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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Interview With Christopher Reeve
Aired November 28, 2003 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): He was Superman, until a tragic horse-riding accident paralyzed him from the neck down. Doctors said he would never move. But he has, a finger, his legs, sensations throughout his body. Now he even breathes on his own. And he says that's a lot to be thankful.
CHRISTOPHER REEVE, ACTOR: Almost everything they have told me about what would happen to me, about what I couldn't do, has turned out to be wrong.
ZAHN: In his first full-length interview off the respirator, Christopher Reeve talks about the accident, suicide, the wife who stood by him no matter what, and the controversy.
ZAHN (on camera): They're almost calling you a bully, some of these critics.
(voice-over): A special hour, Christopher Reeve, tonight on PAULA ZAHN NOW.
ZAHN: Good evening. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving with your family. Thanks so much for joining us for this special hour with Christopher Reeve.
As you'll see, this is a story of giving, a story of thanks, and a family's story of a man who is grateful this holiday for something the rest of us often take for granted, being able to breathe on his own.
First, some of the headlines you need to know right now.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Heidi Collins. Here are the headlines at this hour.
President Bush is racking of the frequent-flier miles this Thanksgiving. Mr. Bush arrived back in the U.S. early this morning, after having a holiday dinner with troops in Iraq yesterday. He spent part of today fishing with his father.
The troops in Iraq got another special visit today, this time from New York Senator Hillary Clinton. The visit comes a day after she met with troops in Afghanistan, a stop that was largely overshadowed by the president's Baghdad trip. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I thought it was terrific. I think any time that a president can meet with troops who are in an active conflict situation makes a real difference. It sends a strong signal of national support.
Yesterday, I was honored to go with Senator Reed to Afghanistan and meet with our troops in Bagram and Kandahar. And it makes a difference, that people know that you are thinking about them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Senator Clinton says she's impressed by the progress that's taken place so far in Iraq.
And the holiday shopping season kicked off with a bang early this morning. Analysts are projecting sales to be about 6 percent higher than last year, compared with a modest 2.2 percent increase in 2002. Sales will also be helped ever so slightly by the fact there is one more shopping day before Christmas this year. Last year, the weekend after Thanksgiving accounted for a little more than 10 percent of holiday sales.
Those are the headlines at this hour. More top stories in about 30 minutes -- now back to Paula Zahn.
ZAHN: Over the last 8 1/2 years, we have watched the extraordinary milestones Christopher Reeve has reached in his quest to walk again. In 1995, a horse riding accident severed his spine and left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.
But his process since then has been incredible, movement in a finger, his legs. And now, thanks to an experimental pacemaker in his diaphragm, he's off the respirator for huge chunks of time. He may sound different and he look different, because he's lost his hair to a condition common in paralysis patients. But his spirit is as strong as ever, so, too, is his courage and optimism.
ZAHN: So this will be the first fill interview you've done without the respirator.
C. REEVE: Right, on a diaphragm pacemaker.
ZAHN: What does that mean?
C. REEVE: I mean, it's freedom from the hose, that necktie I've been wearing for eight years. And even though I'm not totally free, because I have to have a nurse with me all the time and it's an experimental procedure, it's not approved yet -- there's still a lot of bugs in the system that have to be worked out. But it really feels like a step forward. It really feels like progress.
ZAHN: Is it a form of liberation? C. REEVE: If the nurses would go away. But they're all over me like the Secret Service. It's ridiculous. But that's part of the FDA protocol, because the electrodes can fail, the batteries can fail.
I had a couple of fun times when I choked a couple of times, because breathing and eating -- I had to relearn how to do both. So I've choked on tuna fish and lettuce. If I do bread next time, it'll be a sandwich.
C. REEVE: But I'm learning. Can you imagine a 51-year-old learning how, OK, one for the breath and one for the food? But I have the whole system working normally.
See, air is being drawn in by my diaphragm, whereas, on a ventilator, it's just pushed in. And I do so much exercise on all the other muscle groups that, literally, I lived in fear of my diaphragm dying, because it's a muscle. Once it atrophies, you can never have it back. So the worst-case scenario would be, I'm up and walking, but carrying a ventilator around. That wouldn't be very good.
ZAHN: How much do you think about walking?
C. REEVE: I always have that picture in my mind, but there's -- I live more in the moment, doing the day-to-day things.
It's like, just when I started with the diaphragm pacemaker, there was a moment of celebration, a moment of rejoicing. I'd gotten something normal back again. But then we went, OK, what's next? And that's the way it's been with all my movements. When I suddenly found in 2000 I could move my index finger, the next question is, what's next?
So, I don't tend to sit around and savor the moment for too long, but go to the next one.
ZAHN: You don't have many lazy days, do you?
C. REEVE: No. No. About as lazy as it gets is going to one of my son's hockey games, cheering at the top of my lungs, which actually is a good workout for the diaphragm. So even then, I'm working.
ZAHN: Do you ever place yourself out there on the ice?
C. REEVE: Yes, I do.
There was a time when his team had no goalie coach. And I was a goalie my whole career in hockey. I said, what I'm going to do is, I'm going to take this wheelchair and park myself out there and I'm going to coach these kids how to play goalie. I'll just park myself in the goal and let them shoot at me.
ZAHN: What did you end up doing?
C. REEVE: None of the above. But I talked to the goalies. And now they have got a goalie coach.
ZAHN: Do you ever resent not being able to be out there physically to play with your son and to coach him?
C. REEVE: Yes, I do. I mean, I feel that -- it is true that I do believe that being is more important than doing. And, frankly, I'm there more than most dads, because I don't have a regular job.
ZAHN: How have you worked through the dark days, when you've really had to confront the sense of loss in your life?
C. REEVE: Well, fortunately, those days are long behind me. And you know what? I still -- and this is 8 1/2 years post-injury -- never once had a dream in which I'm disabled.
ZAHN: What do you dream about?
C. REEVE: I don't know. This is a family show, right?
ZAHN: I think -- well, we're in prime time.
C. REEVE: We're on at 8:00. The kids are still up.
ZAHN: Yes. We're on the edge there.
C. REEVE: I dream about all the things that normal, healthy 51- year-old American males dream about and all kinds of stuff. I mean, I'm a...
C. REEVE: Hello? That's God calling, probably.
ZAHN: You're going to be punished for what you just said, Christopher.
C. REEVE: That's right. Yes, God's on the line. He's pissed.
ZAHN: So God's on hold now, Chris.
C. REEVE: God's on hold. He wants to talk to me about my dreams.
ZAHN: He wants to talk to you.
C. REEVE: To stop having inappropriate dreams.
C. REEVE: No, a lot of the dreams, actually, are -- because I'm never disabled. I'm always fully able. So they take me back to sailing. They take me to doing a lot of things with the family. Gosh, I think, a couple nights ago, I was in an underwater distance- swimming competition.
ZAHN: Wow. That must have felt good.
C. REEVE: I won by about a minute. I don't know where that comes from, but...
ZAHN: Did you feel triumphant when you woke up?
C. REEVE: Absolutely. I won.
ZAHN: Just like the true competitor and fighter that he is.
As we continue this hour with Christopher Reeve, he will tell us about the day his life changed forever, the horse riding accident that left him near death and paralyzed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: How close did you come to committing suicide?
C. REEVE: I turned to Dana and said: "I'm probably not worth having. We should probably let me go."
And we -- we agreed to wait a couple years. And then, if I still felt the same way, we could reevaluate it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: We continue now this hour-long interview with Christopher Reeve, his first full interview without a ventilator. In the spring of 1995, Reeve was competing in an equestrian event when his horse stopped short in front of a jump. Reeve was thrown and landed head- first, instantly paralyzed from the neck down.
While more than eight years have passed, Reeve's memories of that day are very clear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christopher Reeve remains in serious, but stable condition. Mr. Reeve currently has no movement or spontaneous respiration. He may require surgery to stabilize the upper spine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
C. REEVE: I just didn't pay attention for a moment. That's all there was to it. And my horse and I were so mentally attuned from all our time working together, that he knew that my mind had gone away. I was thinking about a harder job.
ZAHN: And you vividly remember that.
C. REEVE: I'm virtually certain that's what happened.
ZAHN: Just for a split-second?
C. REEVE: Yes. And so there's a metaphor there.
ZAHN: The metaphor being?
C. REEVE: You've got to stay in the moment. You've got to be right here. Whatever it is you're doing, you got to fully focus, because you really pay a price if you're not absolutely there.
ZAHN: Are you tortured by that?
C. REEVE: No. This is eight years later. I put that way behind me.
ZAHN: But how many years did you wrestle with that?
C. REEVE: I think the first two years.
The shock, of course, at the beginning was overwhelming. But I was lucky. I didn't have to face this alone. And my family could not have been more supportive.
ZAHN: What do you miss most about your old life, when you were Superman?
C. REEVE: Spontaneity, actually. I actually never thought I was Superman, I'm sorry to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SUPERMAN")
C. REEVE: Easy, Miss. I've got you.
MARGOT KIDDER, ACTRESS: You've got me? Who's got you?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
C. REEVE: I just thought I could fly.
It's funny. I played him, I was so young that I remember that Dick Donner, the director, sometimes would say -- there was this scene where I had to walk through fire. And he said, "Now, Chris, remember, you can't really do that." I had to have the asbestos suit and all of that. But I was ready to go.
I would get up on those wires and, sometimes, I would be like 100 feet off the ground. Now, when I think back on it, it was totally crazy. But I used to think that, if the wires would break, I'd just keep going. I didn't even really need the wires.
ZAHN: So that seems to be a part of your character that hasn't been altered in any way by your injury.
C. REEVE: Complete commitment to something is a -- I guess a part of my personality that hasn't changed.
But I'll tell you one thing. When you're playing Superman and you're standing there in that uniform, you better be pretty committed, because you could look pretty ridiculous in it.
ZAHN: You looked really good.
C. REEVE: There was no pockets, you know what I mean?
ZAHN: But even outside of the movie, people would view what you did as Superman-esque. There wasn't a sport you didn't attempt. And all of those sports, you played aggressively.
C. REEVE: Right.
ZAHN: You were a physical guy.
C. REEVE: I like challenge. I like really learning to doing something well. That's fun.
ZAHN: You learn a lot every day, don't you?
C. REEVE: I do. I've learned a tremendous amount about patience.
I learned a lot about communication. And one of the things I've spent a lot of time doing is being asked to intervene with people who have just had a spinal cord injury or a stroke and are in that suicidal phase. Sometimes, it's children. That's always very hard. Sometimes, it's the person themselves. Sometimes, it's the family.
But it means a lot to me to be able to get on the phone or actually go to the person's house and talk about a future and say, you might not be ready to hear this yet, but just try to keep an open mind and don't cave into this.
ZAHN: In the beginning stages of your diagnosis, how close did you come to committing suicide?
C. REEVE: Well, I couldn't have done it anyway, but...
ZAHN: Or wanting to commit suicide?
C. REEVE: About a day, when I turned to Dana and said: "I'm probably not worth having. We should probably let me go."
And we -- we agreed to wait a couple years. And then, if I still felt the same way, we could reevaluate it.
ZAHN: And what did Dana say to you?
C. REEVE: She said: "It's your choice. It's your life. You're still you. And I love you." And I remember saying that I've really tested the marriage vows here. Talking about in sickness and in health, we weren't thinking about this.
But what I've found is that people who have a really solid bond, when a catastrophe happens, it gets better and stronger. But if that bond is fragile or nonexistent, then a calamity can really drive people apart.
ZAHN: Would you be alive today if it weren't for Dana's love?
C. REEVE: No. And if I was single, I wouldn't be, if I didn't have that kind of a life, the life with Dana, with the family. It was all the difference in the world.
ZAHN: How grateful are you for that?
C. REEVE: Extremely. Extremely, because, all my life, I had prided myself on being so self-sufficient, to absolutely just take care of myself. I don't need anybody.
I didn't even realize how lucky you are to have people who are there for you no matter what. Yes, it may be an achievement to fly solo, but there's a great deal more true satisfaction in flying together.
ZAHN: Christopher Reeve's dream to walk again, it is a dream he and his family believe will one day come true. He was told it couldn't happen. But Reeve is improving, showing signs of incredible progress. And I'll ask about the controversy over his impassioned campaign to find a cure for paralysis.
ZAHN: We are spending the entire hour tonight with actor Christopher Reeve, his first full interview without a ventilator. Reeve believes pioneering research on spinal cord injuries is being conducted in Israel, research which has won Food and Drug Administration approval for clinical trials right here in the United States.
As CNN's Sheila MacVicar reports, this is a treatment which offers new hope.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There, did you get that on the foot?
SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There have been 16 patients so far. And Melissa Holly, an 18-year-old from Colorado, was the first.
MELISSA HOLLY, CLINICAL TRIAL PATIENT: I had no feeling. I had no movement and was basically told that a type of injury that I had, a doctor had not seen it recover. MACVICAR: Within days of being paralyzed in a car accident, Holly was flown to Israel for a revolutionary treatment, a treatment which has helped her spinal cord begin to regenerate, something never seen before. Now she can feel her body and has some movement.
HOLLY: It's just the little things, the feeling, being able to feel when I touch my knee or when someone tries to get my attention. That, to me, is a huge blessing.
MACVICAR: Professor Michal Schwartz, an Israeli neuroimmunologist, pioneered Holly's therapy, winning praise from Christopher Reeve. Even she was astonished by what happened to Holly.
SCHWARTZ: When we learned, one month after she was treated, that she is recovering, the sensation, I was shocked to death, really shocked.
MACVICAR: Professor Schwartz theorized, the human immune system, our blood cells, might be able to help the central nervous system and the spinal cord recover, a theory that defied medical teaching.
SCHWARTZ: The dogma was that immune cells should not be in the brain or the spinal cord.
MACVICAR: Her revolutionary idea was to use a patient's own white blood cells, from them extract cells called microphages, incubate them with peripheral cells from the skin which can regenerate, and create a single patient-customized injection.
Neurosurgeon Nachshon Knoller has performed the trials in Israel. No one has been made worse. Most some showed some benefits. And, for three, the results were remarkable.
DR. NACHSHON KNOLLER, NEUROSURGEON: One was a quadriplegic. He had a cervical injury. And now he can step or stand on his toes.
SCHWARTZ: It doesn't mean to say that I'm sure that it's tomorrow where all the spinal cord injury patients will recover. But I'm sure about the concept.
MACVICAR: And because Professor Schwartz is sure, because there are more clinical trials about to start, because more researchers and doctors are following her work, there is more hope for more patients like Melissa Holly.
Sheila MacVicar, CNN, Rehovot, Israel.
ZAHN: The treat Melissa Holly received is still experimental. Phase-two clinical trials have been approved by the FDA and will be carried out in the United States. For the treatment to be effective, it must be started within 14 days of paralysis.
When we come back, more of my interview with Christopher Reeve, including this: (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ZAHN: How much work is it to be Christopher Reeve?
C. REEVE: Oh, it's a lot of work, I'll tell you. It is, because I've got to allocate my time so carefully. And I'm always thinking, who did I offend today? I went through a period last week where the dog didn't like me.
ZAHN: What did you do to your dog?
C. REEVE: I was crushed. I couldn't figure out what happened. But she's 11. She's a sweetheart. She loves everybody. And, I mean, we've always been afraid she would go away with the FedEx man.
C. REEVE: This is not a watchdog. This is a mush ball. And last week, I went through a phase where she didn't want to be near me. And every time I came in the room, she'd leave.
ZAHN: What had changed?
C. REEVE: I don't know. It reminds me of high school a lot.
ZAHN: You remember her name?
C. REEVE: No, but it's like, oh, that feeling of, like, what did I do?
So, anyway, we gradually worked it out. And, yesterday, I took her down to the mailbox and came back with her and spent time. So we're friends again. Everything is back to normal. But I'll tell you that, in the middle of the craziness of my life, that literally our dog avoiding me was very painful. So, anyway, we solved that problem.
ZAHN: What do you think the future holds for you?
C. REEVE: Hard work.
It's keeping my commitment to helping other people get through situations, making sure that the family stays OK. And everybody's doing so well, and yet, you always worry that, are things all OK and what does life have in store for them? You want it to be the best. You want to do everything you can.
That's why I got so upset when the dog didn't like me. Our beloved dog, Shammy (ph), didn't like me for a week. I'm going: Oh, my God. It will be the kids next, you know, and...
ZAHN: You're back in the dog's good graces. Not to worry.
C. REEVE: I know. But I managed to get back, yes.
ZAHN: Our hour with Christopher Reeve continues now. We'll hear from his wife, Dana, and his thoughts on the Thanksgiving holiday, what he's thankful for 8 1/2 since the accident that paralyzed him.
Christopher has always said he will walk again. And he's pushed himself and the scientific community to make that happen. He does that with nonstop lobbying and high-profile fund-raising. That has created some controversy.
C. REEVE: I firmly believe that medical research is the key to eliminating disease, reducing health care costs. The costs of Alzheimer's is $100 billion every year; Parkinson's disease, at least $6 billion a year; spinal cord injuries, $10 billion annually merely to maintain them.
ZAHN: You've gotten involved in the highly political-charged environment, insurance and stem cell research. How many people have you ticked off along the way? What kind of a lightning rod are you?
C. REEVE: Certainly the entire religious right, a lot of social conservatives, probably a lot of scientists, and some people in the disabled community who think that I shouldn't be going around talking about a cure.
As a patient, as someone sitting in a wheelchair, it's our prerogative to push. And scientists, of course, are free to push back. We're not asking them to do things that are irresponsible. Just don't make a career out of research. Think about the urgency. Think about people that are suffering. And not all of them do all the time.
ZAHN: Some have called your work propaganda that undermines particularly the young and newly injured, who are struggling to face reality, master it, and make a life for themselves from their wheelchairs. They're almost calling you a bully, some of these critics.
C. REEVE: I was an actor for 30 years. And, sometimes, the critics love you. Sometimes, they don't.
ZAHN: But, in your case, it's so personal.
C. REEVE: Right.
ZAHN: It's got to -- it's got to hurt.
C. REEVE: It doesn't really hurt anymore, because people who would be critical of what I'm trying to do are in a lot of pain. They're probably in a lot worse situation than I am. So I understand that. I understand how someone could lash out. ZAHN: And what about those people who are cynical who say: Look, millions of dollars spent on research. Chris has some feeling in his body now. He can control his index fingers. His sense of smell is back, but, essentially, life is pretty much the same for him?
C. REEVE: The fact that, five years after the injury, I developed the ability to move my arms and my legs was just a contradiction. It wasn't supposed to happen. So it's the principle of moving forward. It's the principle of taking an active part in your own future.
ZAHN: When do you see yourself walking again?
C. REEVE: Well, I know I said on my 50th birthday. Well, we missed that.
But I think we're about five years behind where we could have been in this country because of controversy over kinds of research, particularly stem cell research. So it's going to depend on politics, on money in the next three to five years.
ZAHN: Why do some people think it's so cruel that you would even dream about walking again?
C. REEVE: They've been told it will never happen and they buy into it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Tonight, we celebrate a remarkable breakthrough in spinal cord injuries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
C. REEVE: And a lot of people were very, very upset about that. But the copy didn't say how many years in the future. And who knows, right?
ZAHN: You knew that the image of your walking would be unsettling to people. Is there a part of you that derives a little enjoyment out of needling people and getting them to think a different way?
C. REEVE: I shouldn't do these interviews. I tell the truth too much.
ZAHN: How much fun is it?
C. REEVE: Well, I want to shake people up.
ZAHN: Do you think, along the way, you have given some in the paralysis community a sense of false hope? C. REEVE: I don't think so.
A lot of times, people who have been injured for a very long time, 20, 25 years, they were injured before there was any legitimate reason to hope.
ZAHN: How do you view hope?
C. REEVE: Hope is different from optimism. Hope, to me, is the product of knowledge and the projection of where the knowledge can take us, and also throwing in the willingness not to buy into conventional wisdom.
ZAHN: How much of your hope is spiritual?
C. REEVE: More than I thought, actually.
Somebody sent me a quote from Abe Lincoln that he said in 1860. He said: "When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that's my religion," that we all have a little voice inside of us that tells us whether we're doing something decent or not, something loving, something giving, something caring. But, sometimes, there's a lot of chatter in our lives and it's hard to hear that little voice.
That's why we have to learn to be quiet sometimes and listen. And having this disability has given me that opportunity.
ZAHN: Christopher Reeve's wife, Dana, what she has to say about the accident and what it meant for both of them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA REEVE, WIFE OF CHRISTOPHER C. REEVE: Unlike when someone dies, when someone is in a catastrophic accident and has catastrophic injury or illness, life has just changed. And you're continuing with this difficulty day in, day out. It goes on and on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: We turn now to the woman Christopher Reeve says saved his life, his wife, Dana Reeve. She has been by his side ever since the tragic accident. She has given him support, strength and the courage to fight on. They're an inspiring team.
And, as director of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, Dana helps touch the lives of so many other people.
D. REEVE: And we have a tremendous amount of love and respect for each other. We confer about everything. And I admire him, just as the world admires him. And I feel that he admires and loves me. And I think that we worked out a lot of our junk before we even got married.
So we were together five years before we got married. So it was really -- by the time we got married, we were ready for whatever. Really, my main interest, when he was in the ICU and he was unconscious and the various members of the family were saying, he'll want this, he'll want that, we should do this, we should do this that, the only thing I ever said is, let's wait until he wakes up and let him decide.
And that was the most important thing to me, and to get alone with him and to see where his heart really was. And he did become conscious. And we were able to talk by ourselves. And I said that: "I love you. You're still you and I love you. And I'll be in it for the long haul."
I think he knew that I was telling him the truth. And he's an incredible survivor. And maybe he just needed that cue from me to know that he wouldn't ever, ever, ever be a burden, and that, even though we had no idea what was in store or how to do this thing, that we would do it, that we would get through it and that we would do it in the best possible way, and that we would still have joy in our life and laughter in our life, and we would cope.
And I think, ultimately, part of that feeling is that we would also be able to help people, because his celebrity is wonderful in that way, to be able to use it as a springboard for other people.
Our foundation gives money to medical research, but we also give these quality-of-life grants.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mine's actually attached to a rehab -- a children's rehab hospital, which is kind of cool.
D. REEVE: That deal with the grassroots, day-to-day issues, getting into buildings that you have to get into, getting transportation to these buildings, recreation.
There's such a great camp program.
Playgrounds for children, so many things, advocacy, it's so important. It's the day-to-day stuff...
OK, what's next?
... that people living with paralysis face every minute of their lives. And it just seems like a very important part of life, to make sure -- ensure that their quality of life is high.
Well, it's really, really hard. You are dealing with a complete life change. When someone dies, you have -- there's a finite end. There's time to heal, move on. But living with paralysis is a daily, minute-by-minute process. And it can take a tremendous emotional toll, the emotional impact of this, and plus feeling bad for the person, feeling bad for either your child or your spouse, wishing that things were different, missing the help that the other person brought, or missing having to let go of certain dreams that you may have had. I mean, there's a huge emotional toll. And it's very deep and it's very constant. Now, Chris is incredibly resilient. And he's a big one for pulling him up by his bootstraps. He has gotten very low at times. But he has an incredible innate ability to get himself out of it.
But during those low times, I got a little taste of, like, it's almost hard to carry on. We're now eight years out. And I think, though, that, certainly initially, and with small children, it's a tremendous loss. You have this thing where you think the two of you are going to be going in this together, and it changes dramatically. You have to adjust.
Well, we really are a team, luckily. That's really our gift.
ZAHN: What a blessing for them both.
Christopher Reeve is not one given to despair. I'll talk with him, though, about how his accident gave him a new challenge and a new mission that is leaving him thankful for what he has and hopeful for the future.
ZAHN: I have spoken with Christopher Reeve many times over the years. And no matter where, when and how, he gets me to reflect on my own life.
I have a feeling that, no matter who you are and whether or not you agree with his politics, you will be hard-pressed not to reflect on your own life and what his life can teach you.
Now a few final thoughts from Christopher Reeve that seem appropriate this time of year.
ZAHN: How have your neighbors been around here?
C. REEVE: Oh, they're great.
ZAHN: What are you thankful for in your life?
C. REEVE: I'm very thankful to still be alive. I'm very thankful for the family, very thankful that everybody is thriving. I'm very thankful that I can look at the future with genuine hope and that there's useful work to be done.
ZAHN: How hard are you on yourself?
C. REEVE: I'm a lot easier on myself than I used to be.
I used to be very, very competitive. Now I have fun being competitive. When I'm doing exercises, for example, I ask the guys who are helping me to really abuse...
ZAHN: You're a masochist
C. REEVE: No, I'll just say, come on, you've got five more in you. That's what a good trainer does. You can do better than that, push, push. But that's in a very healthy sense.
But the No. 1 difference is, I don't beat myself up.
ZAHN: Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, was once asked, why me? His response: I never think, why me? I think, why not me?
Do you think that way?
C. REEVE: Life is pretty random, pretty chaotic. And anybody's life can change in an instant. So, you don't need to punish yourself by singling yourself out. None of us are exempt.
It's a question of what we do afterwards, how we find the meaning. And once you can see that as an opportunity, rather than a complete disaster, then you can really get things done. So I see my life as one continuum. Sometimes, I think the earlier chapters were more fun. But is there anybody who's 51 who doesn't that he was 21?
I think so many people spend time wishing: I wish I could have that back again. I wish I could be there again. Those were the good old days, all that kind of stuff. Well, as a fleeting thought, that's fine. But if you dwell on it, if you really get stuck there, then you're not in the moment again. Then you're going to miss all the new opportunities that are going to come.
ZAHN: What, ultimately, do you think your legacy might be?
C. REEVE: I just hope that I won't have spent X number of years on this planet without making some kind of a difference.
So, you don't have to go out and move mountains. You don't have to go out and turn the world backwards or conquer polio, or whatever. There's a lot of hugely important things that make a difference that exist in our ordinary lives. And I think it's just -- the ability to love is the No. 1 thing.
ZAHN: We'll be right back.
ZAHN: Christopher Reeve just doesn't talk about courage. He lives it. He has shown us how he continues to dig deeper and rise higher than many of us might in his situation. And he has shown us how to be thankful for even the smallest things we might take for granted.
Thanks so much for being with us tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next.
Good night. Have a great weekend.
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