After a lengthy, diverse career, it was difficult to pinpoint exactly which contribution earned Dana Reeve the respect of so many. Some pointed to her work as an actor and cabaret singer; others, to her work as activist on behalf of spinal chord injury research. Still others simply admired her devotion to her husband, actor Christopher "Superman" Reeve, following an equestrian accident which left him paralyzed for the rest of his life. In truth, Dana Reeve deserved all the accolades heaped upon her during her all too brief, sometimes tragic life.
Born Feb. 19, 1961, Dana Charles Morosini was the daughter of Teaneck, NJ cardiologist Charles Morosini and his wife Helen Simpson Morosini. She had two sisters, Deborah and Adrienne. The family grew up in Greenburgh, NY, where Reeve attended Edgemont High School. After graduation, she moved on to Middlebury College and before her 1984 graduation, spent a year at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After receiving her bachelor's degree in English Literature cum laude, she continued her dramatic training with graduate classes at the California Institute of the Arts, determined to be a great stage performer one day.
Her professional relationship with the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts would prove to be one of the most important of her life. In spite of her acting talents, she was originally hired for her singing skills. Her early work at the Festival, as an apprentice and as a member of the Cabaret Corps (she eventually became a member of the Board of Trustees), gave her the opportunity to perform in both musical theater and conventional dramas. Nevertheless, it was during a 1987 late-night cabaret show performance that she caught the eye of audience member and major star, Christopher Reeve. He introduced himself to her after the show and they began dating not long after.
On April 11, 1992, she married Reeve in South Williamston and they eventually had a son, Will (Christopher had two children from a previous relationship). The two lived a storybook life until May 27, 1995, when during an equestrian event, Christopher Reeve was thrown from his horse, landing on his head and damaging his spinal chord. It was a touch-and-go situation at first, with Reeve unable to breathe on his own. The irony that "Superman" - of all people - would be cut down in such a physically debilitating way, was not lost on a world that, along with Reeve's immediate family and wide circle of showbiz friends, rallied around his wife and children for weeks. Eventually, Reeve was able to sit in a wheelchair and move around, but not without benefit of his ventilator. Someone with less fortitude might have hit the road, but the loyal Dana Reeve impressed the world by standing by her husband - just as she had promised in her vows not long before. With her love and support, her quadriplegic husband was able to eventually function again - including directing and acting again - albeit in a limited way from his chair, but his efforts to stay a functioning human being inspired many people in many different ways.
The accident did more than solidify the Reeves' love; it also helped motivate the couple to use his "Superman" fame for good in the world of medical research. Her husband's paralysis had already drastically changed the focus of her career. Although she continued to act, the couple became deeply involved in charitable work and activism for various causes relating to the needs of the paralyzed and disabled. They co-founded the Christopher Reeve Foundation in 1996, providing grants and lobbying for additional funding for scientific research in fields like spinal cord injury research, while also working to improve living conditions for people with disabilities. By 2006, the organization had already awarded tens of millions of dollars worth of grants.
Occasionally, and at her husband's behest, Reeve would find the time to focus on her own career, appearing periodically in television guest spots on shows such as "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990- ), "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (NBC, 2001- ) and "Oz" (HBO, 1997-2003). She also co-hosted "Lifetime Live," a daily talk show for women on the Lifetime network that aired in 2000. Although she appeared occasionally in films, and was an accomplished singer who had performed at large venues and on television, her true love had always been the stage
Reeve found time to perform at regional theaters across the country, as well as in a variety of off-Broadway appearances in New York, including "Portraits" in 2003. She appeared in "More to Love" on Broadway, and would have had returned to the Great White Way for the 2004 production of "Brooklyn Boy" - a play she was performing in its pre-Broadway run in Costa Mesa, CA - had she not been forced to withdraw early. During her Costa Mesa run, she received word that Christopher was teetering on the verge of death. She rushed home from the West Coast to see him one last time before he passed away on Oct. 10, 2004 from an unexpected cardiac arrest. The world mourned the death of this "Super Man," as he was often referred to in the media, and marveled at his widow's strength in the face of her seemingly continuous bad fortune.
After her husband died, Reeve's fervor for medical miracles only grew. She stepped up and became the chairperson of the Christopher Reeve Foundation, and despite protestations from the right-wing fringe, began to lobby for human embryonic stem cell research as a cure for spinal chord injury, among other diseases. She also began to work as a motivational speaker and an author, penning Care Packages: Letters to Christopher Reeve from Strangers and Other Friends. She was signed to a seven-figure deal to write another book about her life with her late husband. Her work earned her numerous awards and commendations, including the "Shining Example Award" from Procter & Gamble in 1998; a 2003 "American Image Award" from the American Apparel & Footwear Association; and "Mother of the Year" from the American Cancer Society in 2005.
Sadly, Reeve was never able to complete the second book. Though a non-smoker, she announced that she had lung cancer on Aug. 9, 2005 - yet another cruel twist of fate by anyone's estimation. Although she quietly underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment, on March 6, 20006, she died in New York just seven months later, plunging the world into mourning yet again. Though Reeve never was able to achieve her own showbiz dreams and was not some heralded superhero on screen, she achieved far more - the good will, respect and love from people of all race and creed for the way she had bravely carried herself - first, following her husband's accident and death nine yeas later, and finally, by battling the deadly cancer she had unjustly been inflicted with. The couple's orphaned son Will, who would join a school friend's family following his mother's arrangement, was for a time, looked at as a child of the world, with letters of condolences and offers to take care of him coming in from around the globe. When Reeve was laid to rest not long after her death, the outpouring of grief from scientists, former presidents, politicians, movie stars and spinal chord injury victims - as well as family and friends - filled the church in a way that no one - let alone the modest Dana Reeve herself - would have ever predicted.