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What You Never Knew About Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves hit Hollywood like a cool breeze in the '80s—that's what his name means in Hawaiian—and ever since he's been one of cinema's most intriguing and versatile actors. On screen, the Beirut-born, Canada-raised Reeves has saved humanity from robot slavery (The Matrix), delivered himself from military school and damnation (the Bill and Ted movies), avenged the death of his cute dog (John Wick), kept a doomed bus from going under 50 mph (Speed), sold his services as a male prostitute (My Own Private Idaho), and made out with Paula Abdul. But as prolific an actor as Reeves is, he remains far more private—and enigmatic—than many other celebrities.

He's really into Shakespeare

Thanks to his roles as dumb guy Ted in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and dumb guy Tod in Parenthood, Keanu Reeves was in danger of being typecast in the early '90s. That's why it was something of a surprise when Kenneth Branagh cast Reeves as Don John in his 1993 screen adaptation of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. But Reeves had actually been doing Shakespeare for years, dating back to a 1985 production of Romeo and Juliet at a Toronto theater school. After Much Ado, Reeves went on to star in Shakespeare's Hamlet, on stage, at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg. He learned his lines between filming scenes on the set of Speed. He wanted to star in the classic play so much that he turned down two big film opportunities: a role in the film Heat and reprising his role as Jack Traven in Speed 2, for which he walked away from a $12 million paycheck.

He was haunted by a jacket

While living in the New York area, young Keanu Reeves encountered what can only be described as a ghost. As he related on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2014, "all of a sudden this jacket comes waving through the doorway, this empty jacket. There's no body, there's no legs. Then it just disappears." Reeves' nanny claimed to see the spooky double-breasted jacket too.

He started smoking after he was well into adulthood

While smoking is often a youthful indiscretion, Keanu Reeves was well into adulthood before he picked up the habit. He says he started doing it on the set of the 1996 comedy Feeling Minnesota because his character was a smoker, and then he just got hooked. He's called smoking "a prison" that he'd love to quit, but can't. As of 2014, Reeves is apparently still smoking.

He's suffered some major personal tragedies

Keanu Reeves endured multiple heartbreaking tragedies in rapid succession. He met actress and production assistant Jennifer Syme in 1998, and the two fell in love. In 1999, Syme and Reeves were expecting a child together, but when Syme was almost to full term, doctors discovered the baby had passed away. The stress of the loss of the child contributed to the demise of their relationship. Less than two years later, while driving home from a party at Marilyn Manson's house in Los Angeles, Syme was killed in a single-car accident. She was only 28 years old.

He donates a lot of time and money to cancer charities

Keanu Reeves is very close with his sister, Kim Reeves. As children, the two relied on each other while being shuffled around between divorced parents living across multiple countries, and Reeves used to stay in a spare bedroom in Kim's Los Angeles-area house when he was in town shooting movies. In the '90s, Kim was diagnosed with leukemia, and nearly succumbed to the disease in the early 2000s. Filming on The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions was reportedly delayed so Keanu could spend more time with his sister and help nurse her back to health. In Kim's honor, Keanu has donated huge amounts of his time and money to cancer charities, hospitals, and research facilities, including Stand Up to Cancer and the SickKids Foundation.

He's generous with film crews

While negotiating his contract for the two Matrix sequels, Keanu  Reeves scored a bunch of "back end" points, meaning he'd make a portion of the movie's box office take in addition to a salary. Instead of taking all the cash for himself, Reeves diverted the money to the Matrix trilogy's costume and special effects teams, essentially donating millions so the movies could be completed after the production nearly ran out of cash. He also bought each of the trilogy's 12 stuntmen a Harley Davidson—his way of saying "thanks."

He'll take a pay cut to work with his idols

If Keanu Reeves really wants to work with an actor he admires, he isn't above foregoing a portion of his usual salary and opening up money in the budget to help make it happen. He reportedly did exactly that so he could star in The Devil's Advocate with Al Pacino and in The Replacements with Gene Hackman.

He was in a '90s alternative rock band

Shortly after the release of the Bill and Ted movies, Keanu Reeves became friends with drummer/soap opera actor Rob Mailhouse when the two were in the same pick-up hockey league. They realized they were both musicians and formed a garage band called Dogstar—in Reeves' actual garage. Dogstar played gigs in and around the L.A. area in the early '90s—at their first gig, an up-and-coming band called Weezer was their opening act. Dogstar's first album, Little Visionary, was released in 1996. Contrary to expectations, Reeves was neither the lead guitarist nor the lead singer: those duties were filled by a musician named Bret Domrose, while Mailhouse played drums and Reeves played bass.

He builds motorcycles

Keanu Reeves doesn't like cars. He's reportedly only ever owned two in his life, and he's more than 50 years old. Reeves prefers the open road and the feel of the wind that you can only get by riding a motorcycle. He loves bikes so much that he started his own business, the Arch Motorcycle Company, whose signature product is the Arch Motorcycle KRGT-1. Designed and built with his friend and Arch co-founder, bike architect Gard Hollinger (KRGT = Keanu Reeves, Grad Hollinger), the "superbike" has two V-twin engines. Units are built to custom order, and cost $78,000 each.

He's huge on the Internet

Keanu Reeves has often been an inspiration for memes, viral pictures, and the overall delight of the internet.

In May 2010, a photographer snapped an image of Reeves sitting on a park bench, eating a sandwich while looking sad and disheveled. It instantly became an internet sensation known as "Sad Keanu" that inspired hundreds of people to Photoshop their own versions in attempts to explain why Keanu was so sad, such as adding a caption that says "because when I act, I'm no longer me" or depicting Reeves being attacked by cats. In mere weeks, concerned people of the internet had joined together to create a holiday (celebrated on June 15) called Cheer Up Keanu Day.

In 2011, Reeves went viral again when he was captured on video on the New York City subway giving up his seat to a woman carrying bags. And two years later, he pulled off an internet hat trick when an image of a 16th century painting called "Portrait of a Man," taken at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, spread around the web due to its subject's uncanny resemblance to Reeves. Given that he'd played a time traveler in his 2006 movie The Lake House, the jokes were both obvious and plentiful.

Time-traveling isn't the only myth about Reeves. While it might seem like he says "whoa!" in all of his movies, he's actually only used the expression in four of them: The Matrix, Point Break, and both of the Bill and Ted adventures.