-country course three times, making notes. "I put on my safety vest and helmet and started out to the warm-up area," he said. A friend wished him luck. "From that point onward, I have no memory," he said.
Three days later, he woke up in the hospital. His horse had refused a jump and come to a sudden stop, hurling Reeve head first to the ground. The entire 215-pound weight of Reeve's body landed on his head, shattering his top two cervical vertebrae.
In the book, Reeve describes the life of privilege that was ended by the accident. His father is the writer F.D. Reeve, a professor of comparative literature at Wesleyan College. His parents were divorced when he was 3.
Reeve had a difficult relationship with his father. But what is striking about Still Me is the tone of forgiveness that Reeve takes toward everyone in his life, including the horse that threw him.
For several years he lived with Gae Exton, with whom he had two children, Matthew, now 18, and Alexandra, 14, but he was never able to commit himself to marriage. They broke up in 1987. In the book he writes that he and Exton have a friendly relationship.
He had been living the life of a bachelor when he met Morosini. In the book, Reeves recounts a passionate, romantic relationship. The couple married in 1992, and that year, Will was born. There were three years of happiness. Then came the accident.
Since then, his life has been a struggle to regain movement and feeling and to keep his body in shape for a cure. Reeve points to promising research into spinal-cord regeneration using antibodies and nerve growth factors.
"I think human trials are a year away," he said. He believes that it is crucial that his body stay in shape, that his muscles be kept from atrophying and his bones from succumbing to osteoporosis because of his paralyzed state.
One theme that consumes him in conversation is his battle to get insurance companies to pay for his treatment. "It is in the insurance companies' best interests to keep me in tiptop shape," Reeve said. Although there have been recent breakthroughs in the research, doctors have been cautious about a complete cure in the near future.
Insurance covers his basic care costs of about $350,000 a year. But he said his insurance from the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists will run out this month. It will be picked up by the Screen Actors Guild, which has a ceiling of $750,000 for his lifetime, Reeve said. "But so many people belong to one union," he said.
Reeve acknowledges that his wealth has made it possible for him to get treatments not available to the ordinary patient. He corresponds with many families whose insurance coverage has ended; he sees himself as a spokesman for their plight.
He pays for a backup ventilator because he says his insurance company will not. "The machine costs $3,600. I have that," he said. "But what about people who don't?"
His insurance company also will not pay, he said, for physical therapy below the neck, or a $30,000 machine that stimulates his muscles with electrodes, which he says are necessary to prevent muscle atrophy. Nor will it pay the $15,000 for a "tilt table" that slowly moves him upright so he can support his body weight, a further shield against atrophy and osteoporosis.
"There is only a 20-millimeter gap in my case," Reeve said, referring to the break in his spinal cord, "less than an eighth of an inch" between paralysis and walking, moving his hands, breathing on his own.
Last year Reeve returned to work, as a director of a television movie, In the Gloaming. He sat in front of a video screen and gave instructions to a crew in the other room, a method many directors use. This summer, he hopes to direct a remake of the 1954 Hitchcock film, Rear Window, which starred Jimmy Stewart as a man in a wheelchair who spotted a crime being committed across the way.
Reeve would star in the film himself. "I would be a vent-dependent quadriplegic," he said, "living in an apartment with the latest assistive techniques." His character "is a former architect with an outsize ego.
"The accident would be a lesson in humility," Reeve said. "He starts out as a master of the universe, and he goes through a profound transformation."