| A November 2003 photo of Christopher Reeve with wife Dana. (Reuters)
New York, Oct. 11 (Reuters): Superman actor Christopher Reeve, who became a committed campaigner for spinal cord research after being paralysed in a riding accident nine years ago, has died of heart failure. He was 52.
Reeve died yesterday in Northern Westchester Hospital after going into a coma at his Pound Ridge home on Saturday when he suffered a heart attack during treatment for an infected bedsore wound. He died without regaining consciousness, publicist Wesley Combs said today.
Reeve's wife, Dana, issued a statement thanking 'the millions of fans around the world who have supported and loved my husband over the years'.
Plans for a funeral were not immediately announced.
Reeve, confined to a wheelchair since his horseback riding accident in 1995, had in recent years used his celebrity status to raise money and support for research into the treatment of spinal cord injuries, including the controversial stem cell research that has become an issue in the US presidential election.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, who in last Friday's debate with President George W. Bush referred to Reeve as a friend and ally in the promotion of stem cell research, said he 'was truly America's hero'.
'He was an inspiration to all of us and gave hope to millions of Americans who are counting on the life-saving cures that science and research can provide,' the Massachusetts senator said in a statement.
Reeve's family asked that donations be made in his honour to the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, formed in 1999 to boost collaboration between experts working on the problem and to encourage new approaches.
An accomplished rider, Reeve suffered multiple injuries including two shattered neck vertebrae when he was thrown from his horse at an equestrian event in Commonwealth Park in Virginia.
Doctors initially predicted he would never have any feeling or movement below his head. But his foundation's website, www.ChristopherReeve.org, said he had experienced a degree of recovery his doctors considered 'remarkable.'
Reeve was a strong supporter of the research using human stem cells, which his foundation described as having 'enormous therapeutic utility.' Whether federal funds should be spent on it is an issue dividing Kerry and Bush, who has limited such research.
Dr. Wise Young of Rutgers University, who researches spinal cord injuries and treated Reeve, said, 'I think more than anything else he taught me the use of two four-letter words ' cure and hope.'
Born on September 25, 1952, in New York City, Reeve attended the city's Juilliard School, a college dedicated to the arts, and graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He began his acting career in summer stage shows and appeared on the television soap opera Love of Life while still in college.
Reeve debuted on Broadway in A Matter of Gravity in 1976, playing Katharine Hepburn's grandson, and later starred in Lanford Wilson's Fifth of July, in which he portrayed embittered Kenneth Talley, a gay, crippled Vietnam War vet.
But Reeve was best known as the hero of the Superman films. He was a virtual unknown when he was chosen from 200 candidates to become the big screen's incarnation of 1978's Superman, and went on to star in three more films as the flying superhero.
In 1993, he appeared in the Merchant and Ivory hit Remains of the Day.
Reeve and his wife had one son, Will, 12, and he had two children from a previous relationship ' Matthew, 25, and Alexandra, 21.