Reeves is two years old when his father, Samuel, a geologist of Hawaiian-Chinese descent, leaves the family. The elder Reeves originally met and married Reeves' British-born mother Patricia in Lebanon. After the split, Patricia moves Reeves and his sister Kim to New York City before settling for good in Toronto. There, she designs theatrical costumes for numerous stars including Dolly Parton, Alice Cooper and David Bowie. Samuel, who sees his son off and on until he is 13, will be sentenced to ten years in prison in Hawaii for cocaine possession in 1994.
After attending five high schools in five years, Reeves drops out for good, taking acting lessons and working at a hockey rink in Toronto before piling his things into a 1969 Volvo and moving to L.A.
As lovable, time-traveling burnout Ted "Theodore" Logan in the slacker cult classic Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Reeves creates one of his most memorable characters, as well as a perception that he may share Ted's dimwitted qualities. "Look at Yoda. He's made of rubber. People say how smart he is," says Matrix producer Joel Silver to Entertainment Weekly in 2003. "People sometimes can't get past the performance to the person."
Reeves is devastated by the sudden drug overdose-caused death of close friend River Phoenix, his costar in 1991's My Own Private Idaho (right). The pair, who played stoned street hustlers in the edgy indie film, were dogged by rumors that they experimented with drugs to prepare for their roles. It is widely believed that Phoenix's habits began around the time they were filming.
As LAPD officer Jack Traven, Reeves takes on madman Dennis Hopper in the action flick Speed, costarring Sandra Bullock. Working out at Gold's Gym for two months before filming, Reeves arrives on set "totally buff," Hopper tells Entertainment Weekly. Despite the film's massive success, Reeves turns down an offer to do the sequel, which tanks after its 1997 release.
Offered a role opposite Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in the crime saga Heat, Reeves turns it down (it goes to Val Kilmer) in favor of a 24-day engagement as Hamlet at Winnipeg's 789-seat Manitoba Theatre Centre in Canada. Hundreds of teenage girls stand outside the stage door every night despite frigid weather, while the box office fields ticket inquiries from as far away as Finland and Japan.
Reeves hits the road with his band Dogstar on a 25-city Dog Days of Summer tour. After meeting drummer Robert Mailhouse in 1991, Reeves assembled the band and began playing bass in L.A local shows. Entertainment Weekly describes the group's sound as "somewhere between alterna-stalwarts Green Day and Dinosaur Jr." When they embark on a six-date Japanese tour it becomes apparent that the music may not be the main attraction. "In Japan, if Keanu scratched his head, they screamed," Mailhouse tells Entertainment Weekly. "If he went to tie a shoelace they fainted."
As computer hacker Neo in the big-budget, sci-fi thriller The Matrix, Reeves becomes the movie hero of a new millennium. The film pays vast dividends when it grosses more than $171 million in the U.S. alone. "We sat around discussing the philosophy and the metaphors of the script," says cowriter and codirector Andy Wachowski (who, along with his brother Larry, selected Reeves over Leonardo Dicaprio, Will Smith and Brad Pitt to play Neo) in Entertainment Weekly. "We
knew it would take a maniacal commitment from
someone, and Keanu was our maniac."
Reeves' girlfriend Jennifer Syme, 29, a production assistant and part-time actress, delivers a stillborn daughter, who they name Ava. The stress ends the relationship several weeks later but the pair remains close friends.
Syme is killed in a car accident following a party at rocker Marilyn Manson's Los Angeles house. "Grief changes shape, but it never ends," he later tells Parade. "People have a misconception that you can deal with it and say, 'It's gone, and I'm better.' They're wrong." Through it all, he also deals with the illness of his sister and closest confidant, Kim, 38, who is diagnosed with leukemia in early 2000 but who battles the disease in and out of remission.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Corbis Sygma; Phil Caruso/Orion/MPTV; NEW LINE/Shooting Star; KOBAL; Scott Olson; Everett; Ramey; BEImages