Keanu Reeves: actor, producer, musician, meme, conspiracy theorist and notorious introvert. Throughout his life, Keanu seems to have experienced more extremes than any one person could handle. From achieving fame to losing those closest to him, Keanu Reeves’ story is arguably more interesting than any of the roles he has played in his long acting career. Here are five lessons we can learn from Keanu’s extraordinary life, and apply to our own to make the world a better place:
1. A Difficult Start Does Not Define The Rest Of Your Life.
Born in 1964 in Beirut, Lebanon to an English mother Patricia Bond (née Taylor) and Hawaiian father Samuel Nowlin Reeves, Keanu Charles Reeves’ life began with an instability that would last throughout his childhood and teenage years. When Keanu was three-years-old his father, who would later be placed in prison for selling heroin at Hilo International Airport, abandoned their family.
In 2000, Keanu told Rolling Stone: “Jesus, man. No, the story with me and my dad’s pretty heavy. It’s full of pain and woe and f*cking loss and all that sh*t.”
After the divorce, Patricia became a costume designer and subsequently travelled around the world with her children. Keanu, his sisters and their mother lived in Sydney, Australia followed by New York City and eventually settled in Toronto, Canada, locations based largely upon who she was married to at the time. Keanu attended four high schools in the space of five years including Etobicoke School of the Arts, which he was expelled from.
Keanu would later tell Kevin J. Koffler: “I was just a little too rambunctious and shot my mouth off once too often. I was not generally the most well-oiled machine in the school.”
Keanu was often far better at sports than his academic studies, possibly due to his dsylexia. He was especially good at ice hockey which he once planned to play professionally but an injury prevented his dream from coming true.
Having performed in various theatre productions since the age of nine, Keanu had had the acting for the majority of his young life by the time he reached his fourth high school Avondale Secondary Alternative School which he later dropped out to pursue a career in film.
Although Keanu didn’t begin his life in a stable, typical family environment he grew into a man who takes responsibility for his own life and decisions. Where many may have sunk into the backgrounds of the various places they visited or even resented their upbringing, it seems that Keanu chose to find stability in chasing his own aspirations.
Many of us begin our journeys on rocky ground, but you get to decide how the rest of your life will be.
2. A Generous Spirit Can Be More Rewarding Than Riches.
After moving to LA in 1986, Keanu scored his breakthrough role in a movie entitled ‘River’s Edge‘. He then went on to appear in both Bill and Ted movies, Point Break, Speed, A Walk In The Clouds, The Devil’s Advocate, The Replacement, and of course: The Matrix. It’s estimated that Keanu made about $10 million up-front having stared in The Matrix, which increased to $35 million when the back-end deal was made. After the sequels, Keanu is thought to have made about $110 million, $75 million of which he reportedly gave to the special effects team and costume design department. He also bought the entire stunt team their own Harley Davidson motorcycles.
Regarding Keanu’s generosity, a Reddit user wrote: “A family friend builds movie sets, doesn’t design, is one of the poor dudes that just builds. Anyways he worked on the set for the Matrix and Keanu heard about family trouble he was having and gave him a $20,000 Christmas bonus to help him out. He also was one of the only people on the set that genuinely wanted to know people’s names, would say hello and mean it, and would talk to people as they were his peers and not below him just because they were practically making nothing to build a set. I’ve never heard anyone say Keanu is douche, seems like the nicest person in Hollywood from a second hand experience.”
Over the years, Keanu has given millions to charities including PETA, the SickKids Foundation, and Stand Up To Cancer. His sister Kim has been battling Leukaemia for ten years, and Keanu has ensured she has all the help she needs by donating $5 million. He also set up a private Cancer Foundation that aids a few children’s hospitals as well as cancer research. Keanu never attaches his name to his charitable donations or gifts and never takes credit: it simply seems to be a part of his life.
In a 2003 interview with Hello! Magazine Keanu said: “Money is the last thing I think about. I could live on what I have already made for the next few centuries.”
Have you ever imagined how you would spend your money if you were to win millions? Would you buy a huge house, an array of sports cars, pay off your debts or ensure your friends and family are set for life? I know I would do all of those things! Of course, I would also give money to charities, but would I give as much as some others would? Should I?
There are many difficult questions that arise when we consider how rich some people are in comparison to billions of people who can barely get by or the causes that need constant funding to make the world a better place. Keanu is undoubtedly a generous, wonderful spirit who will hopefully inspire more people to share their wealth, whether they are wealthy in money, time or spirit: will you?
3. Let Passion Drive You, Not Money.
Although it may seem like a great motive to act, few people go into the profession for the money. Keanu is a prime example of this and always seems to have put his personal ambitions, morals and preferences before simply taking a job to make money. Even early on in his career he would often only act in commercials that he himself liked.
Perhaps the most famous example of Keanu’s ‘do what you love’ spirit is found when he dismissed $11 million to be in the Speed sequel or a chance to star alongside Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in the 1995 movie Heat. Instead Keanu chose to partake in a small production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg, Canada.
Of Keanu’s performance, The Sunday Times theatre reviewer Roger Lewis said: “He quite embodied the innocence, the splendid fury, the animal grace of the leaps and bounds, the emotional violence, that form the Prince of Denmark … He is one of the top three Hamlets I have seen, for a simple reason: he is Hamlet.”
Of course, money and passion are not exclusive: it is entirely possible to have both. However, many people these days are pressured to believe money is far more important than happiness. After all, happiness can not feed you, happiness can not put a roof over your head and happiness cannot ensure you live comfortably.
Money may be a fantastic motivator for many but despite the financial losses you may endure: do you really want to waste this one life you live being miserable but comfortable? Or do you want to live by your own terms, follow your passion and take a risk that could result in a combination of everything you’ve ever wanted?
4. You Will Lose People, But Do Not Lose Yourself.
Before Keanu really became the incredibly famous actor he is today, he starred in the 1989 Steve Martin comedy Parenthood. Through this film Keanu met a man who would soon become one of his greatest friends: River Phoenix.
“Actually, I met Keanu through my ex-girlfriend Martha [Plimpton] while they were doing Parenthood — they were sucking face regularly,” River once told Interview Magazine. “My brother, Joaquin [Phoenix], otherwise known as Leaf, was also in it. So, Leaf and Martha were his buddies before I was even a friend of his. Then I met up with him on I Love You to Death. And I liked the guy. I wanted to work with him. He’s like my older brother. But shorter.”
Keanu in turn told reporters: “I enjoyed his company. Very much. And enjoyed his mind and his spirit and his soul. We brought good out in each other. He was a real original thinker. He was not the status quo. In anything.”
After starring together in I Love You To Death, the pair worked together on Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, where they would often spend nights on the street to get into character, however River went further into the seedy underworld than his co-worker and friend. River began using heroin and later overdosed in 1993 on a lethal mixture of cocaine, morphine and valium outside The Viper Room. Keanu rarely talks about his friends’ death.
Later that same decade, as Keanu began production on The Matrix, he met a young actress named Jennifer Syme at a party. By the time The Matrix was premiering around the world the two were deeply in love and expecting their first child. However, in December 1999 Ava Archer Syme-Reeves was stillborn.
Unable to recover from the grief of losing their child, the couple broke up and Jennifer became a record executive and assistant to Marilyn Manson. On April 2, 2001 Jennifer passed out at the wheel of her Jeep Cherokee and collided with three parked cards, rolling the vehicle and killing her instantly. Police found several prescription bottles in her car, whilst toxicologists found a concoction of cocaine, clonzepam and cyclobenzaprine in her system.
In an interview with Parade in 2006, Keanu said: “I miss being a part of their lives and them being part of mine. I wonder what the present would be like if they were here – what we might have done together. I miss all the great things that will never be.”
“I don’t want to flee from life, I know the beauty of it,” he continued. “I’m trying not to be alone so much. And, man, it’s a struggle. I want to get married. I want to have kids. That’s at the top of the mountain. I’ve got to climb the mountain first. I’ll do it. Just give me some time.”
There are times in your life where you will experience loss, pain, suffering, loneliness and devastation. When you are lost on the darkest paths of life, remember that you are strong enough to reach the end of the road. You are never alone, you can ask for help, you will get through this and come out into the light a braver, better person than you were before.
5. Be Excellent.
“Positive energy brings good feelings, and dark energy often means harm. But the destruction in dark energy is also a subtle aspect of construction, like how even forest fires have their benefits. Sometimes enemies are our best teachers, people can learn from their mistakes, destruction sometimes means rebirth.” – Keanu Reeves.
Despite the many tragedies that have woven their way into the seams of Keanu’s past he remains a positive force in this world. He is a generous, genuine, passionate and remarkably strong individual who breaks the mould and boundaries that are often imagined between the famous and the public.
Keanu is proof that a difficult start does not necessarily mean you will have a challenging life, and it certainly doesn’t entitle you to a bad attitude. There are many people around the world like him who would donate their time, energy and money to help those in need because life – not money – is their passion. And yes, sometimes you will experience real heartbreak and devastating events that will threaten to break you: but like Keanu says: you must be excellent to each other, and to yourself.
Featured photo credit: Keanu Reeves via moviestarspicture.com