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A&E movie is Reeve's final farewell

Christopher Reeve accepts the 1996 National Courage Award. He directed "The Brooke Ellison Story."
Christopher Reeve accepts the 1996 National Courage Award. He directed "The Brooke Ellison Story."
Andy King, Associated Press

Christopher Reeve's final project airs tonight, and it's just the sort of thing you might expect him to have been involved with.

"The Brooke Ellison Story" (7 p.m., A&E), which Reeve directed, is the uplifting, real-life story of a young woman (Lacey Chabert of "Party of Five") who, despite being paralyzed at the age of 11, goes on to graduate from Harvard.

And, speaking to TV critics a couple of months before his death, Reeve said this was a project he really felt a passion for.

"I feel that in almost everything in life, whether it's a film project or anything else, that I can really only do things I actually care about," he said. "I just can't take any job because . . . life's too short and too precious.

"So I've been fortunate that wonderful material, like Brooke's story, has come my way."

Ellison's story is one of overcoming adversity — not unlike Reeve's story. With the support of her parents (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and John Slattery), she fights to not let her paralysis keep her from living as normal a life as possible.

It's a story that fit in perfectly with Reeve's long struggle to find a cure for paralysis. He founded the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, which has awarded more than $46.5 million in research funds to neuroscientists.

"I give a lot of speeches and I do a lot of interviews, but if we can tell this one story really well about what it's like to live with paralysis and have that seen in a dramatic form around the world, that would be a really worthwhile contribution," Reeve said. "So that's why I wanted to do this."

And, working on the movie just weeks before he died, Reeve exuded enthusiasm.

"It was very important to me, after being in film and theater for 35 years, not to give it all up just to be an advocate for paralysis," he said. "Although, of course, I care very much about that."

Despite the horse-riding accident that left him paralyzed in 1995, Reeve continued to work as an actor (most recently in a pair of episodes of "Smallville"), producer and director. He had previously directed the 1997 HBO movie "In the Gloaming" and completed "The Brooke Ellison Story" in August.

"It's been a privilege to have a creative life. Before the injury, I always said I wanted to direct. But then I'd get an acting project and my ego would get the better of me and I'd get in front of the camera. But the accident forced me to take up something I really wanted to do for years."

Reeve died Oct. 10 after suffering a heart attack during treatment for an infection.