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Christopher Reeve's wife reflects on last days

From CNN's Jonathan Wald

After a riding accident left him paralyzed, Christopher Reeve worked for spinal cord research.
After a riding accident left him paralyzed, Christopher Reeve worked for spinal cord research.
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A look back at Christopher Reeve's life and career.
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Christopher Reeve's widow, Dana, reflected on his life and the days before his death in a letter released Tuesday to family, friends and supporters of the film star and activist.

"On Saturday, October 9th, Chris spent his last day of consciousness doing what he loved to do," Reeve wrote.

"He left a long phone message for Senator John Kerry lending his support and encouragement; he attended one of Will's [Reeve's son] hockey games, cheering as they won a huge victory, bursting with pride as Will was presented with the game puck for his outstanding playing that day. He and I spent the early evening on the phone and then he watched the Yankee game with Will and gobbled up one of his favorite meals, turkey tettrazini."

About 900 people are expected to attend a private memorial service next week in New York to commemorate the life of Christopher Reeve.

Reeve's family, working with the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, is sending invitations this week to family, friends and people affiliated with the foundation. The service will take place at the Juilliard School October 29. Reeve studied acting at Juilliard after completing an undergraduate degree in Dramatic Arts at Cornell University.

Glyniss Breen, a spokesman for the Reeve family, said the guest list is being kept private.

In her letter, Dana Reeve said her husband remained stoic immediately before his death and was excited about the coming release of a film he directed, "The Brooke Ellison Story." She also said despite the pressure sores caused by his being confined to bed, Reeve had not complained: "His comments were, as usual, more of an observation than a complaint."

When Reeve died October 10, his wife wrote that he had work left to do.

"Late that night, weakened by infection and the barrage of maladies which can accompany paralysis, his body failed him," she said. "At only 52, it was far too soon. There was much he still wanted to accomplish. There was much his children had yet to learn from him. It is completely unfair, but life can be that way."

She said her family remained happy after Reeve's crippling accident despite his disability. "These nine and a half years for our family have been blessed with joy, laughter, and lessons learned," she said.

"Chris gave us all a precious gift by living the life he did, and despite the inherent difficulties of living with disability and illness on an ongoing basis -- or even, perhaps, because of the very nature of this life -- our family has remained happy, intact, focused, and deeply connected."

Reeve died of heart failure Sunday at the Northern Westchester Hospital near his home in Bedford, New York, a day after falling into a coma.

Actor to activist

Born September 25, 1952, in New York City, Reeve made his movie debut in 1978, playing a small role in "Gray Lady Down." But it was later that year that he landed the role of his life, as the star in the blockbuster "Superman."

He went on to play the super hero in three sequels. In all, he appeared in more than three dozen films and television movies.

Reeve, an avid and experienced horseman, was hurt in May 1995 during a cross-country event in Culpeper, Virginia, after his horse balked at a rail jump. He was thrown forward and landed on his head, fracturing his upper spinal vertebrae.

He was left paralyzed from the neck down.

Reeve became an activist for increased funding and research for spinal-cord injuries and other central nervous system disorders.

He raised money through the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, which has awarded millions of dollars in grants to neuroscientists working to develop treatments and cures for paralysis.

Nearly 100 friends and family members gathered at the Reeves' Westchester County home on October 12 to attend a small ceremony to remember the actor.

"He's Superman," actor and comedian Robin Williams told CNN a day after attending the service for his friend.

"He went from looking like a Greek god to becoming Buddha: quiet, contained, but so powerful. And he's such a fighter. I thought, he's going to the hospital, he'll be OK, he'll come out."

Williams said he was not surprised that Reeve emerged as a figure in the debate over stem cell research -- which has become a central issue in the coming presidential election.

"He loved politics," Williams said. "He was always an activist on that level, always a fighter."

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