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The 'Curse' of Superman

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'Committing Kryptonite1' is Hollywood-speak for what superstitious types believe can happen to a person's life after being associated with 'Superman'.

The Curse

Let's look at how the whole 'curse' story got going. The two men who created Superman the comic book character in 1938, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, earned US$130 between them for their pains. Because they sold their rights to the character, they weren't entitled to any royalties when 'Superman' became a global superstar thanks to television and Hollywood films.

Both men resented losing out - so much so that in 1975 they began a public relations campaign against the studio, with the bitter Shuster writing a poison-pen letter to the producers and cursing the upcoming Superman film.

When Superman - the Movie was a success, Warner Communications awarded Siegel and Schuster US$35,000 a year each for the rest of their lives. There was also the promise that in the future, any media outlet starring 'Superman' would have to credit Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster as his creators.

Shuster passed away in the early 1990s, and Siegel died in 1996. In 1999, their heirs won a court case and received shared half-ownership of the 'Superman' character.

The Tragedies

Compared to the number of notable people who have been involved in Superman projects, the following isn't a massively large number of accidents and calamities.

George Reeves

George Reeves (1914 - 59), who played 'Superman' in the 1951 film Superman and the Mole Men and the following TV series The Adventures of Superman, suffered from typecasting syndrome and found it difficult to gain other acting work after the TV series ended. George was a heavy drinker and threatened suicide many times. One night during a party, he went upstairs alone and a single shot rang out. He had committed suicide.

Christopher Reeve

Four Superman films between 1978 and 1987, (and $300m in box-office takings), typecast Christopher Reeve so that he was (in his own words) unable to escape the cape.

I am not a god. I'm a man, an actor playing a god. Give me a break!

The horse-riding accident on 27 May, 1995, which broke his neck and paralysed him, elicited much excitement in the media. The 'Curse of Superman' rapidly became a modern-day conspiracy theory akin to the journalistic fabrication of the 'Curse of Tutankhamun', after the discovery of his intact tomb by Howard Carter in 1922; and the subsequent death of Carter's patron, Lord Carnarvon.

Chris died of heart failure on 10 October, 2004, after being a quadriplegic for almost a decade. His widow Dana, a non-smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer in August 2005, and she died in March 2006, aged 44 years. Their son Will was left an orphan at the age of 13.

Yes, the Reeve family story is a tragic personal one, but some good did come of it: Chris went on to champion causes like rights for people with disabilities and promote stem-cell research. Before Chris had his accident, no-one had suffered such a calamity and lived. His head was virtually re-attached to his spinal column, and it was a miracle he suffered no brain damage. Chris and Dana established a paralysis foundation which continues its work in their name. Recently, breakthroughs2 have been made, offering hope to paraplegics and quadriplegics worldwide.

Richard Pryor

Richard Pryor (1940 - 2005), who played a villain in Superman III, had an affair with co-star Margot Kidder (see below), effectively ending his marriage. When he was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he asked his ex-wife to return to him, and she nursed him until his death from a heart attack.

Pryor's widow believes in the 'curse' and says that if she was one of the films' producers, she would hire a voodoo princess to remove the 'curse'.

Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando (1924 - 2004), who played Superman's father Jor-El in Superman: The Movie, had a tragic family life. He outlived his daughter Cheyenne, who committed suicide; and his son Christian was sentenced to ten years in jail after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter. This was no coincidence - Christian shot his half-sister Cheyenne's lover, causing Cheyenne to later hang herself.

In later life a grossly-obese Brando suffered from liver cancer, congestive heart failure and diabetes, and was confined to a wheelchair towards the end. He died from lung failure caused by pulmonary fibrosis.

Lee Quigley

Lee Quigley (1976 - 91) played the part of the infant Kal-El who was sent from Krypton to Earth by his parents at the beginning of Superman - the Movie. Lee's parents split up and he went to live with his grandparents in London. Unfortunately, as a teenager he developed a liking for glue-sniffing, and he died from solvent abuse aged 14.

Lane Smith

Lane Smith, who played newspaper boss Perry White in the TV series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) in April 2005 and died two months later.


An experienced stuntman and stunt-double for actor Tom Welling (Clark Kent in Smallville), 35-year-old Christopher Sayour sustained multiple fractures and internal injuries in what was described by eye-witnesses as 'a freak accident' while filming an episode of the show in July 2005. Stunt work is considered hazardous work and accidents happen to the best of them, due to the dangerous nature of the job. Sayour couldn't even complain to the stunt co-ordinator - because that was his job too. His friend Joe Doserro, another experienced stuntman who had worked with Sayour on the film I, Robot, said: 'It's very rare for something bad like this fall to happen.' A year on, Sayour was still recovering from his injuries, and hasn't yet returned to work.

Two years previously, also while filming Smallville, stuntman Bill Stewart suffered bad cuts when he fell through a glass window during a scene. The window was supposed to shatter on contact, but it didn't.

Theme Park Rides

It's not recommended to name a rollercoaster after the Man of Steel, following an accident in 2001 which wasn't supposed to happen, according to experts. The brakes on the 'Superman: Ride of Steel' ride failed and two trains collided, causing injuries to several riders. The official cause of the accident was deemed to have been a blown air supply hose on the ride's braking system which prevented the brake callipers from functioning properly.

Superman Returns

The 2006 film Superman Returns has fared no better in the luck stakes:

  • Producer Rob Burnett was set upon and mugged by a gang of four men who broke his ribs and blacked his eye.
  • Editor Adam Robitel damaged his spine and punctured a lung after falling through a window.
  • Cameraman Todd Stanley suffered a skull fracture and the loss of the tip of a small finger when he fell down some stairs.

This was after it had taken the studio 16 years to find their new 'Superman'. Ashton Kutcher turned down the starring role, after deciding his life was too good3 to risk invoking the 'curse'. Jude Law also mysteriously turned down the part of General Zod, and the character had to be cut from the script. Luckily for the makers and backers of the most expensive film in cinema history to date, Superman Returns has wowed audiences and critics alike, and is on course to smash box-office records.

Those Who Don't Believe in Curses

Margot Kidder played Lois Lane to Christopher Reeve's Superman in four films. In 1996 she had a nervous breakdown and went missing for several days. When she was found, her dentures were missing, her hair had been hacked off with a razor blade, and she had no recollection of her missing days. She denounces the stories of the 'curse'; indeed, she considers herself lucky that she survived such an experience.

Margot says that what has happened is 'just life' and bad things happen to good people all the time. She's not kidding when she says that she doesn't believe in the 'curse' - as she was offered - and accepted - the role of Bridgette Crosby in Smallville, the popular television series about the teenage Clark Kent.

Of course it's only fair to mention the resurgence of the career of Teri Hatcher (Lois Lane in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), thanks to her casting as Susan in the worldwide smash-hit Desperate Housewives. Her co-star Dean Cain, now cape-free, reports that his life is: Pretty damn good, thank you very much.

What curse? To me it means nothing. There are a lot of things that happened to people, but I don't think of it as a curse.
- Brandon Routh - the 2006 cinematic incarnation of Superman.
1Kryptonite is radioactive material from Krypton, Superman's home planet. It's the only substance that can kill him.2A nerve in the nose has been found to regenerate - the only one in the human body to do so. Experiments are taking place where nasal nerves are transplanted into the injured spinal column in the hopes of regeneration.3Well, he is married to Demi Moore.

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