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Christopher Reeve Dies of Heart Failure at 52; Hot-Air Balloon Becomes Entangled in Radio Tower; "90-Second Pop"

Aired October 11, 2004 - 09:30   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Just about half past the hour now on this AMERICAN MORNING.
Christopher Reeve was a powerful force in mobilizing research for spinal cord injuries. His presence will be greatly missed now for those with similar injuries. We'll talk to a man who knows about that, Henry Stifel -- met Reeve shortly after the actor's riding accident. He can tell us about those early days as Reeve was adjusting.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: And he fought to the very end. That's our top story this morning.

Also, 22 days to go before the election, and the candidates now starting to put all their chips in the middle of the table, some believe. What states, what issues will be deciding factors in the final three weeks? We'll have a look at that in a moment, so stay tuned.

COLLINS: Want to check on the stories now in the news, though,first this morning. Kelly Wallace is here to do that. Kelly, good morning once again.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning again to you. Good morning, everyone.

We begin in Iraq. A suicide bomber attacks an American convoy in northern Iraq. A coalition spokesperson confirms there are military casualties in the city of Mosul, but it is not clear how many. Hospital officials say at least two bodies have been brought in. They are treating dozens of wounded.

In the Middle East, more violence this morning. Palestinian security sources say an Islamic militant leader is safe after Israeli soldiers blew up his home just hours ago. But the Israeli military denies any involvement, saying there were no soldiers active in the area at the time.

And in politics, Vice President Dick Cheney is set for a rally in New Jersey this morning. The vice president is about to arrive in the Garden State any moment now. He will meet with supporters within the hour, and then he heads off to Ohio.

As for the Democrats, Senator John Edwards is focusing on the unemployment rate this morning at a town hall meeting in Iowa. Then, he goes on to Missouri. I'll have more on the presidential campaigns coming up -- again, just three weeks and one day until Election Day.

Now back to Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, Kelly. Thanks so much for that.

Actor Christopher Reeve died yesterday from heart failure in a suburban New York City hospital. Reeve went into cardiac arrest and then into a coma on Saturday.

It's been nine years since a horse riding accident left the popular actor paralyzed from the neck down. But Reeve never gave up hope that he would one day be able to walk again.

He spoke with CNN's Larry King last summer.


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Do you still think you will walk again?

CHRISTOPHER REEVE, ACTOR/ACTIVIST: I certainly have the motto that nothing is impossible. I think the question of whether I will walk is going to depend on politics. It's going to depend on collaboration between scientists around the world. It'll depend on economics -- a lot of factors that I knew very little about when he was injured eight years ago.

And I think my purpose when I was 42 in saying that I would walk by the time I was 50 was to be provocative, to be a voice saying why can't we do this? Don't tell me the reasons why not.


COLLINS: Christopher Reeve was 52 years old.

And joining me now, Henry Stifel. Shortly after Reeve's accident, he was called in to inspire the actor. But it was Reeve who actually did the inspiring back to him.

Good morning to you, Henry. Thanks so much for being with us today.

Start, if you will, by telling us how you came to know Christopher Reeve.

HENRY STIFEL, REEVE'S FRIEND: Of course. Chris -- first of all, I just want to say my heartfelt sadness to he and his family. The family has been an inspiration to myself and to so many others throughout the world for their determination and courage and fortitude that was put in place from the onset after this injury to try to make a change in this world.

I got to know Chris originally shortly after his accident while he was in rehab at Kessler Institute. And I was there one day just on a routine visit, visiting one of my doctors. I was on my way to Europe that day. And she thought that was a neat thing and maybe a nice thing for someone with a new spinal cord injury to hear, that life can continue to move forward.

I didn't know it was Chris at the time. But went in, and spoke with him, and was instantly inspired by this man.

COLLINS: How so? What was it about him that was so special and so powerful?

STIFEL: Chris' accident and his level of injury was probably the most difficult anyone could be faced with. Despite that, immediately you could see the strength and the determination and his unbelievable character that it left you in awe of the man.

People have said, "Oh, Henry, you and many, many others that are unknown throughout the world who live with spinal cord injuries were Chris' inspiration." And that, to me, not a fair thing. For what Chris was confronted with on a day in and day out, throughout his life, with spinal cord injuries, there's a lot of apparent aspects to a spinal cord injury that people can see from the outside.

But it's really the secondary conditions that are the most challenging, that people, the general public, don't understand and don't see. And they don't have to live with it on a day-to-day basis.

Despite that -- or really with that in mind, Chris' secondary challenges were so great. And despite all of those challenges, this man, on behalf of this cause and on behalf of this population, and all the entire population that's afflicted with central nervous system disorders, he was out meeting with heads of state throughout the entire world, traveling from one spot to another, representing this cause and making a difference.

COLLINS: He really was trying to change the world in this regard.

STIFEL: He really was. And he's made, with his help, this cause has advanced so much over the last 10 years.

COLLINS: I know you're on the board for one of his foundations. He just worked tirelessly, as you say, to raise money, to continue research for spinal cord injuries.

What is it that people will take from him? What is that legacy that we've been talking about this morning?

STIFEL: Well, we really owe it to Chris to keep this movement moving -- moving forward. This organization, the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation -- and I recommend everyone to go on to the Web site, the Web site, to learn more about how this field has advanced and our positions on the various potential therapies that we can potentially benefit from.

We owe it to him because, to me, it really saddens me that -- well, this field of research is at a point right now that we potentially could benefit from clinical therapies in the next three to five years. It saddens me that Chris won't be here to benefit from it, because he is such a -- he has been such a main part of our ability to advance this field to where it is today.

With his guidance, our organization has taken on a few new research initiatives this year.

COLLINS: It's exciting.

STIFEL: Because of this reality for the potential of clinical trials, and for the ability to take our basic research accomplishments and translate it into clinical therapies. It's very exciting.

COLLINS: It is exciting. And he would probably be looking to you to help carry that on for him as just one of those people who can move this process forward.

STIFEL: Well, he can definitely count on my ability to -- or my desire to advance this as quickly as possible.

COLLINS: We understand that very well. Henry Stifel, thanks so much for sharing your story and the story of Christopher Reeve, as well.

STIFEL: My pleasure.

COLLINS: Thank so much.

STIFEL: Thank you.


HEMMER: In recent days, Reeve had developed an infection stemming from a pressure wound. Dr. Sanjay Gupta back with us again from the CNN Center. Sanjay, good morning to you.

I understand this is common for those suffering from paralysis. How so?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Bill, first of all, in Christopher Reeve's case, you know, he lived for a long time after his spinal cord injury -- nine years. Typically what happens in someone with a spinal cord injury as high as Chris Reeve's, because they have total paralysis of the body, they can't move, they can't adjust themselves, over time they may develop sores -- pressure sores they're called, decubitus ulcers sometimes they're called, as well.

I talked to his doctors earlier today, Bill. They said, you know, he had been having some troubles over the last month with some sporadic infections due to these sores. One became so significant that it actually got infection of his bloodstream. That subsequently caused a cardiac arrest, heart failure, and then he lapsed into coma and subsequently died, as you know, Bill.

What's unusual about it is that it happened this late in someone's period after a spinal cord injury. Typically it happens in the first couple of years, Bill. HEMMER: He argued oftentimes publicly that he would walk again, Sanjay. And a strong proponent of stem-cell research -- he entered that debate, political or otherwise.

How close or how far would he have been from realizing that goal had he lived?

GUPTA: You know, it's pretty hard to say, Bill.

I will tell you a couple things. Obviously, he's going to be associated with stem cells forever. That was like his rallying cry. But without some sort of scientific breakthrough, it's unlikely that Chris Reeve would have walked again in his lifetime. As we've seen the images here over and over again, he was really focused on something called activity dependent recovery.

On AMERICAN MORNING, we spoke with Dr. John McDonald earlier. He said that this activity dependent recovery really was -- think of it like this: instead of a brain sending a signal to the spinal cord, the spinal cord was sending a signal back saying, yes, these limbs can move, yes, these limbs can do things.

And remarkably, for sure, Chris Reeve was able to move all of his limbs to some extent several years after his accident. That activity started up several years after his accident. Everyone thinks that's pretty remarkable.

But as far as walking again, short of any kind of stem-cell breakthrough or some other scientific breakthrough, that's unlikely, Bill

HEMMER: Sanjay, thanks for that. Dr. Sanjay Gupta at the CNN Center. Twenty minutes now before the hour. Back across to Heidi with more news now -- Heidi?

COLLINS: High drama in the sky over Albuquerque, New Mexico. On the final day of its famous hot-air balloon festival, this: A balloon became entangled in a radio tower yesterday, forcing the pilot and his two young passengers to climb most of the way down. And that was nearly 700 feet.

Earlier I spoke with balloon pilot Bill Chapel, 14-year-old Troy Wells, and 10-year-old Aaron Whitacre.


What did you do immediately after you hit that tower? I mean, what can you do at that point?

BILL CHAPEL, BALLOON OPERATOR: Well, good question. We just made sure we were all OK. And I kind of settled us all down and made sure and took a look at the upper structure of the balloon. And the basket was fairly secure to the tower. And I held on to the tower, and the boys climbed out, got out. Troy went first, and then Aaron. And then, I climbed through the tower. COLLINS: Tell me what you were thinking, Troy, when you were up there and you knew that the only way down was to climb down that tower.

TROY WELLS, RESCUED FROM BALLOON: Well, when we hit, I immediately got down and held onto the ropes inside of the basket. And then, as soon as I asked Bill if we should get on to the tower, and he told me to get on the tower. So, I got on and helped him out.

As soon as we were on the tower, it wasn't too scary. It was just when we hit.

COLLINS: Wasn't too scary. Aaron, do you agree? You're 10 years old. You were up in that balloon. How'd you feel climbing down that thing?

AARON WHITACRE, RESCUED FROM BALLOON: I wasn't that scared, because I knew when I climbed down somebody would come to get us.


COLLINS: I think I called him a fateful man when I heard him say that the first time. Bill Chapel, Troy Wells, and Aaron Whitacre this morning.

HEMMER: It ended well.


HEMMER: Exciting way, too.

Check of the weather now. Here's Chad Myers watching the rain come down. Louisiana, a lot of flooding there, also now in Florida. And it's getting cool here in the northeast. Feels like fall. Good morning.


HEMMER: All right, Chad. Thanks for that.

Break here. In a moment, looking to get rid of a gas guzzler? If so, some fuel efficient alternatives in a moment. Back after this break here.



COLLINS: It is "90-Second Pop" for a Monday, and the gang is all here. Toure, CNN pop culture correspondent -- good morning, Toure.


COLLINS: Sarah Bernard, contributing editor for "New York" magazine. Sarah, hello.


COLLINS: And BJ Sigesmund, staff editor for "US Weekly."


COLLINS: BJ, nice to see you.

You guys, it's a tough morning today. I mean, kind of a big surprise over the weekend. We learned actually yesterday that Christopher Reeve passed away. And Toure, you know, he had just spent so much time working on stem-cell research, on his efforts and his spirit to sort of be really a role model for other people who are dealing with paralysis. What a loss.

TOURE: Yeah, and he's continued to work. He directed a movie that's coming out on A&E later this month called "The Brook Ellison Story" about a young woman who gets hit by a car and paralyzed from the neck down.

So, I mean, still out there trying to, you know, be a part of the Hollywood community and be a part of doing what he loved to do and such a great figure. I mean, I remember going to see "Superman" as a kid and just, like, wow! Like nobody else could have been "Superman."

BERNARD: That's what was so amazing about it, though, the fact that when you grew up with that movie, you didn't think anything in the world could happen to someone like that. And that just made it...

SIGESMUND: Also amazing, he was like 25 when he got that role. You know, he seemed like such an adult, didn't he? Such a grown adult, to think of him being only 25.

BERNARD: And it was so amazing, he did -- he was virtually unknown. He had some soap opera work before that. But he beat out about 200 other people to get that role. And he did a lot of his own stunts. I mean, he was so athletic, and that was really one of the reasons why he got the part.

COLLINS: He will certainly be very, very missed, not only by his family, of course, but by all of us who watched him for all of those years.

Want to move on, BJ, to Sean Penn. Some pretty feisty words for the creators of "South Park," Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and now the new "Team America," about the position on apathetic voters -- not happy. In fact, I want to share this. He wrote a letter, and I want to share what he wrote to them.

It says this: "I do mind when anybody who doesn't have a child doesn't have a child at war, is encouraging that there's 'no shame in not voting.' No one's ignorance, including a couple of hip cross- dressers, is an excuse. All best, and a sincere 'beep' you."

SIGESMUND: Here's what happened. Here's a little bit of the back story. The guys behind "South Park" have made a new movie called "Team America," which comes out this Friday, which is all done with puppets and which lampoons and satirizes both the war on terror and, more importantly, celebrities and celebrities standing up and speaking out against the war on terror.

So, last week in an interview with "Rolling Stone," they said -- they were talking about P. Diddy's "Vote or Die" campaign and saying that they think it's dangerous for democracy, that we shouldn't just be encouraging everyone to vote. What if you don't know anything about the issues? What if you don't know anything about anything? Should you then vote? They said this in "Rolling Stone."

So, Sean Penn, who is lampooned in the movie -- this is important to know -- wrote them this open letter saying how can you -- that is so irresponsible of you to say that people shouldn't vote. I'll take you to Fallujah. I'll take you to Baghdad. Let me show you what I've seen.

BERNARD: There were other celebrities lampooned in this movie, too, right? There was Alec Baldwin they made fun of, Tim Robbins.

TOURE: But this is not about the movie. This is about his anger about them suggesting it's OK to not vote. And what we're seeing here is the anger of the left this year. That people on the left are mad about what the president has done and the administration we have lived under and the Iraq war and just their anger I mean, under Clinton, you saw the right was angry, and now the left is just furious.

COLLINS: Toure, Sarah, and BJ, you guys thanks so much as always -- Bill?


HEMMER: All right, Heidi. In a moment here, feel like your tank is empty the moment you leave the gas station? Replacing the gas guzzler. The list of the best and the worst in a moment here on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: Welcome back, everyone. The list is out -- the best and the worst cars for fuel efficiency according to Andy Serwer. No, make that the EPA.


HEMMER: What's happened -- get to that. First, markets are doing what?

SERWER: You've got me -- you've got my head spinning, Bill.

We're going to talk about the markets first of all. The Dow is up modestly at this point, 24. Nasdaq also following suit. A little bit of recovery after Friday. Even with the price of oil at $53.50 a barrel, gas prices now, by the way, up at $1.99 a gallon nationwide. That's an average coming out today. Cheapest gas in the country: Houston, $1.84. Isn't that where a lot of oil companies are? Interesting. Coincidence or not? One stock under pressure -- Northwest Airlines being caught to a sell by Smith Barney, by the way. You don't see that very often.

Let's talk about some of these gas guzzlers. Gas ratings, new ones out by the EPA this morning, Bill. And topping the list are a couple hybrids. It really is the battle of the hybrid cars. Number one is the Honda Insight. Gets 61 mph in the city, 66 on the highway, just beating out the Toyota Prius.

And then, let's check out the bottom of the list. Ready? The Dodge Ram Pickup. The Dodge Ram Pickup. Ram tough -- ram tough on your wallet. Nine miles per gallon in the city, 12 on the highway. That's terrific, 12 on the highway. You might as well just throw money out the window.

HEMMER: Have the fuel tank follow you down the highway.

SERWER: I mean, that's just -- yeah, right. Keep that thing running.

HEMMER: Nine miles a gallon.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, but you can't carry no plumbing supplies in the back of that thing and to get 70 miles a gallon. You can't tote no lumber...

SERWER: The ford pickup does a little bit better than that. They don't have any Hummers on the list, by the way, Jack, because they're too big.

CAFFERTY: Well, good. Happy to hear that.


COLLINS: Checking in now with Jack one last time. This thing that's happening, what, November 2nd, right?

CAFFERTY: Mercifully, it's almost over.

How confident are you the election will be accurate -- is the "Question of the Day." And by the way, a lot of you wrote in and said I listen to Air whatever-it-is on the Internet. Fine, you know, I hope they're a flaming success. Please, I hope they ride off into the sunset. That's terrific. Listen to it out the window. Listen to it on your neighbor's radio. I don't care.

Paul in Lincoln, Nebraska, writes: "As long as people are allowed to be registered voters in two states simultaneously -- i.e. New York and Florida -- there will always be inaccuracies we witnessed in 2000. The primary problem's not the counting the votes, it's in counting the number of times a person can vote." They're familiar with that problem in the Chicago area.

John in Boston -- or they used to be -- in Massachusetts: "It's amazing to me," yeah, "that we're able to complete and" -- this is good, "we can complete and submit our taxes online, but voting still seems to be a problem. Also, aren't we assisting a couple other countries with their own free elections, huh? Shouldn't we know how to do something before we teach others how to do it?"

And Tommy in Jackson, Tennessee: "We can put a man on the moon, we can photograph things crawling around on Mars, but we can't correctly hold an election and count the votes."

SERWER: My brother lives overseas. He just got two absentee ballots. Isn't that nice and comforting? Yeah...


SERWER: Isn't that unbelievable?

COLLINS: Maybe he can give it to a friend?


CAFFERTY: Just amazing.


COLLINS: All right, Jack, thank you.

Coming up on CNN: Have a young entrepreneur in the family? Well, we'll have some top tips for training a budding money mogul. It's coming up in the next hour with Daryn Kagan on "CNN LIVE TODAY."

For now, though, AMERICAN MORNING, we'll be back in a moment.


HEMMER: We got to run. But before we get out of here, big shout out for the Katie (ph) sisters.

COLLINS: Oh, Katie (ph) ladies. I think this is the sign.

HEMMER: Come on, you were...

COLLINS: ... remember, isn't that terrible?

SERWER: Yes, it is terrible.

COLLINS: That was it, but it was a secret.

CAFFERTY: Was it that long ago?

HEMMER: Apparently Heidi -- apparently Heidi had hair down to here. We're just waiting to get those photos.


HEMMER: Quick reminder -- AM is in Chicago a week from today all week. So, we'll be in the Windy City starting then.

Got to run. Here's Daryn Kagan at the CNN Center. Good morning, Daryn, on a Monday.

COLLINS: Good morning, Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, you guys have a great day in New York City.

We'll get started from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. I'm Daryn Kagan.


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