Keanu Reeves

On this date in 1964, actor Keanu Charles Reeves was born in Beirut, Lebanon, to Patricia (née Taylor) and Samuel Reeves Jr. His father, a mixed-ancestry Hawaiian, abandoned the family when Reeves was 3. His English mother, a costume designer and performer, would marry three more times. Reeves grew up primarily in Toronto and became a naturalized Canadian citizen.

Keanu translates roughly from Hawaiian to “cool breeze over the mountains.” He attended four high schools, played hockey and worked as an actor while in school before dropping out at age 17. His feature film debut was in the 1986 hockey flick “Youngblood” with Patrick Swayze and Rob Lowe. “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989) provided his breakthrough role, followed by “Parenthood.”

From then on it was all systems go, as he appeared in movie after movie for a decade. Of particular note in the 1990s were “Point Break,” “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” “My Own Private Idaho,” “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “Little Buddha,” “Speed,” “Johnny Mnemonic,” “The Devil’s Advocate” with Charlize Theron, “Feeling Minnesota” and in 1999 “The Matrix,” which with its sequels became a franchise of sorts.

Though Reeves would often face criticism for his deadpan delivery and perceived limited range, he played roles in a variety of genres, from art-house fare to action thrillers. In the rom-com “Something’s Gotta Give” (2003), he co-starred with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. In 2005, when he got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he played the title role in the supernatural thriller “Constantine” about a detective who communicates with half-angels and half-demons.

Asked if he grew up “rooted in the Christian mythology” of “Constantine,” Reeves said, “I went to a Catholic boys school for a year, but that was to play hockey. Religion class was quite contentious for me.” (AP interview, Feb. 15, 2005) “I wasn’t raised in any special denominations and I haven’t taken on any so far,” Reeves replied to another reporter’s question whether his “Constantine” role had changed his views on religion. (News24 South Africa, Feb. 3, 2005)

After several years of stagnation, his career had a resurgence in 2014 with his leading role as a retired hitman seeking vengeance in “John Wick.” Sequels followed in 2017 and 2019, with at least two others in the works for 2022 and thereafter. “Bill & Ted Face the Music” was released in 2020 and a fourth Matrix film opened in December 2021.

Jennifer Syme, Reeves’ significant other, gave birth eight months into her pregnancy in 1999 to a stillborn daughter. They broke up several weeks later. Syme died in 2001 after her vehicle hit three parked cars in Los Angeles. Reeves met Alexandra Grant at a 2009 dinner party; they went on to collaborate on two books and went public with their relationship in 2019.

Reeves is not a Buddhist, despite persistent rumors that he is. A Daily Beast reporter asked him about it in 2017. “No, no. I had a little bit of experience with it when I was working on ‘Little Buddha,’ but I haven’t taken refuge in the dharma.”

In the Associated Press interview referred to earlier, he was asked “What are your notions of heaven and hell, eternal damnation vs. eternal bliss?” Reeves: “Well, I hope I get the bliss. And I know I’m going to have to work for it. But I’ve got to say, really, I have no kind of, can I say ‘secular religiosity.’ ” 

The follow-up question: “What would be your concept of a personal hell for all eternity?”  Reeves: “I guess living without love, without experiencing it or being able to give it. I think the aspect of that would be, that’s pretty strong punishment.” 

PHOTO: Reeves in 2019 in São Paulo, Brazil; Governo do Estado de São Paulo photo under CC 2.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation