Keanu Reeves: The enduring story beyond the Matrix

Spread the love

With the new release of Britney Spear’s autobiography “The Woman in Me,” interest in celebrity memoirs has skyrocketed. A look into the untold stories of our favourite celebrities is always a matter of great interest. What would happen if beloved actor and internet heartthrob Keanu Reeves were to do the same and relay his story? His public opinion as one of the nicest actors remains strong, and his fanbase is even stronger.

One remembers the 2019 hashtag #keanuaissance that went viral as Reeves was in the midst of a spate of releases (John Wick 3, Always Be My Maybe, Toy Story 4) that generated enough buzz to make the public obsessed all over again. Yet, a biography of this star is perhaps unlikely, as he is well known not just for being a kind-hearted philanthropist but also for his mysterious persona, which is shrouded in deep tragedy.

From having a tumultuous childhood, moving from one city to another, living under the strain of a sick loved one, and losing your best friend and the love of your life just under a decade, while simultaneously releasing hits after hits that changed the realm of sci-fi and action movies; Reeves has done it all, and every aspect is a testament to his humanitarian leanings and kind nature.

A Star is Born

Born on September 2, 1964, in Beirut, Lebanon, Keanu Reeves is the only son of Patricia Taylor and Samuel Nowlin Reeves Jr. The actor is of British and part Chinese-Hawaiian descent. Reeves’ mother was a stage performer and costume designer. As a big influence in Reeves’ life, her involvement in showbiz was a guiding hand in Reeves’ acting aspirations. Though, back then, acting was the least of Reeves’ concerns.

Two pictures showing a baby Keanu Reeves with his father and mother.
Young Reeves with his parents.

Reeves’ father abandoned the family when Reeves was just 3 years old. This significant shift left his mother with the responsibility to take care of him and his sister, Kim Reeves, all on her own. With only one breadwinner in the family and no place to stay, they shifted from Lebanon to Sydney and then to New York. Eventually, the family of three landed in Toronto. During the course of the journey, Reeves’ mother remarried three times; leaving the young children with the temporary existence of three stepfathers. The actor last saw his biological father when he was just 13; the encounter evidently left a harrowing impact on him.

“On our last day, we sat on the veranda and stared at the dark sky. He hardly said anything that evening. The next day, he brought us to the airport. Then we didn’t hear anything from him for 10 years. No calls, no letters, nothing,” Reeves stated in a rare interview in 2002.

The actor changed high schools four times and was even kicked out of one for being “too rambunctious”. He was also dyslexic, so studying was never the most enjoyable endeavour, but he found solace in Ice Hockey. Reeves was in love with sports enough that he even considered a career in it. But faith had other plans, and by 15, Reeves’ sight was set on acting.

A child acting waiting for his breakthrough 

Initially, Keanu Reeves had no intention of acting. Despite this, he was, in one way or another, always involved in the arena. He took part in multiple theatre performances and even notably played the role of Mercutio in Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet when he was just 15. In the late 1980s, he even appeared in some commercials, including one for Coca-Cola. His interest was further ignited as he grew up in the business. Reeves first stepfather was Paul Aaron, a Broadway and Hollywood director.

“As a kid, I didn’t dream of becoming a movie star. No, I dreamt of travelling to distant planets in flying machines. I loved acting, though, and by the time I was a teenager, it was something I wanted to do with my life. I was acting professionally by the time I was 16. And I grew up around business—my stepfather was a director, my mother was a costume designer—but I also loved sport and, at one point, thought of doing that as a career. Played hockey, basketball, and baseball,” Reeves shared about his childhood.

After his move to Los Angeles, looking for better prospects, Reeves made his first motion picture debut with Youngblood. He was also famously part of the crime drama River’s Edge, which garnered critical acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival. His real break came with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and its subsequent sequel. Funnily enough, the role led many to connect Reeves’ fictional persona’s extrovert personality to his own in real life. This could not have been far from the truth. Even years later, in 2005, Time magazine dubbed the star “Hollywood’s Ultimate Introvert.”

Keanu Reeves alongside co-star Alex Winter in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
A bone-fide presence

As Reeves acting career grew, he realised he wanted to be part of more serious projects that would advance his prowess in the field. In 1991, Reeves started in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho alongside River Phoenix. While the movie garnered much positive review due to its audacious storytelling and insightful acting, Reeves biggest reward was the friendship he formed with River Pheonix. The pair were similar in age and outlook; they had previously met on the set of I Love You To Death, but doing another movie together ignited a special friendship as they navigated the high-profile world together.

Reeves was not just an actor but also a rock-music connoisseur. In the same year, he started his alternative rock band, Dogstar, with Robert Mailhouse, Gregg Miller, and Bret Domrose. Reeves was the band’s bassist.

Everything seemed smooth sailing, but more tribulations were yet to come. Reeves was extremely close with his sister, Kim Reeves, who was also involved in small acting projects. Unfortunately, her career ended in shock when she was diagnosed with leukaemia in 1991. This was evidently a tough time for the family, and Reeves was with her every step of the way. To this day, Reeves has donated millions of his life earnings towards cancer support and research.

Keanu & his sister, Kim Reeves at a red carpet.
Keanu with his sister, Kim Reeves

“I have a private foundation that’s been running for five or six years, and it helps aid a couple of children’s hospitals and cancer research, I don’t like to attach my name to it; I just let the foundation do what it does”, the actor told the Ladies Home Journal in 2009.

Fame comes with success and misfortune

Reeves’ true ambition was always to rise above the typecast expectations of critics, and he worked hard to combat them by establishing his authentic presence with movies like Point Break and Much Ado About Nothing, based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name. In 1994, he was well on this road with the upcoming action thriller, Speed. But soon the movie was halted in its production due to heartbreaking news.

Reeves’ best friend, River Phoenix, passed away in 1994 due to a drug overdose. This left the actor devastated and also led to his well known stance against drug abuse, which followed.

Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, 1991
Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, 1991

“River felt differently about things than I do. He allowed the suffering in the world to get to him, and he wanted everyone to be as free and happy as he was. He was a remarkable artist and a rare human being. I miss him every day,” Keanu Reeves shared about River Phoenix.

Despite the heartbreaking setback, Reeves continued on with hit-or-miss projects like Johnny Mnemonic and A Walk in the Clouds. In the mid-90s, his ambition to delve deeper into his acting was embodied when he turned down the offer to reprise his role in Speed 2. This decision was definitely risky, and Reeves was blacklisted by Fox for over a decade.

“You’d think he’d have his choice of projects. But you’d be surprised. “Movie jail” is real. He’s been there. He was excommunicado at Fox for a decade after turning down Speed 2 to go play Hamlet onstage in fucking Winnipeg: “I didn’t work with [Fox] again until The Day the Earth Stood Still,” Reeves’ 2019 interview with GQ

The worst was yet to come

By the late 90s, things were surely looking up for Keanu Reeves. His sister’s battle with cancer was strong, and she had started going into remission. He met Jennifer Syme at a party, and they entered into a loving relationship. Moreover, he had turned down million-dollar offers to work in self-fulfilling roles. Dogstar was on tour, and Reeves was also the lead in a stage production of Hamlet.

“I do love it [Shakespeare]. It’s like this kind of code that, once you start to inhabit it with breath and sound and feeling, and thought, is the most powerful, consuming, and freeing at the same time. Just, literally, elemental in sound, consonants, and vowels,” Reeves says of his Hamlet performance.

In 1999, Reeves entered his biggest role yet as he took on the lead role in The Matrix. The movie still remains an important project for every film critic out there and has become a staple name in sci-fi culture. But the memories of those years were different for Reeves.

Keanu Reeves with Jennifer Syme

In the same year, Reeves’ girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, gave birth to their daughter, who was stillborn. The trauma plunged the couple into a depressive state, which soon led to their breakup. It was already hard to deal with such a blow, but in a few months, the couple found their way back to each other. In 2001, Syme was involved in a tragic car accident, dying on impact.

Reeves was left to deal with the loss and took a break from acting. He never spoke publicly about the loss. Though years later in a Stephen Colbert interview, when asked, “What do you think happens when we die, Keanu Reeves?”, the actor introspectively replied, “I know that the ones who love will miss us.”

The best route is the way forward 

The misfortune left Reeves as introverted and withdrawn as he’s ever been. Though talks of his goodwill were rampant, his fans stood in support as he dealt with this tough predicament. Many people came forward and revealed his good-natured acts, which dubbed him the ‘kindest actor alive.’

“Every day for the last few weeks of filming (Chain reaction), Keanu treated the stage hands and “grunt workers” (including myself) by taking us out for free breakfast and lunch. He was genuinely a very nice guy to work with. Since then, I’ve worked on about 30 different sets and have never met an actor as generous and friendly as him. Most actors I’ve seen and worked with are total douches who always think they are better than us. Keanu, on the other hand, at the very least, was socially approachable and definitely kind-hearted,” revealed one Reddit user.

Reeves also steadily took on more active projects, working on The Matrix sequels. In 2013, he made his directorial debut with Man of Tai Chi. Soon after, he picked up another movie that became part of his Magnum opus: John Wick. This was a role that Reeves’ personally connected to, due to his own experience with grief that paralleled the protagonist’s.

“With any character, the way I think about it is, you have the role on the page, you have the vision of the director, and you have your life experience,” Reeves told The Guardian, adding he brought his own experience with hardship to the role.

A mysterious humanitarian and beloved celebrity 

Keanu Reeves has always been an unconventional celebrity, giving paparazzi a hard time due to his unproblematic nature. In recent times, his acting career and life have come under scrutiny, with many assuming that his lack of a typical persona is indicative of his descending fame. In a humorous twist, a 2010 picture of him eating a sandwich alone went viral, which many dubbed “Sad Keanu”, the picture only cemented his down-to-earth nature.

“I never cared about the money; that’s not why I started acting, and I never liked the fame. The paparazzi culture is more pervasive than it used to be. It’s nice not to have to worry about bills, though. It’s a cliche that money doesn’t buy you happiness, but it does buy you the freedom to live your life the way you want. Knock on wood, I’ve been very fortunate: I’ve been able to earn a really good living and start a charity foundation,” Reeves shared.

Reeves had always welcomed the humour in such things but has also simultaneously been working his grief and loss through his acting and writing. In 2019, he collaborated with visual artist Alexandra Grant to create a publishing house called X Artists’ Books. He also released a poem-picture book called Ode to Happiness, containing poems by the actor and illustrations by Alexandra Grant. The friendship led to more soon after, but the couple has kept their relationship out of public scrutiny.

Keanu Reeves with Alexandra Grant at a red carpet.
Keanu Reeves with Alexandra Grant

Despite all his hardships, Keanu Reeves still stands strong as a kind-hearted human being and philanthropist who has stood the test of time and hardship and still established a commendable legacy in his name. He remains the internet’s most beloved actor, and if an autobiography does come out, it’s sure to sell out within minutes.

Join The Story Watch’s initiative to create a vibrant community for the startup ecosystem.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 124

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Leave a Reply

error: Content is protected !!