Keanu – the lost, reclusive star
(Previously published on May 10 as a slightly shorter version under the title 'The Cursed Superstar')
His baby died in the womb. His girlfriend was killed. Now (poignantly) his much-loved sister, Kim, is terminally ill with leukaemia. The cast and crew of the final Matrix sequel see him as a Howard Hughes. John Bedford reports for GAT from Hollywood
Just where has Keanu Reeves been hiding? It's been six months since the last Matrix and only the release of the final episode of the sci-fi epic has forced the mysterious actor to break cover. In the meantime, Keanu has continued his lone crusade to vanquish his personal demons. He's celebrated his 39th birthday – alone - and continues to care for his terminally-ill sister.
Friends say he is ready to give up on Hollywood due to the stress of being a star and the added pressure of his personal disasters - most recently the return of his sister's cancer. "It's as if his heart has been broken once too often and he's simply given up on life," one friend of the star has said. "He has to be helped. No one can get close to him any more."
If he does turn his back on Hollywood, Keanu will have gone out at the top. In the past year he has taken his place among the movie world's elite. Two blockbuster Matrix sequels in six months have guaranteed his status as a major A-list player and a pay cheque of more than $100million.
Yet, as he reluctantly emerges to fuel the inevitable hype surrounding the final film in his sci-fi trilogy, Keanu remains a million miles removed from the happy-go-lucky goofball who sprang to prominence in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Not the money, the fame, the adulation of millions of fans - or the fact he has at last put down roots by buying homes in Hollywood and NY - has pulled him from his own personal quagmire. But with what has gone before, it's perhaps of no surprise he has been dragged so low.
It began in 2000 when the Speed star's stunning girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, revealed she was pregnant with his first child. He bought a house for his young family and a Jeep for Jennifer so he would not have to worry about her and their baby's safety on the busy Californian highways. As the delighted couple awaited the birth, a routine scan revealed their baby had died in the womb.
Doctors induced labour and the baby was stillborn on Christmas Eve, 2000. Appropriately, the shattered pair named their child Eve before she was buried in a simple ceremony at an LA cemetery. The grief proved too much and Jennifer and Keanu's relationship was damaged beyond repair. Jennifer became hooked on antidepressants and recreational drugs to make her life more bearable. Keanu, whose father served time for cocaine dealing, did not approve but continued to try and offer support sparking rumours they were getting back together. But any chance of reconciliation was to be dramatically snatched away. In April, 2001, after a night out in LA with singer, Marilyn Manson, Jennifer was killed when her Jeep careered out of control and ploughed into three parked cars, killing her instantly. The shock halted pre-production on the Matrix sequels and took Keanu from the film set to his second funeral in 16 months. In Jennifer's obituary in the Los Angeles Times, Syme's family said she was survived by "the love of her life, Keanu Reeves."
Police had found antidepressant tablets in Jennifer's wrecked vehicle and two rolled-up dollar bills covered in a white powder, suspected to be cocaine. She had not been wearing a seat belt. Dragging himself from his grief, Keanu flew back to Australia to begin the hectic back-to-back Matrix filming schedule. In the Australian sunshine he managed to make some sort of recovery and was linked to a string of new women including Rachael Jones, a Brit working at a radio station in Sydney, and Amanda de Cadenet, English ex-wife of Duran Duran guitarist, John Taylor. But the hand of fate was to intervene yet again, this time to the most important woman left in Keanu's life - his sister, Kim. The 36-year-old had been diagnosed with leukaemia years before but her condition had taken a severe turn for the worse. Keanu had helped raise Kim, two years his junior, after their parents' marriage collapsed when he was seven.
A family friend says: "As young as he was, he felt a responsibility to take care of her. Their dad was never around and his mother, who was a British showgirl, had to do everything. She was the sole breadwinner." Kim was Keanu's baby sister. A bond was formed then and has never been broken. Kim is the driving force behind her brother's career. It was she who encouraged a young Keanu to leave his native Toronto to become an actor in Hollywood. In July last year, Keanu was told Kim's condition had deteriorated. Again, he left filming on the Matrix sequels to be at his sister's bedside.
He paid $25,000 to take her and a friend on holiday in Capri. Then he postponed a flight back to Australia to fly his sister to France for innovative new treatment.
He constantly travelled between Sydney and LA to keep up his vigil. The filming on the Matrix sequels complete, the Beirut-born star vowed to put other film projects on hold. Keanu said: "It puts everything into perspective when you're faced with a situation like this with a loved one. She was always there for me. I will always be here for her." Family friend, Chris Fowler, explains why. "She is the one woman who has always had Keanu's unconditional love. The guy is knocking himself out with worry." It's the family ties that dictate Keanu's actions - and the whole of Hollywood is willing him on. "Keanu's biggest fear is that he might be out of the country when Kim leaves us. That would be his worst nightmare." Away from his sister's bedside, Keanu has focused totally on his role as cyber-warrior, Neo, in the Matrix sequels. He has shunned all interviews and nursed his grief alone in hotel rooms and his Hollywood apartment. The already reclusive star has become a virtual hermit. "Keanu seems a very sad figure," a crew member said towards the end of filming. "He doesn't mingle much with anybody and just turns up, works and goes back to his hotel."
In October last year, there was the added stress of a plea from dad, Sam Reeves, to put aside a 25-year family feud. Sam, 60, desperate to contact his son one last time through fear of dying from chronic diabetes and heart palpitations, said: "I don't want anything from Keanu, just his love. I pray he'll get in touch before the end comes. It was the drugs. I've used pot all my life. Drugs took my family away from me."
Despite the prospect of at last establishing himself as a Hollywood A-lister and his biggest payday yet, Keanu has little interest in fame and fortune. "It's nice not to have to worry about the rent or paying your bills but, like the cliché says, money doesn't buy you happiness," he says. Now, with the completion of the Matrix trilogy, Keanu can continue with his favourite role - the recluse. He has already hinted that he may quit films for good. "I want to do more theatre work," he says. "Right now, I'm trying to find a good project for the coming year and would like to return to the stage for a while. It's something that I really love and it seems to me that it is the best experience that an actor can have." In the meantime, Keanu is a man alone - talented, rich and with a $5million luxury home in the Hollywood Hills and a 3,000-squarefoot, New York apartment to rattle around in.
Buying both properties was a huge step for the star famous for his wandering lifestyle. Only time will tell whether finding a home will ever help him move on from the traumatic events of the past three years. In the short term, only by pouring himself into acting and his Buddhist faith can the star find any peace.
"Acting allows you to escape your worries and problems," he once said. "But unfortunately, I'm not able to accept that suspension of reality for very long. There's always something that draws me back into real life."