In The Matrix, Keanu Reeves plays the future's most formidable warrior. But for the 36-year-old actor, I the new millennium itself must seem a merciless foe. In January 2000 Reeves and his then-girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, 29, buried their child, a girl named Ava, who had been stillborn at 8 months. The grief proved too much for their relationship, which ended several weeks later. But they remained close friends, even brunching together as recently as April 1 at Crepes on Cole in San Francisco. Just one day later, a much shaken Reeves called the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office and asked, according to Lt. Mac Willie, "if Jen Syme was there."

Sadly, she was. Shortly after 6 a.m. on April 2, Syme, who worked in the recording industry, lost control of her 1999 Jeep Cherokee on L.A.'s Cahuenga Boulevard, sideswiped three parked cars, rolled over several times and was thrown from the car. Authorities believe she died instantly, but they are awaiting toxicology tests to determine the final cause of death. (In her car police found prescribed antidepressants and two rolled-up dollar bills with "a white powdery substance" inside.) Whatever the result, Reeves, says a friend, "is finding it very, very difficult to cope with her death."

Her loss is the latest in a long series of hardships for the reclusive star. Reeves was a toddler when his father, Samuel Nowlin Reeves, now 59, split from his mother, Patricia, 57, rarely seeing Keanu or his older sister Kim. No longer in contact with him, Reeves once described their history as "full of pain and woe." But harder still, it seems, was the 1993 drug overdose of his good friend River Phoenix at age 23. Says one friend: "It's something he thinks about all the time, something he never really talks about. Friends know not to go there with him."

Nor to the part of him reserved for Kim, 38, a horse breeder, who is battling leukemia. "When she was in the hospital he was there with her all the time, sitting at her bedside, holding her hand," the friend says of Reeves, who took his sister on a trip to Italy last summer. "Sometimes, it's almost like he doesn't trust himself to have a relationship with anyone." For now, Reeves, who is due to begin shooting back-to-back Matrix sequels this spring, is seeking "peace and time to deal with this," says his buddy Bret Domrose, who plays guitar in Reeves's alternative rock band Dogstar. "Jen was a sweet girl. She's really going to be missed."

Karen S. Schneider
Johnny Dodd, Lyndon Stambler, Lorenzo Benet and Karen Grigsby Bates in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Johnny Dodd,
  • Lyndon Stambler,
  • Lorenzo Benet,
  • Karen Grigsby Bates.