If you were ever a fan of the ?Superman? movies, you may be familiar with an American actor named Christopher Reeve who played the leading role.


Christopher Reeve went on to have a modestly successful career in other films until his own life took a dramatic turn in 1995 after a horse riding accident. 


The actor then became a different kind of hero to many people who are severely handicapped.   Christopher Reeve died this week of heart failure and complications from an infection.


Christopher Reeve got his first big acting break in his 20s, when he was cast as Superman in the 1978 film, beating some 200 other candidates. He played the "Man of Steel" a total of four times, and appeared in more than a dozen films over the next 17 years.


But his life changed dramatically in May 1995, when Reeve, an avid equestrian, was thrown from his horse and broke his neck during a competition.


He underwent months of physical therapy to allow him to breathe for longer periods of time without the use of a respirator.


He became an impassioned advocate for spinal cord injury research, lobbying U.S. lawmakers for more federal funding for research involving the use of so-called "stem cells." Those cells can multiply many times, replenishing other cells in different parts of the body.


Reeve also urged better insurance coverage for those suffering catastrophic injuries.


"It's imperative that the public, and more importantly, our elected representatives understand that research today is not speculative, it is not a waste of money, it is the only way to relieve suffering, while helping to save the American economy at the same time." he said in 1997. 


Reeve would return to work as a director, and briefly, as an actor. He appeared in a 1998 TV remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic Rear Window  and won a Screen Actors Guild award for that performance.


But he remained focused on finding prospective cures for spinal injury patients, and those with other disabilities.  Just a month before his death, he appeared before a United Nations committee, urging the adoption of a convention on the rights of the disabled across the globe.


Last July in Tel Aviv, Reeve shared with an audience what he called the greatest lesson of his life.


"And the lesson is that we all have within us, inner resources and strength and determination and courage that we can draw on to get through adversity of any kind, not just an injury or disability, but any of the obstacles that life presents us," he said in 2004.