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How Robin Williams Helped Christopher Reeve Cheer Up After Horse-Riding Accident

Even in trying times, Robin Williams’ friends could always count on him to crack a joke. After Christopher Reeve fell off a horse in May 1995 and was left quadriplegic, one of the first people who visited him in the hospital during his recovery was none other than his pal Williams.

“Robin felt partially responsible for not having done enough to save his friend [John] Belushi, so when he entered the hospital room for Christopher Reeve, he dressed up as a German doctor. He had a thick accent,” National Enquirer columnist Rob Shuter recalls in a sneak peek of Robin Williams: When the Laughter Stops.

“He insisted that Christopher Reeve turn over and have an exam, a proctology exam,” Shuter says. “Reeve was really, really surprised. He couldn’t figure it out. Then, he finally realized this was his mate, this was Robin Williams. The two of them had a great laugh, maybe the first laugh since the accident occurred.”

Although Reeves was left paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breathe without a portable ventilator after the accident, he pressed on, lobbying for stem cell research and founding the Christopher Reeve Foundation, among other notable accomplishments. He died at the age of 52 in October 2004.

Williams, for his part, died at age 63 in August 2014 in a suicide by hanging after being diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. The upcoming REELZ documentary chronicles how the actor-comedian, with his raucous energy and spitfire style of telling jokes, battled alcoholism and drug abuse throughout his adult life.

christopher-reeve-and-robin-williams

Devoted Friendship

Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve were such good friends, it was as if they were brothers. Their connection began when they studied together at Juilliard in the 1970s. Over the years, the two talked, laughed and supported each other, particularly when Reeve became quadriplegic due to an accident in 1995. In his 1998 autobiography Still Me, Reeve wrote, “Robin was able to share his real feelings with me, and I always did the same with him. This has remained true for twenty-five years.” Their friendship endured until Reeve’s death in 2004.

In 1973, Williams and Reeve began studying acting at Juilliard. On the surface, they seemed to have little in common. In a 2006 interview, Williams said, “We were totally opposite — me coming from the West Coast and a junior college, and him from the hard-core Ivy League. He used to be the studly studly of all studlies, and I was the little fool ferret boy.” But their differences didn’t drive them apart. Instead, as Reeve noted, “We clicked right away because we were exact opposites.”

Williams and Reeve spent a lot of time together as they were in an advanced program led by John Houseman. (And they were also roommates!) Through it all, they stood by each other as needed. In 2013, Williams reminisced during a Reddit session that Reeve was “such a great friend to me at Juillard [sic], literally feeding me because I don’t think I literally had money for food or my student loan hadn’t come in yet, and he would share his food with me.”

According to some accounts, Williams and Reeve had a pact that whoever first broke through as an actor would help the other. Whether or not that agreement existed, neither would require such assistance. By the late 1970s, they were both enjoying success, thanks to Reeve’s role as Superman and Williams’ turn as an irrepressible alien in the television series Mork & Mindy.

Even after becoming famous, Williams and Reeve continued to hang out. In 2017, Glenn Close, Williams’ co-star in The World According to Garp, said that during the film’s production in 1982, “On Friday evenings, Chris would literally swoop in, piloting his own plane, scoop Robin up, and away they would fly for the weekend. On Sunday, late afternoon, Chris would swoop back in and deliver Robin back — I have to say a little worse for wear.” And in 1983, Reeve became godfather to Williams’ son Zachary.

Reeve's Injury

On May 27, 1995, Reeve was thrown from his horse during an equestrian jumping event in Virginia. He landed on his head, fracturing his first and second vertebrae. When he woke up in the hospital on May 31, he learned he was paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors told Reeve he had a 50 percent chance of surviving his injuries. Surgery was required to reattach his spine and skull.

Fortunately, Reeve had the support of his family, and of friends like Williams. As Reeve was lying in his hospital bed, still grappling with what had happened, a visitor in a surgical gown and scrub hat entered the room. In a Russian accent, he told Reeve he was a proctologist there to perform an examination. When Reeve realized the supposed doctor was, in fact, Williams, reprising his character from the movie Nine Months, he laughed.

Reeve, who’d been feeling depressed and uncertain about his future, hadn’t laughed since his accident. Being able to do that, thanks to Williams, changed his mindset. As he later explained to Barbara Walters, “I knew then: if I could laugh, I could live.”

Even for a successful actor and former Superman, life with quadriplegia was overwhelmingly expensive. After completing a stay in a rehab facility, Reeve needed everything from ramps to medical equipment in his home, but insurance didn’t cover the entirety of these and other necessary costs.

Williams always denied reports that he’d stepped in to handle Reeve’s many bills. However, he did admit to one act of generosity. “We bought Chris a van and a generator,” he said in 1999. “One night the generator they had for Chris crapped out, so there was Chris’ wife Dana outside in the middle of the night trying to hand-crank the thing.”

Williams’ care for his friend was evident in other ways. He traveled to Puerto Rico to attend an American Paralysis Association fundraiser with Reeve and became a board member for Reeve’s foundation. When Reeve appeared at the Academy Awards in 1996, Williams celebrated with him.

William's Death

In 2004, Reeve was being treated for an infected pressure wound when he suffered a heart attack and fell into a coma. He died on October 10. In a statement, Williams said, “The world has lost a tremendous activist and artist and an inspiration for people worldwide. I have lost a great friend.” When Williams received a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes the next year, he dedicated it to Reeve.

On August 11, 2014, Williams died by suicide. Afterward, it was revealed he had Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. He’d also been struggling with depression and anxiety, and in the past decade had relapsed into drinking before regaining his sobriety. Though Williams had many friends and family members who loved and supported him, he must have missed being able to talk with the longtime friend who’d been like a brother to him.

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