Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Mysterious Death of Superman

The Legacy

So what really happened to George Reeves in the early morning hours of June 16, 1959? Did he really kill himself, did Leonore Lemmon do it, or was a hitman hired by Toni Mannix responsible? The truth, if something other than the official explanation for his death, may never be known.

Nearly fifty years have passed and any trail of credible evidence has long since grown cold. Hollywoodland may have cast doubts on the official cause of Reeves' death and may have opened the floodgates for a deluge of speculation, but it hasn't changed anything. At least not yet, and it probably won't. No one seems eager to reopen and reinvestigate the case. In all likelihood, it will remain closed. In the years since Reeves' death, Los Angeles has mushroomed into the nation's second largest city, with close to four million people, and the high percentage of crime that accompanies such a population burst. LAPD has more than enough work on its hands investigating current and recent crimes than to expend valuable manpower on crimes that might have been committed five decades ago.

Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane
Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane

The memory of George Reeves lives on two generations later in Superman reruns and in the legacy his success spawned. A series of four Superman movies, starring Christopher Reeve and featuring Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, hit the big screen between 1978 and 1987. The role catapulted Reeve to wide acclaim, similar to what happened to George Reeves (who was no relation, despite the similarity of their names), and it had the same result. It typecast Reeve for a number of years; however, he was able to break out of it and take on other starring roles into the mid-1990s.

Tragically, the role appeared to be cursed. While taking part in an equestrian competition in Virginia on May 27, 1995, Reeve was thrown from his horse and paralyzed from the neck down. Confined to a wheelchair and special breathing apparatus for the next nine years, he was a spokesman for the rights of the handicapped and stem cell research, and was the head of an eponymous foundation for research on paralysis and spinal cord injuries. Throughout the remainder of his life he nurtured hope that he would walk again, and was even beginning to regain a sense of feeling in his last few years. However, he eventually succumbed to heart failure brought on by an infection common to paralyzed people, and he died on Oct. 10, 2004, at the age of 52.

In obituaries and political cartoons, Reeve was lauded as much for his bravery in dealing with his paralysis as he was for his on-screen portrayal as the "Man of Steel." He was considered a "super man" for what he endured over the last nine years of his life. In one cartoon, a sad Superman is shown arriving at Reeve's grave with flowers, while in another, a grief-stricken Superman looks to the reader with a Daily Planet in his hand, having just read the news of Reeve's death, tearfully saying "He was my hero..."

Dana and Christopher Reeve
Dana and Christopher Reeve

Reeve's wife, Dana, who bravely stuck with him through his paralysis to the end of his life and carried on with his cause afterward, died of cancer on March 6, 2006. The movie, Superman Returns, is dedicated to the memory of Christopher and Dana Reeve.

There has been a TV series based on the Superman story cleverly entitled Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (ABC, 1993-97). There have also been a number of pictures done on Superboy and Smallville. And, in the small city of Metropolis, Ill., (population 6,500), the self-proclaimed "Home of Superman," there is an annual Superman Festival that has been going on for nearly 30 years during the early part of June. There is a 15-foot-high bronze, tri-colored statue of Superman and a "Super Museum," and the "Man of Steel" is featured in the city's official stationery and signage. The city's newspaper is called The Planet and Superman slogans and souvenirs are everywhere in Metropolis.

The legacy of Superman, as exemplified by George Reeves, lives on.

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