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What is the 'Superman Curse'?

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Mike Rampton
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Superman Christopher Reeve

The strange sequence of misfortunes that have befallen those who’ve played, or been close to, the iconic character

What is the Superman Curse?

There have been quite a few Hollywood outings for Superman over the years, and a surprising amount of the people who have portrayed the Man of Steel, or characters adjacent to him, have ended up dying young or suffering other misfortunes.

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George Reeves in The Adventures Of Superman

Who’s befallen it?

Two of the most high-profile men who played the last son of Krypton had similar names and tragic early deaths: George Reeves and Christopher Reeve.

George Reeves played Superman in 1951’s Superman And The Mole-Men and the TV series that came out of it, The Adventures Of Superman. He took his status as a role model seriously, never smoking where a child might see him and maintaining his good-guy image. After the show ended, Reeves was beset with financial problems, and his long-running affair with the wife of a powerful Hollywood executive came to an end. 

In June 1959 he was found dead in his bedroom, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, at the age of 45. There was immediate speculation that he was actually murdered due to the affair, and a few suspicious details - the lack of gunpowder on his fingers, the two other bullets embedded in the floor when witnesses elsewhere in his house claimed to have hear one gunshot - mean there are a few questions around his death that will never be answered.

Christopher Reeve played Superman in four films from 1978 to 1987, and his portrayal (and astonishing ability to make Clark Kent’s disguise believable) remains the benchmark by which all other Men of Steel are judged. 

In 1996, he fell from a horse and shattered his first and second vertebrae, separating his spine from his skull and paralysing him from the neck down. He became an activist, lobbying for stem cell research, while continuing to act, including in Smallville. In 2004 he went into cardiac arrest as a result of an infected ulcer, fell into a coma and died. He was 52.

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Christopher Reeve in Superman: The Movie

That’s only two people. Are other Supermen meant to have fallen victim to it?

Clayton “Bud” Collyer voiced Superman in the first radio series in 1940, also lending his voice to subsequent cartoons. He later worked as a game show host, and died at 61 from circulatory problems.

Kirk Alyn was the first actor to play Superman, which he did in a collection of serials from 1948 to 1950. Afterwards, he found himself unable to get more work due to typecasting, and only did bit parts until his death from Alzheimer’s in 1999, aged 88.

Lee Quigley, who played Superman as a baby in the 1978 movie, died at the age of 14 from inhaling solvents.

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Kirk Alyn in Atom Man Vs Superman

What about Superman-adjacent figures?

Plenty of people who’ve been with Superman have had unfortunate incidents befall them. 

Marlon Brando played Superman’s father Jor-El in the 1978 film, and was no stranger to tragedy - one of his sons shot the boyfriend of one of his daughters, and the daughter, Cheyenne, later killed herself. 

Margot Kidder, Lois Lane to Christopher Reeves’ Superman, has struggled with mental health issues and once went missing for four days. She died in May 2018 at the age of 69. 

Richard Pryor, who appeared in Superman III, suffered multiple heart attacks before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and dying at the age of 65. 

Christopher Reeve’s widow Dana died of lung cancer at 44 despite never having smoked.

Superman creators Joe Siegel and Jerry Shuster were repeatedly mistreated by their publisher DC over rights to the character, missing out on millions. Schuster also lost his sight. 

The Fleischer brothers, who animated the first Superman cartoons, fell out and ended up in numerous legal disputes.

Sam Jones III from the first three seasons of Smallville has had drug issues and legal issues, and had a sex tape released against his will. 

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Christopher Reeve and Richard Pryor in Superman III

But there must be loads of people who’ve been fine, right?

Er, yeah. Most people, in fact. Quite a lot of things attributed to the curse are either things that just happen (dying at 88) or manifestly attributable to other things (bipolar disorder, Marlon Brando being a bad father, Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey being awful people etc).

Bob Holiday played Superman on Broadway in the 1960s and lived a long, healthy, happy life. 

Dean Cain’s not been affected by the curse - he wore the cape in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman and seems fine, with a cheerleading drama show and guest roles on Supergirl and Lady Dynamite

Tom Welling, Smallville’s Superman, is a regular on Lucifer and seems perfectly happy with his life. 

Brandon Routh of Superman Returns fame stars in Legends Of Tomorrow and is fine and dandy. 

Henry Cavill is Superman in the DC Extended Universe and leads a blessed existence, the handsome devil.

There are also hundreds and hundreds of people involved in the making of any film, probably thousands, who are completely fine. There isn’t a curse. Some old people are dead. (You could say, they’re in a crypt tonight.)

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Dean Cain in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman

What’s the crappest thing that’s been blamed on the curse?

It’s a tie - either Kate Bosworth splitting up with Orlando Bloom after filming Superman Returns, which tabloids claimed she blamed on the curse, or the time one of the DVD production crew on that film fell down some steps.

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Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns

(Pics: Getty, Warner Bros)

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