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Monday, October 11, 2004

Goodnight, Superman

Q: Do you believe in the Lord?

A: Even though I don't personally believe in the Lord, I try to behave as though He was watching. -Christopher Reeve, speaking at the Courage Centre in 1996

When I was younger, I didn't understand why people could get so upset over the death of a famous person, someone they'd never met, particularly if they had an occupation that I considered frivolous: athlete, Why shed tears for someone you never met? Aren't there dozens, millions of people who had harder lives, who are more deserving of our grief?

Sometimes I still feel that way, if only to remind myself of all the dead we never hear about. But Reeve's passing is personal, because, though he never knew me, he helped shape my life. I was nine years old when my cousin Cathy took me to a Winnipeg theatre to see the premiere of Superman, and on that day in 1978 I was inspired - inspired to be a better, kinder person, to acknowledge my strengths but always temper that knowledge with fight for truth and justice. Reeve made Superman a real, admirable human being; a fictional character, yes, but also an ideal worth aspiring to.

Years later, while I was attending university, I was sitting in the dorm lounge with my new friend Stephanie Gillis. Superman III was playing on the TV; it was the Smallville scene, where Clark is reunited with his old school sweetheart, Lana Lang. (A wonderful scene in an unfairly maligned film.) We watched for a bit, and then Stephanie turned to me and said, "You know, Earl, you're just like Clark Kent." I had to turn away, because I nearly cried. It was the highest compliment I've ever been paid.

As much as my parents, my teachers, my friends and the books that informed my character, Christopher Reeve helped make me the person I am, and I am grateful to him for that. Maybe he was "just an actor," but he was also an inspiration, and, after all, one of us - a fallible human being, trying to do the right thing. That's reason enough to mourn.