I'm Hooked on Speed
Keanu Reeves’ career is speeding into top gear but life in the fast lane hasn’t always been so pleasant.
by Gerard Evans
The movie is Speed. And ironically the title that has put Keanu Reeves on the fast track to being a pounds 5 million screen action hero is the obsession that could destroy him.
For his idea of heaven is roaring through winding Hollywood canyons on his Norton motorbike without a crash helmet - and the lights off.
Speed is also the name of the drug which at first fascinated him but helped kill his close pal River Phoenix.
That shocked Keanu so badly that he became a passionate anti-drugs campaigner.
His career is revving in top gear with his Speed portrayal of tough cop Jack Traven - the only man who can defuse a bomb aboard a crowded bus, which has been rigged to explode if it drops below 50mph.
American moviegoers have paid pounds 65 million to watch Reeves do battle with evil bomber Dennis Hopper as the bus hurtles around the crowded Los Angeles freeways.
It’s a role that could have been written for the star who said: “Time moves slower when you are doing 130mph.”
Reeves has an 18-inch scalpel incision running down his torso from a near-fatal bike crash seven years ago.
But the unseen scars from a broken childhood have left a bigger mark on the 29-year-old actor who seemed bent on earning a reputation as one of Hollywood’s wildest.
His Speed co-star Sandra Bullock said: “Keanu’s been through harder times than he admits. He has a past that hurts.”
He has not seen his father Sam for 17 years, since a bitter divorce from Keanu’s English mother Patricia.
When Sam was jailed in his native Hawaii for 10 years in June for supplying cocaine and heroin, Keanu angrily refused to help him and swore never to talk to the 52-year-old drifter again.
Horrified studio bosses warned Keanu not to intervene, as publicity from the drugs case could have harmed Speed when it was being released.
Now Sam is desperate to make amends for the hardship and bitter memories his desertion caused his superstar son.
From his cell in Halava Correctional Institute, he told me: “I just don’t want to harm Keanu. I’m not very proud of myself as a father but I am proud of him.
“I hope we can be reconciled one day, so I can explain why he didn’t have a father as a young boy.
“I hope he doesn’t think I’m some evil drug lord.”
Keanu himself has learnt to live with the rumours of drug abuse that dogged him in his early days as a Tinseltown hell-raiser.
His behaviour when he played a junkie male prostitute in My Own Private Idaho with River Phoenix caused concern for both of them.
Keanu was once quoted as saying: “I want to be on speed. I want to be a speed freak for a while. Is that a stupid thing to say?”
Phoenix died of a speedball overdose in Johnny Depp’s Viper Club while Keanu was making Speed.
Director Jan de Bont says: “It hit Keanu very hard. It was a shock to him.”
Since then Reeves has joined the fight against drug-taking but now there are rumours about his sexuality.
He is never seen around nightclubs with starlets and sources say River Phoenix had a crush on him when they were filming My Own Private Idaho.
But the relationship drawing most comment in Hollywood is his link to gay billionaire record mogul David Geffen, Cher’s ex-lover.
Recently the pair have been painting the town red at parties and going on wild shopping sprees.
Geffen, 51, splashed out nearly pounds 8,000 on clothes for Keanu at Barneys in Beverly Hills. They were seen “giggling like schoolboys as they tried on mounds of 350 pound shirts."
A few years ago, in the play Wolfboy, Reeves was pictured kissing and caressing another man in publicity stills that became gay collectors’ items around his home town, Toronto.
Keanu was born in Beirut in 1964 but after Sam walked out when he was two, the family bounced from Australia to New York before settling in Toronto, where Patricia designed costumes for singing stars such as Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Alice Cooper.
Keanu dropped out of school in 1984 and was kicked out of drama school for incessant talking.
He took part-time jobs, and soon began getting small parts on TV and commercials.
Two years later he jumped in his clapped-out old Volvo and drove 3,000 miles to Hollywood.
In 1987, he landed a part in River’s Edge and his exotic looks caught studio attention. A year later he was starring with Michelle Pfeiffer and John Malkovich in Dangerous Liaisons.
Since then he has scored in 20 movies, including Parenthood, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Point Break, Dracula, Much Ado About Nothing and this year’s Little Buddha.
His bohemian, sixties-style upbringing still influences Keanu.
He claims to use a special crystal which miraculously banishes perspiration when he rubs it on his armpits. During his spaced-out early days in Hollywood he needed that crystal. He once announced on the set of My Own Private Idaho that he hadn’t taken a bath for a month.
It was a shock to many when New Age hippie Keanu arrived on the set of Speed after three months in the gym with chiselled shoulders, bullneck and marine haircut.
He dismisses fame and star trappings, insisting: “I don’t want to be super-famous. That would be awful.”
He now lives in a hotel, and apart from his bikes, hockey stick, electric guitar and a mountain of clothes, he owns nothing.
“I don’t need a house,” he said.
“I prefer to be free, unfettered. I like being in the desert, high in a tree, in the dirt.”
Always provided that he can dust himself down and rev up his bike even faster than his career.