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Net mourns death of Christopher Reeve

"His bravery was truly an inspiration," says one IMDb posting of the "Superman" star, who was a champion of several medical causes.

Fans of Christopher Reeve have taken to the Web to express their sorrow over the actor's death Sunday. Reeve, 52, was best known for performing the role of comic book legend Superman in a series of movies--and for his battle against paralysis.

The performance of Web sites for organizations named after Reeve was clearly slowed Monday morning, as news spread of the actor's death, from heart failure. The home page for the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, which funds research for paralysis caused by spinal cord injury and other central nervous system disorders, was intermittently inaccessible throughout the morning. The Web site for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center also appeared to be functioning with heavy traffic.

Photo: Don Flood
Christopher Reeve (1952-2004)
Although Reeve first became famous as the star of the Superman franchise, which debuted in 1978 and ended with 1987's "Superman IV," the actor became closely associated with a number of causes after a 1995 horse-riding accident left him paralyzed. Most recently, the actor had become an outspoken advocate for stem cell research, a politically sensitive issue that has become a differentiating factor between President Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry.

Kathy Lewis, chief executive of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, posted a statement Monday on the group's Web site that praised the actor's courage and determination in battling his own injuries while fighting for the rights of other disabled people.

"Christopher was a hero to many people, yet he always said it was the ordinary people living with disability who were truly extraordinary," Lewis wrote. "His memory will serve as inspiration for the work of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, and we will continue in his honor to be steadfast in our goal of finding treatments and cures for paralysis."

The site reported that Reeve died of heart failure after going into cardiac arrest and falling into a coma. Reeve was reportedly being treated for a pressure wound he developed, which the foundation labeled as a common complication for people living with paralysis. In the past week, the wound had become severely infected, resulting in a serious systemic infection. The group said Reeve's death was not a direct result of his spinal cord injury, but an example of the way secondary complications can have fatal consequences for people who are paralyzed.

Mourners posted numerous tributes to Reeve on several popular message boards, including the pages of the Internet Movie Database, which is well-known simply as IMDb.

Said one posting on IMDb, "Every time I saw him on TV after his accident, he put life in perspective for me. His bravery was truly an inspiration!"

Fans outside the United States also expressed their sadness over the loss of the actor. Many of the posts to a tribute page hosted by the BBC touched on Reeve's unwavering perseverance in the name of medical research. A woman identifying herself as Emma Lacey of Southampton, England, detailed how the actor had helped others deal with their own disabilities.

"Christopher was an inspiration to me after (my) own accident eight years ago," she wrote. "It was through him that I believed that anything was still possible. It is a sad loss, but he will remain a huge memory to all who watched him go from Superman to real-life hero."