Whether he’s slow-mo backflipping in The Matrix or wailing on the air guitar in Bill and Ted, there’s no denying it — Keanu Reeves is just plain cool. The actor carries himself with ease, yet keeps a mysteriously aloof profile. Just how much about the man do we even really know?
It turns out that the “Sad Keanu” memes may not be that far off from the truth. The reason for Keanu living a curiously isolated life stems from a slew of terrible tragedies that, once you know about them, will make you think about the star in an entirely different way…
Keanu Reeves spends his days in a lot of the same ways you might. A typical morning means taking public transportation, grabbing a coffee on the corner, or maybe pausing on a public bench to scroll his phone and gulp down a snack.
Despite a legendary career, he’s earned a specific kind of celebrity reputation: the everyman. An average joe known for popping into public places — like the subway — Keanu’s normalness is slightly more weighty. Given his past, it makes sense.
Keanu Doing Things / Twitter
When he wasn’t kicking butt or combating the supernatural, the action star lived a difficult life. Keanu’s troubles began at an early age and shaped his perceptions on the values of fame and fortune.
Born in Beirut, the Reeves family quickly relocated to his father’s native Hawaii, though they didn’t stay for long. Keanu’s father, who had a history of drug addiction, abandoned the family when Keanu was only 3 years old.
Following the divorce, Keanu’s mom, an English costume designer, did whatever was necessary to take care of her children, which often meant moving. Packing boxes and starting at new schools became routine for Keanu.
Before his 16th birthday, Keanu’s family moved from Beirut to Hawaii, Sydney, New York City, and Toronto. Bouncing around to different schools was a challenge made even tougher by his learning disorder — dyslexia.
A few outlets claimed the learning disorder drastically affected Keanu’s education experience, but he explained his own perspective: “I wasn’t the best student, but I don’t remember having trouble fitting in. I kind of blended in.”
It’s not hard to conjure an image of a less-than-bookish, hockey-obsessed teen Keanu. The classroom bored him. Where he exerted the most energy was in theater productions and in between the hockey goalposts.
The Hockey News
An injury stamped out Keanu’s dreams of turning pro on the ice, so when he was 17, he made the leap to pursue acting seriously. His stepfather at the time was a Hollywood director, and the allure of Los Angeles was hard to ignore.
Keanu Doing Things / Twitter
So, he dropped out of high school and started booking gigs. Paul Aaron, his stepfather who worked in show business, helped Keanu navigate the industry. Once he had a few credits under his belt, he gassed up his Volvo and set out for California.
Rock On Man / YouTube
The late ’80s saw Keanu scoring roles that clinched his place as a talent to watch. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a cult classic, was a launchpad to more serious roles.
Becoming one of Hollywood’s most sought after young leads, Keanu was no longer blending in as he had in the classroom. On each new project, he met like-minded young actors. One, in particular, became a fast friend.
Keanu and River Phoenix spoke of each other often, forming a brother-like bond. Tragically, two years after making their indie drama, My Own Private Idaho, River overdosed and passed away at 23 years old.
Losing River had a profound effect on Keanu. He became more focused than ever before on his craft, and it was during this time that he officially became an A-lister with blockbuster hits like Speed and later, The Matrix.
Keanu felt growing as an actor helped him keep his connection to River alive. “Grief changes shape, but it never ends,” he once said. Less than ten years after his friend’s untimely death, another awful blow befell the actor.
In 1998, Keanu attended a party with friends where he was introduced to actress Jennifer Smye. Instantly, they clicked. The couple was deeply in love and preparing for a future and a family.
Less than a year after meeting, Jennifer and Keanu received fantastic news: they were pregnant. Eager to be the father he never had, Keanu was attentive, prepared, and ready for their new chapter to begin.
But on Christmas Eve, 1999, their daughter Ava was stillborn. In his own words, the “absurd” and “unfair” loss was too much for the relationship to take. They ended it a few weeks later.
As if he hadn’t endured enough, in April of 2001, Jennifer lost her life in a car accident. The pain of these events drastically impacted Keanu and contributed to his not pursuing relationships for years.
“I miss being a part of their lives and them being a part of mine,” he said. “I wonder what the present would be like if they were here… I miss all the great things that will never be.” Even entangled in the worst imaginable losses, he didn’t give up on the future.
For the entirety of Keanu’s life, in the turmoil and success, his constants were his sisters: Kim, Karina, and Emma. In particular, his younger sister Kim has always been his best friend.
Keanu Doing Things / Twitter
Right when his career skyrocketed, the Reeves’ were dealt a terrible blow. Kim was diagnosed with leukemia. Keanu spent every available moment at her bedside, in awe of her strength.
In an interview, Keanu said, “She’s so brave, and I want the very best for her. You can star in hit movies, but that’s nothing compared to going through what Kim’s been through.”
After years of hospital stays, Kim’s many brutal treatments worked to fight her cancer. She entered remission in 1999. In the wake of his sister’s battle, Keanu was inspired to get involved in giving back to other people impacted by cancer.
Keanu Reeves Sui Generis / Blogspot
Ever the private type, Keanu let slip in 2009 that he had started a foundation 5 years previously that provides aid to children’s cancer hospital and cancer research efforts. Of course, he is a quiet affiliate who did not attach his name to the charity.
The Open Mind
Philanthropy was an obvious choice for Keanu, a guy who brushes aside money as the last thing on this mind. He’s a rare breed of person who faced immense hardships, yet maintained an unflinching moral code.
His kindness reached headlines when Keanu was photographed speaking to a homeless man he befriended. Paparazzi caught them sharing a meal as he listened attentively to the man’s stories.
Keanu Doing Things / Twitter
Another moment highlighting his decent nature was shared by actress Octavia Spencer on a talk show. She remembered right after moving to LA to chase her dreams, her car broke down en route to an audition.
Peeling up on a motorcycle, identity concealed beneath a helmet and dark sunglass, Keanu stopped and asked Octavia, “Hey, do you need some help?” Once he pulled off his helmet to push her car off the road, she was stunned to see the Good Samaritan was Keanu Reeves.
In more recent news, a Twitter story went viral after a mechanical issue forced a United flight to land in Bakersfield, California, instead of Los Angeles as scheduled. Keanu and a group of fellow passengers made lemonade out of their sour situation.
They rented a van and documented their road trip with the Matrix star. In a travel headache, Keanu was the man reading off fun trivia about Bakersfield, singing along to country tunes, and sipping on a convenience store Gatorade.
It just shows you, when Keanu Reeves pops up in public, it’s not a trick or a publicity stunt. So maybe, if you see him, sit down beside him and say “hello.” He might regale you with some trivia about his most iconic role ever.
He might tell you, for instance, that during the first 45 minutes of The Matrix, he only has 80 lines of dialogue in total. His character learns about the true nature of reality, which leads to 44 of those lines solely being questions (one question every minute).
Then, he might tell you he’s one of the few actors who does most of his own stunts. During the scene where he speaks with Morpheus on the phone, he actually climbed out of a window 34 stories up. The list of Matrix facts goes on.
He was asked to read three books prior to making the film: Simulation and Simulacra, Out of Control, and Evolution Psychology. These where his red pills, so to speak — the director wanted him to get into a very meta headspace.
In the third and final film, the epic ending battle between Neo and Smith appears to take place in the pouring rain. However, look closely, and you’ll the “raindrops” were actually millions of bits of the Matrix code showering down, implying the world was destabilizing.
There’s a scene where one character refers to Neo as “Copper Top.” This nickname is actually a slang term for Duracell batteries, the type Morpheus shows Neo as he explains how the human race became an energy source.
This massive loop-highway for the epic action sequence in The Matrix Reloaded was built on the decommissioned Alameda Point Navy Base specifically for the movie . The scene took three months to shoot, and afterward, the entire thing was destroyed.
After the second two movies were finished filming, crews broke down the sets and recycled them. Around 97 percent of the materials were shipped to places like Mexico to help build low-income housing. Do you think this red chair is in someone’s living room?
One of the most gruelingly long and tiring scenes to film was the lobby shootout with Neo and Trinity. The whole thing took 10 days to shoot from start to finish, and there was no CGI involved.
At the beginning of the second film, the Audi that Smith’s driving has a license plate that reads “IS5416.” This was a reference to Isaiah 54:16 in the King James Bible: “Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.”
There are also a ton of other Bible references, as well. For example, when Neo speaks to The Keymaker, he references verse 3:14 in the twenty-seventh book of the New Testament (which discusses creation), explaining Neo needs to knock out 27 blocks of power in under 314 seconds.
Lastly, Morpheus’s ship is called the Nebuchadnezzar, which is a reference to King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon from the Bible. The king was famous for his conquests of Israel.
The epic scene where Neo fends off hundreds of Smith clones, also known as the “Burly Brawl,” took a whopping 27 days to film. There have actually been entire feature films shot in that same time frame.
A movie as visually dazzling and intellectually stimulating as The Matrix takes a boatload of planning before shooting even begins. Over the course of five years, the Wachowski siblings worked through 14 drafts of the screenplay, and the final concept art was 500 storyboards long!
Warner Bros. needed the Wachowskis to prove themselves as talented directors before they were handed the reigns to The Matrix. So, they directed a much smaller thriller called Bound in 1996, which was very successful. Trust was earned, as well as the director’s chair.
The famous “woman in red” scene was filmed using many pairs of real-life identical twins to give an authentic feel that the program Morpheus was showing Neo was repeating itself.
At the beginning of the first film, Room 101 isn’t just a random room number. It’s actually a reference to Room 101 from the dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell. In the story, a prisoner is tortured using their own worst phobia inside.
Nearly every scene of the trilogy is bleak in color except at the very end. The last scene of The Matrix Revolutions is set in a park, and for the first time, viewers are shown lush vegetation and a bright blue sky.
The trilogy’s finale, The Matrix Revolutions, was only the second movie ever to open in IMAX at the exact same time it opened in regular theaters. This was due to the second film’s wild success when it was released in IMAX after regular theaters.
The film was shot almost entirely in Sydney, Australia, to save money. However, Sydney is such a beautiful place that it proved difficult to find run-down locations to film. Thus, many of the movie’s urban-decay backdrops were handcrafted.
Matrix producers had two choices in mind to play Neo: Keanu Reeves or Johnny Depp. Reeves took it, obviously — but imagine how his life might have turned out if he hadn’t?