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Reeve: No Fear Of Fifty

The Early Show: Christopher Reeve
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"Fifty is not a scary number. I've been to a much scarier place."

So says Christopher Reeve of his 50th birthday, the milestone he passes on Sept. 25, one he's long anticipated and one he'd hoped would be a day on which he would be walking again.

And while that didn't happen, the actor and director best known for his role as Superman has made spectacular progress in his recovery, more than seven years after breaking his neck and becoming paralyzed when he was thrown from his horse.

Reeve sits down with The Early Show's National Correspondent Jon Frankel with some thoughts on turning 50, his past, and his future.

"You know, I think if I'd been on my feet, turning 50, I'd - might have been a little depressed. Because there's the implication that at 50, you're - you're starting - you know, you're at the top of the mountain on your way down the hill," reflects Reeve.

"I'm so - surrounded every day by so much love, so much support - you know, people who challenge me and want the best for me," says Reeve, explaining why this birthday doesn't shake him. "I hit rock bottom at age 42, I mean, I - nearly - nearly killed myself, you know, I was a hangman's factor. Then, I survived that, and I'm surviving this now, and going on."

Since his accident Reeve has worked tirelessly, both to regain sensation and movement.

"I started experimenting and tried everything. Tried different things, in a pool, on land, in bed, in the chair. You name it. I would just say, 'Let's do this.' And I remember one day telling the staff that 'Okay, today we're gonna go in the gym and I want you to put the chair next to a table. And get me out of it. Put me on the side of the table and I'm gonna try to sit up.' You know, sit up all by myself. And I was able to do it," says Reeve, looking back to that day. "It's mind-over-body. It's repetition, it's discipline, it's also predicated on the whole assumption that the body wants to heal. The body wants to be whole."

Seven years ago his doctors told him it was unlikely that he would ever move again or feel below the neck.

He persevered and this month, Maggie Goldberg, a spokeswoman for Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation made a surprising announcement: "Although Mr. Reeve cannot walk, he has regained the ability to move his right wrist, the fingers of his left hand and his feet. He can now feel a pin prick on the majority of his body and can move some of his joints voluntarily. He can also move other joints against resistance. In addition, he can straighten his arms and legs, particularly when the effects of gravity are reduced (for example, in a pool or when he is lying down). But he has little or no balance control for sitting, standing or walking."

"Basically no one is in a position to say he will walk or not," says Dr. John McDonald, the neurologist who has overseen much of Reeve's therapy rehabilitation. "This delayed recovery makes one hopeful."

"The fact is clear that walking is the highest goal," says McDonald. "What's important is that we refocus people's goals to more doable goals, regaining sensation, being healthy, regaining some limited movements."

Reeve first noticed he was regaining control of his body when he was in his office with his wife Dana having a conversation, "I must have been being very emphatic about something. Cause she noticed that my left hand was kind of flopping around. And my fingers were moving and she said, 'Are you doing that on purpose?' And I said 'No.' And she said, 'Well try.' …I just focused on it. I just concentrated. And I just literally said 'Move' and it did."

Physical setbacks have not deterred Reeve in his political battle to raise funds to support medical research for paralysis and other diseases. Small and large victories are weighed together.

"I live in the moment. And if I'm focused on the Yankees, and they come from behind and pull it out in the bottom of the ninth, that's a good moment. And if I have a 30 minute conversation with a senator and - to explain therapeutic cloning to him and convince him to support it, that's another happy moment."

One of those moments now is the publication of his second book - "Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life" - which hit the bookstores last week, four years after "Still Me," his best-selling account of the decision not to kill himself and instead create the life he is now living.

As for endeavors on screen, Reeve's recovery is the subject of a documentary produced by his son Matthew which premiered this month. He also hopes to direct another film himself within the next year.

And although his focus is on the road ahead, Reeve doesn't mind talking about past acting triumphs. He says he is proudest of his work in the films "Remains of the Day," "Deathtrap," and of course "Superman."