The Profile Dossier Classic: Keanu Reeves, Hollywood's Most Gracious Actor
"If you have been brutally broken but still have the courage to be gentle to other living beings, then you’re a badass with a heart of an angel."
Keanu Reeves is no stranger to tragedy.
Born in Beirut, Reeves's early life was marked with turbulence and instability. He was only 3 years old when his father left the family, and the last time they spoke was when Reeves was 13 years old. In 1994, his father was arrested with large quantities of heroin and cocaine, and sentenced to 10 years in jail. He was released in 1996.
Reeves refuses to discuss his relationship with his father, only saying, “The story with me and my dad’s pretty heavy. It’s full of pain and woe and f*cking loss and all that sh*t.”
Throughout his childhood, Reeves and his sister would move around with their mother to Hawaii, Australia, and New York before settling in Toronto. Reeves attended four different high schools in the span of five years.
Reeves struggled with academics because of his dyslexia, but he found a passion for theater when he was only 9 years old. He dropped out of his fourth high school to pursue acting, and after moving to Los Angeles in 1986, Reeves landed his career-launching role in the science fiction comedy film Bill and Ted.
But before long, tragedy struck again.
In 1991, his younger sister was diagnosed with leukemia that she battled for years. Reeves started a private foundation that donates to children’s hospitals and cancer research.
In 1999, just as Reeves gained national acclaim for his role as Neo in the iconic film The Matrix, he and his longtime girlfriend Jennifer Syme were expecting their first child. In December of that year, their daughter Ava was stillborn at eight months on Christmas Eve. Unable to recover from the grief, Reeves and Syme ended their relationship, but remained close friends.
Eighteen months later, Syme passed out at the wheel, collided with three parked cars, and was thrown from the car. She died in the accident.
“Grief changes shape, but it never ends,” Reeves once said. “People have a misconception that you can deal with it and say, ‘It’s gone, and I’m better.’ They’re wrong. When the people you love are gone, you’re alone.”
Reeves has become a legendary actor, producer, and director, but he also has a reputation for being a genuinely good person. He's become known for his random acts of kindness, of which there are many.
We've seen him giving up his seat on a crowded subway to a woman with a large bag, jumping out of a car to autograph a sign he saw on a fan's lawn, and hanging out with a homeless man on the side streets of West Hollywood.
Despite everything he's been through, Reeves teaches us that tragedy can be used to create a beautiful life filled with joy and kindness. Remember, there is no light without darkness.
"If you have been brutally broken but still have the courage to be gentle to other living beings,” he says, “then you’re a badass with a heart of an angel."
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