Rebel with a cause
Shocked by the death of his best friend, River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves speaks out against drugs.
by Helen Hawkes and Michael Hellicar
He is Hollywood's hottest, hippest young star and Keanu Reeves is also proving to be one of Tinseltowns survivors. The death of his best friend, River Phoenix, after an overdose outside Los Angeles' Viper Room nightclub owned by another friend, Johnny Depp, has prompted Keanu to speak out about his decision to swear off drugs.
Described as over two metres of pure testosterone topped by a thatch of glossy, black hair, Keanu Reeves is the actor millions of female fans go wild for and agents chase with multimillion dollar deals. Meanwhile, he's devoting himself to stopping deaths like River's.
His own vices, says Keanu, don't include drugs use and are as harmless as cruising on his red, 850cc Norton motorbike, drinking a beer and maybe going out with a woman on an occasional Saturday night.
He can often be seen roaring along the roads of Hollywood on his motorbike with his hair flying in the wind.
Although others may not see this bike riding as harmless, even a series of accidents hasn't dampered Keanu's enthusiasm. A scar that runs from his chest to his navel is a vivid memento of the time he crashed his bike into a mountain.
"Am I a rebel? Yeah, I guess I am," says Keanu.
And, it seems, a rebel with a cause that doesn't include compulsory helmet-wearing for riders.
"It's uncool for dudes to go around telling other dudes what they oughta do. I've never been one to respect the Big Guy just for the sake of it."
Although no-one could ever accuse him of being an intellectual, Keanu Reeves is smarter than many of his Hollywood peers and followers - he's smart enough to have sworn off drugs.
He also supports causes, from vegetarianism to world peace, which has led some of the more cynical Hollywood observers to crown him "Leader of the New Age Airheads."
"Until these guys came along, movie stars used to go out and have a good time," says one such observer. "But the airheads actually feel guilty about getting all the fame, all that money, the beautiful women, because they believe they're famous enough to do something really useful, like saving the planet."
For whatever reason, and whatever an airhead or not, Keanu Reeves does use his fame to spread the word about the self-destructive nature of drug use and to help save the planet. He also goes on peace marches and other rallies.
When you ask about his personal life, you can't help but become transfixed by those sultry brown eyes and that dreamy smile while he maintains a long, meaningful silence, focusing on a distant point in the galaxy. His lips move silently then Keanu, pronounced Kee-ah-noo - an Hawaiian word that means cool breeze over the mountains - replies: "I don't like talking about my personal stuff because, like, who cares? Other things are more important."
At 29, Keanu is a man of intense passion and few words. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Keanu lived in Australia and the US but spent most of his childhood in Canada where his English mother designed dresses for Dolly Parton.
He earned his first big money doing a Coca-Cola ad but it was in the film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and the sequel, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, that Keanu established himself as a Hollywood cult figure.
His role as bent in the very successful My Own Private Idaho, in which he starred with River Phoenix, added to his image as a cool kinda guy.
Then there was his part in Much Ado About Nothing last year, although Keanu's tight leather trousers and his naked chest got more acclaim than his acting. He also has ambitions to be a rock star and plays bass guitar in a band called Dog Star.
"We're terrible. We should never play in public," he admits. "But I wanted to do it and it's better to regret something you've done rather than regret not doing it."
Keanu has a philosophical approach to his life. He tells how he got to 25 years of age and suddenly thought "Hey, I'm going to die one day".
"I started looking at life in a different way. I asked myself who's the real me? Why am I here?
"It was weird, like I woke up that morning with a different mind."
After that, things like using drugs took a different perspective for him.
Perhaps Keanu's biggest challenge is to shake off his early nickname of Sex God. He hopes to establish himself as a "serious" actor. But with his overwhelming sex appeal, that might not be easy.
During one stage performance in which he was playing a classic role, his character asked: "Who am I?". "A hunk!" yelled a woman in the audience.
Keanu shudders at the memory and there's a long pause before he replies.
"That's life," the man of intense passions and few words says, convincing you he does believe there's more important things to talk about than his life.