Dana Reeve, an actress whose days of sunny fame with her star husband, Christopher, turned into an odyssey of tragedy and hope, died Monday night of lung cancer.
Mrs. Reeve, 44, gave up her entertainment career to care for her husband during his 10 years of almost complete paralysis, when she and Christopher became fighting symbols for those who refused to give up, even against the most desperate odds. She used her celebrity to campaign for stem cell and other medical research to treat spinal cord injuries like the one that paralyzed her husband, best known for his Superman starring roles.
She died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Medical Center in New York, the Christopher Reeve Foundation announced.
"Dana will always be remembered for her passion, strength and ceaseless courage that became her hallmark," said Kathy Lewis, foundation president, in a statement posted on its Web site. "Along with her husband Christopher, she faced adversity with grace and determination, bringing hope to millions around the world."
Her death also drew memorials from the political and entertainment worlds.
"Dana Reeve used the great personal challenge of her husband's paralysis to work so that other families would not have to endure the same pain," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, in a statement released yesterday morning. "By bringing hope to the sick and disabled with the miraculous potential of stem cell research, she has helped to continue the mending and renewing of the world that is possible through science."
"The brightest light has gone out," said comedian Robin Williams. "We will forever celebrate her loving spirit."
Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, described Mrs. Reeve as "a model of tenacity and grace. ... Despite the adversity that she faced, Dana bravely met these challenges and was always an extremely devoted wife, mother and advocate."
The Reeves were actors who met while honing their skills in summer stock at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, in western Massachusetts. She appeared on stage in New York and on television shows, including Law & Order. The couple married in 1992 and had a son, Will, now 13. The family also included Matthew and Alexandra, Christopher Reeve's grown children from a previous relationship.
Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident in 1995. Medical experts gave the star little hope for recovery, but the Reeves refused to give up. His saga of optimism and fierce determination captivated the public until he died in 2004.
During that period, Dana Reeve was a constant companion, caregiver and tireless advocate for helping those with spinal cord injuries. She followed her husband as chair of the foundation, which funded medical research.
In August, Mrs. Reeve announced that she had lung cancer. She said she was never a smoker.
In one of her last appearances, four months ago at a gala for the foundation, Mrs. Reeve said she was responding well to treatment and her tumor was shrinking.
"I'm beating the odds and defying every statistic the doctors can throw at me," she told the media. "My prognosis looks better all the time." She reminded reporters that she "had a great model" for staying optimistic. "I was married to a man who never gave up."
"Unfortunately, that's what happens with this awful disease," said Maggie Goldberg of the Christopher Reeve Foundation. "You feel good, you're responding and then the downturn."
In addition to her son and stepchildren, Mrs. Reeve is survived by her father, Dr. Charles Morosini, and sisters, Deborah Morosini and Adrienne Morosini Heilman.
Michael Muskal writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.