Memories of Keanu
Samuel Reeves has not seen or heard from his famous son in decades
by Tim Ryan
The father gets teary-eyed remembering standing with his son on a lava cliff above crashing waves along the Big Island's southeast coast several years ago.
"Occasionally, the spray would wash over the shelf, and the water would rush around our legs, and I would lift him up and hold him really tight," he recalled. "Then this big old wave really almost swept us right out.
"I caught my boy just as he was being sucked away by knee-deep water. I think Keanu was 11."
Since that moment some 25 years ago, Samuel Nowlin Reeves has spent little time with his famous actor-son, Keanu Charles Reeves.
The elder Reeves has not spoken with his son, or his daughter Kim, for more than two decades, although he has tried to contact Keanu -- who is named after Samuel's uncle, Henry Keanu Reeves -- several times.
"I pretty much know what he's doing, but he's made it clear that he wants nothing to do with me," said Reeves, 59. The father knows, for instance, that daughter Kim suffered from leukemia but is in remission and that Keanu and former girlfriend Jennifer Syme had a stillborn child, a girl named Ava, in January.
Reeves was returning from Waikiki Beach early this month when he walked in on a telephone conversation between his mother and aunt.
"I heard Mom say Keanu was killed in a car accident, and I flipped out," the father said. "I didn't know I was so emotionally connected to the kid; I cried, man, I cried."
The truth was that Syme died in an auto accident, something Reeves would find out after his cousin searched the Internet for information.
"My feeling was so intense that it told me how much I missed the kid," said Reeves.
Still, he did not send a sympathy card to his son.
"It's been so long for everything."
Reeves understands that his vagabond lifestyle -- including more than 20 years of drug use and heroin addiction -- contributed to his estrangement from his kids. He hit bottom in 1992 when he was arrested at Hilo Airport while attempting to sell heroin to an acquaintance.
"All of a sudden, we were surrounded by cops," he says.
Reeves was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was paroled two years after the arrest. He returned to his mother's modest two-bedroom home in Kapahulu, an easy walk from Waikiki Beach, where he often goes after visiting a Kakaako drug treatment center for his daily dose of methadone. He earned his GED while in prison.
Standing on the porch of his mother's home, Reeves says he wants to go to a nearby park to talk. Reeves, 5 feet 10 inches tall and 230 pounds, limps from arthritis, has Grave's disease, diabetes, heart problems and needs serious dental work.
During a two-hour interview, he makes no excuses for his life, blaming only himself for his troubles, and admits, "I'm embarrassed by it all."
"I didn't envision my life this way," he said. "I had no idea when I was partying at 30 that at 59 I would be living with my mother (Sarah Lillian Reeves, 78) in my grandmom's house and be on food stamps."
Asked if he thinks his wealthy son could help, Reeves snaps, "This is not Keanu's problem; it's mine."
Reeves dismisses several things that have been written about him, chiefly that he abandoned his family when Keanu was 2 years old. He says he did travel with his brother, caring for horses owned by his stepfather, but that he shared a Toronto apartment with wife Patricia, a former Paris showgirl, until Keanu was "about 5," and remained close to the boy for years. Reeves and Patricia divorced when their son was 15, he said.
The couple had met and married in Beirut, Lebanon, when Reeves was 21, Patricia, 19. Keanu and Kim were both born in Beirut, although other media have reported that Kim was born in Australia.
Toronto was more accessible to Reeves' mother, "who raised those kids," he said. "She would come back and forth between Toronto and Honolulu."
Reeves admits to having "lots of fun" during the turbulent '60s, adding it was "a hard time to be married." He remarried twice after divorcing Patricia and has not spoken to his first wife for 30 years.
It is not surprising that Samuel Reeves, who was born in Honolulu and attended Waikiki Elementary, became a wanderer. After his parents divorced and his mother remarried, the family moved to various cities in Europe. Reeves left Hawaii at age 10.
He remained in Beirut because he liked the city, working for a time in a publishing house as a clerk. He says he learned some French and Hebrew -- but, "I have no trade at all."
He met Patricia when she was performing at a Beirut casino.
"She roped me right in as soon as I saw her. When she got pregnant, she just flat out told me, 'I'm going to pop out the little buggah, so we're getting married.' It was fine with me."
There's a glow in Reeves' eyes when he speaks of certain incidents involving his son, and his recall of tiny details is surprising after so many years. He talks in painful detail about trying to contact Keanu while in prison.
"I remember I was reminiscing a bit, and I wrote to him about some of the times we had," Reeves laughed nervously. "Never got a response."
Still, Keanu's celebrity status made prison life easier.
"It was the first time I realized that Keanu was big time, and all these part-Hawaiians were so proud because Keanu was part-Hawaiian," Reeves said. "The guards would take care of me and make sure I got good jobs."
When Keanu's band, Dogstar, performed at World Cafe in Honolulu last year, Reeves dropped off a note at the club that included his home phone number. The venue is near Reeves' methadone clinic.
"I didn't really expect a response."
Until about age 15, Keanu was a frequent visitor to the 25-acre Big Island farm that Samuel had bought from his grandmother. The property is now owned by a 21-year-old daughter from Reeves' second marriage.
"I remember Keanu liked trucks, building things and music," Reeves said. "His mother chased him away and that was it. I was upset about it, but I just figured that was the way it was. It's a wonderment to me how I let it happen."
Could it have been his drug use? "I've always smoked pot," he said. "In Beirut I did some cocaine and heroin, then I stopped, but started again in Hawaii."
Recently, while going through old boxes, Reeves found several letters he wrote that he never sent to Keanu.
"I don't know why I didn't mail them."
Then he remembers an interview with his son he recently read. "Keanu said my life was 'tragic' and, oh boy, does that hurt. Sad, yeah? I never figured things would end up this way. But he'll always be my boy."
1. Samuel Reeves admits that two decades of drug abuse probably cost him the love of his son, actor Keanu Reeves.
2. Keanu Reeves performed in Hawaii with his band, Dogstar.