Keanu Grieves for His Soul Mate, Jennifer
by Sean Daly
SIX DAYS AFTER THE CAR CRASH THAT killed his former girlfriend, Keanu Reeves was still devastated. Jennifer Syme had been buried next to the couple's stillborn daughter, Ava, and Reeves, as he had following the April 2 tragedy, sought out Jennifer's mother, Maria St. John. The two met for several quiet hours in Los Angeles, remembering, reflecting and grieving. "He's not holding up that well," said St. John. "She was a very beautiful girl."
No one knows exactly what happened at around 6:20 A.M. on that Monday when Syme lost control of her black 1998 Jeep Cherokee near the Hollywood Bowl, crashed into three cars and flipped over. She was probably killed instantly, say police. "Her SUV was turned up on its side, and there was blood all over the street," said John Cronkie, who lives nearby. "She died quickly," said a retired photographer who left his apartment to investigate the wreck and saw blood, glass and fashion magazines beside Syme's body. "The emergency people at the scene kept saying that if she'd had a seat belt on, she'd still be alive," said the photographer, who did not want to be named.
Police were also investigating whether Syme, 28, a former assistant to Twin Peaks director David Lynch, might have been under the influence of drugs - clonazepam and cyclobenzaprine, both antidepressants, were found in her vehicle. Two rolled-up $1 bills containing a white powdery substance (which is being tested were also discovered). While St John acknowledges that her daughter had been "very, very depressed" since the one-year anniversary, in January, of her baby's death, filmmaker Scott Coffey, a close friend of Syme's, says, "She didn't have any kind of drug problem."
News of Syme's death sent a wave of sadness through film and rock circles in Hollywood and prompted concern for Reeves, whose string of personal traumas includes numerous motorcycle accidents, the worst of which ruptured his spleen, and younger sister Kim Reeves's fight against leukemia. Syme had been with Reeves through it all. "They were really just like brother and sister," says a St. John, who disputes published reports that they'd met at a record-industry party for Reeves's band, Dogstar. She says the two had known each other for a decade, though she won't discuss details of how they met, except to say "I was with her, and it was not at a party."
St. John remembers her daughter as someone who loved music, cooking and collecting antiques. Raised in affluent Laguna Beach, California, Syme was about to start high school when she and her mother long since divorced from Jennifer's father, Charles Syme, a retired California highway patrol officer, decided on a change of scenery and moved to Los Angeles, where Syme quickly developed a passion for moviemaking and especially for David Lynch’s films. "She was 16 when she walked into David's office," says Coffey. "She was a huge fan and wanted to do anything on Twin Peaks."
Starting out as an intern, Syme spent five years at Lynch' s company, Asymmetrical Productions, freely sharing her enthusiastic opinions on film and music. She's credited with introducing Lynch to many of the musicians he used in his projects. "She had a huge influence on the music in Lost Highway," says Coffey. Syme also took up acting, and Coffey directed her in five independent short films, the last of which, Ellie Parker, was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2001. "She was more interested in music than acting. I'd say she was really every one's muse," says Coffey.
Syme's ongoing relationship with Reeves was fodder for the tabloids when she became pregnant two years ago. "We heard they were willing to pay $140,000 for a picture of her pregnant," recalls St. John. "We'd talked about getting the money and donating it to Caring for Babies With AIDS."
The publicity-shy Reeves likely quashed that idea. Although he didn't live with Syme, the brooding actor reportedly purchased a house for her when he learned of the pregnancy. But toward the end of December 1999, Syme grew concerned because she hadn't felt the baby move for several days. An ultrasound showed that the unborn girl had died in the womb. "The loss of Ava was the most painful thing that both of them ever had to go through," says St. John. The couple broke up soon after. "Their love wasn't strong enough to survive the loss of their baby," a friend said at the time.
Shortly before her death, Syme enrolled in a film-supervision course at UCLA and looked, to friends, like she was starting to get back on her feet. But on March 17, she suffered a setback when her grandfather Alfonso Diaz died. "That really broke her up," says her mother. "She hadn't been back to that hospital since the baby died. She became very depressed after her grampy died."
Nonetheless, Syme seemed to be in good spirits when she and Coffey went to the Whiskey Bar lounge in the Sunset Marquis Hotel on the Friday night before the accident. "We had an incredible time," he says. "I was thinking how beautiful she looked. After a tough year and a half, she'd really gotten her life together." Syme also spoke to her mother on Saturday, the two of them planning to make Jennifer's favorite dinner - turkey with all the trimmings, just like at Thanksgiving. "She told me how much she loved me," her mother says of their last conversation.
Reeves was expecting to spend the day of the crash in San Francisco, preparing for his role in The Matrix sequels. Instead, he received a phone call from St. John, who, between sobs, told him what had happened. Reeves phoned the LA County coronet's office and offered to identify the body. "He was very quiet," says Fred Corral, who took the call. "He said he wanted to come to our facility. We told him she'd already been identified and that there was no reason for him to come."
On Friday, April 6, family and close friends, including rockers Marilyn Manson, former Red Hot Chili Pepper Dave Navarro and Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian, gathered at the Good Shepherd Church in Beverly Hills. As Lynch screened a series of snapshots from Syme's life, the heavy-metal fan was eulogized to the gentler strains of Barbra Streisand's "Higher Ground" and Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings." Reeves, Navarro, Ian and Coffey served as pallbearers. "I've never cried so hard," says Coffey.
As Syme was buried beside her baby, Reeves, "visibly upset" according to an observer, kept his arm tightly around Syme's mother, each appearing to hold up the other. "This is a lifelong scar," says St. John, "though I know I'll never have to worry about her again and the pain she suffered for the loss of Ava."