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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 sex worker ("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.

Reeves' fame and popularity only seem to increase as the years go on. That's probably because he's always stretching the limits of what he can do. Whether it's taking on an unthinkable stunt or venturing into the world of comic creation, Reeves never hesitates to try his hand at something new. Before you settle in and enjoy his latest blockbuster project, take some time to get to know the side of Keanu Reeves you never knew existed.

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," which netted him 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" stands for "Keanu Reeves, Grad Hollinger"), the "superbike" has two V-twin engines. Units are built to custom order and cost $78,000 each.

How does he really feel about the sad Keanu meme?

Did Keanu Reeves become more famous because of a meme, or did he become a meme because he was already so famous? Anyone who's spent much time on the internet in the past decade (so, everyone) has seen the Sad Keanu meme. The meme is based on a 2010 picture of Reeves eating a sandwich on a bench that eventually made its way to Reddit with the added caption, "I really enjoy acting because when I act, I'm no longer me" (via Ranker). It wasn't long until that Reddit post showed up everywhere else online, and people started adding their own captions to the "sad Keanu" picture.

The Sad Keanu meme is so ubiquitous that more than a decade after its arrival, he's still getting questions about the picture. When Reeves went to "The Late Show" in December 2021 to promote "The Matrix: Resurrections," Stephen Colbert whipped out a copy of the picture to ask him about it. "I'm just eating a sandwich, man!" Reeves exclaimed before Colbert could even show the picture to his audience. Does that mean Sad Keanu was a lie all along? "I was thinking. I had some stuff going on," Reeves said in a tone that seemed to imply it hadn't been the happiest sandwich lunch of his life, but he added, "I was hungry." Reeves was just trying to fill his stomach, but he provided the internet with one of the most iconic memes of all time.

He blew up the internet while riding the subway

In August 2011, a YouTube video of a secret recording of Keanu Reeves started making rounds on the internet. The video shows Reeves riding a crowded New York City subway. A woman enters the car, and Reeves offers her his seat when he notices her heavy bag. "Gentleman Reeves" created such a buzz that two months later, news outlets like HuffPost were covering the video.

In time, fame often fades, but everything on the internet lasts forever. Over the course of 10 years, the "gentleman Keanu" video racked up over 37 million views. From time to time, the video would recirculate online, going viral all over again. HuffPost updated its article in 2017 when the video created another wave, and The Independent covered the video in 2021 when it was reposted to Instagram and made people fall in love with Reeves all over again. In just two days, the reposted video picked up 40,000 likes. It's just a small example of why Reeves has a reputation for being one of the nicest actors in all of Hollywood. When Reeves was asked in an interview if his reputation for being exceedingly kind ever made him uncomfortable, he replied, "I'm just livin', man."

Is Keanu immortal?

Living is something that Keanu Reeves has been doing for a long time. The actor was born in 1964, but some people on the internet have come to believe that Reeves is a whole lot older than 57. In 2010, a Reddit poster noted that there is a striking resemblance between Reeves and portraits of Paul Mounet, a French actor who died in the early 20th century but whose body was never found (via Vulture). Not long after the post began drawing attention, someone made a small addition to Mounet's Wikipedia page, writing, "He currently acts under the pseudonym of Keanu Reeves. The source of his eternal youth is not known." The addition went unchanged for several weeks, and Reeves' immortality conspiracy was born.

It didn't take long for the official "Keanu Reeves is Immortal" website to enter the scene. The site features pictures of Reeves throughout the years, and he does appear to age at about the same rate as Paul Rudd. In addition to Mounet, Reeves is also "confirmed" to have been King Charlemagne, who lived from 748 to 814 and crowned his son as king shortly before dying and undergoing a rushed winter burial.

In 2017, Jimmy Fallon brought up the conspiracy theory in an interview with Reeves. The actor acknowledged the theory and joked along with Fallon as they looked through some of the pictures of Reeves's previous identities. The interview only fanned the flames of the theories, though, because Reeves never once denied being immortal.

Alice Cooper was once his babysitter

It's a small world, after all. Keanu Reeves might have played in Dogstar through the nineties, but his connection to rock 'n' roll goes back way further than that. In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Reeves confirmed that Alice Cooper used to babysit him as a kid. Reeves explained that he grew up in Toronto, just down the street from a recording studio called Nimbus 9. Reeves' mother was a costume designer who often worked with musicians, and she happened to have a connection with Alice Cooper when Reeves was just a kid.

Reeves confessed that he doesn't actually remember spending any time with the rock legend. "My mother ... was in the business, and they had friends, and she had friends, and so Alice Cooper, I am told, babysat me," he said. "I mean, I don't know how that could actually, possibly happen, but it did, supposedly." The only part of the experience that Reeves can recall is a prank that Cooper pulled. "I remember that he, uh, that there was fake poo in the fridge ... Somehow that connected." Of course, actors and rock stars cross paths all the time, but it's not often that their encounters lead to a story this delightful.

His worked as a production assistant when he was 15

Everyone has to start somewhere, and Keanu Reeves got his start in the movie business — partially against his will — when he was still just a teenager. Reeves' stepfather, Paul Aaron, was working on his second feature film the summer that Reeves turned fifteen. "It was my summer holiday from school," Reeves told The Guardian. "And for a parent, it's, like, what do you do with this kid over the summer? I know, we'll make him a production assistant on a movie!"

"A Force of One" starring Chuck Norris wasn't the most auspicious start to a film career, but the job got Reeves invested in the magic of making movies. "I was watching the grips, I was watching actors, I was seeing how a film set really works," Reeves said. He spent weeks learning the ins and outs of a film set, but mostly he fetched buckets of ice to keep the drinks and snacks cool. Still, he learned his most important lesson about filmmaking on that set. "A movie is all-hands-on-deck. I love all-hands-on-deck."

That love has never left Reeves, and neither has his work ethic. During the production of "John Wick 4," Reeves blew up online yet again when someone caught footage of him lugging heavy equipment around like another crew member (via Daily Mail). Forty-two years later, Reeves is just as hardworking as ever.

One of his first roles was in a Coke commercial

In one of Keanu Reeves' earliest roles, he plays a hardworking cyclist who powers through a long race and gets rewarded with a cool glass bottle of Coca-Cola. Reeves reminisced about the role on "The Late Late Show with James Corden," and the memories brought a wide smile to his face. The three-day commercial shoot was one of Reeves' first tastes of being a working actor, and all these years later, he can still enthusiastically recall the excitement and camaraderie that he felt on the set.

With Reeves' reputation for being one of the most hardworking actors in Hollywood, it will probably surprise no one that he shaved his legs for the role. "Because I'm playing a cyclist," Reeves explains in the interview with his customary matter-of-fact tone. There aren't many actors, even at the beginning of their careers, who would go that far for a minute-long Coke commercial. If there was any part of the experience that was painful for Reeves, it was that he "had to drink so many Coca Colas," but with some directorial prompting that got "R-rated," he managed to nail the take of his victory swig.

He's never become a US citizen

Because of his starring roles in major Hollywood blockbusters, people often think of Keanu Reeves as an American movie star, but that couldn't be further from the truth. If anything, Reeves is more of an international man of mystery. Reeves was born in Lebanon after his parents — English-born Patricia and Chinese-Hawaiian Samuel — met on a beach in Beirut (via The Guardian). Shortly after Reeves' birth, the family moved to Australia, and not long after that, his parents separated. Ultimately, Patricia relocated the family to New York for a brief stint before settling in Toronto.

Reeves has been a Canadian citizen for most of his life, though his frequent trips to Los Angeles and other parts of the world obscure that fact for most of his fans. He was asked in an interview why he keeps his Canadian citizenship despite spending so much of his time in the United States, he said: "I sometimes wonder. I've even regretted not having American citizenship, especially at election times." Though Reeves clarified that he isn't an activist, he does have a strong belief that elections are important. "Ideally," he said, "I would take out dual nationality." Dual citizenship might be Reeves' ideal, but with over a hundred acting roles in under 40 years, he's hardly had the time to enjoy his Canadian citizenship, much less seek out another country's.

He released two books of poetry

When a famous actor pivots into writing a book or a series of poems, the results are usually mixed at best. Keanu Reeves used the stereotype to his advantage with his first poetry book "Ode to Happiness," which was published in 2011. Each page contains a single line from Reeves with an illustration from artist Alexandra Grant. Grant told the BBC that "Ode to Happiness" began its life as a joke. "Our friend sat at Keanu's house one night listening to wonderfully sad self-pitying songs, and Keanu, in the spirit of poking fun at them, began to write a poem."

"I draw a hot sorrow bath/In my despair rooms," the book begins, and it continues on in that self-serious vein for the duration. Reeves is the first to acknowledge that the overwrought style of the poem isn't meant to be taken seriously. "It's only personal in the sense of looking out and regarding my sense of humor," Reeves told the BBC. "I don't usually take baths in my despair room with a misery candle burning."

The collaboration was so successful that it led to a second book in 2016. "Shadows" once again pairs poetry with art, but this time the coupling isn't so humorous. Reeves told The Guardian that the book was an attempt to "contextualize the grief" that he's faced in his life. Reeves hoped that by writing about the grief, he could "even be inspired by it, even find a certain pleasure in it."

He's dating his artistic collaborator Alexandra Grant

Despite being the first collaboration between Alexandra Grant and Keanu Reeves, "Ode to Happiness" wasn't originally meant to be public. "The book was made as a surprise, by me, for Keanu, as a private gift," Grant told Vogue. At the urging of their mutual friends, the two decided to publish the book, and they continued to collaborate after it became a hit. Now, she and Reeves operate the publishing house X Artists' Books together. Oh, and they're also dating.

The world discovered Grant's and Reeves' relationship in November 2019 when they attended an LA art gala holding hands. "I think every single person I knew called me in the first week of November, and that's fascinating," Grant said. Since the art gala, the couple has made few public appearances, maybe because 2020 and 2021 haven't been a great time for public appearances all around or because the two have a real desire for privacy. Reeves said, in reply to a single interview question about his relationship, "She ... we ... are both very private people, and we're both artists, so most of the time we are in our own heads anyway."

He wrote a comic book

A true Renaissance man, Keanu Reeves has taken on films, poetry, and even comics. In the fall of 2017, Reeves sat down with Boom! Studios to talk about a character and story idea that had been lingering in his mind for ages (via The Washington Post). The meeting was the most Keanu-esque pitch imaginable: He acted out various scenes from the story — which follows an immortal, hyper-violent man constantly engaged in combat — and showed off his decades of fighting knowledge. "They went, 'Comic book,'" Reeves said, adding, "I went: 'Yeah!' Why not?"

"BRZRKR" was born. Reeves paired up with veteran comic writer Matt Kindt (the mind behind "Mind MGMT") to create his story about an 80,000-year-old "guy in a Viking kind of battle who could punch people's chests and their backs and rip people's arms off" to life. The story was planned as a 12-issue miniseries, and Boom! launched a Kickstarter campaign to gauge interest in the story. The studio ended up with $1.5 million in preorders. The wildly successful comic is already being considered for a film adaptation, and Reeves has stated that he "would love to play the role." The project still needs to find its perfect director, but it likely won't be long before "BRZRKR" hits the big screen.

He might be married to Winona Ryder

Keanu Reeves might be dating Alexandra Grant, but don't tell his wife that. Back in 1992, a 28-year-old Reeves starred in Francis Ford Coppola's take on "Bram Stoker's Dracula," and he might have left the production as a married man. The film features a scene where Reeves and his costar Winona Ryder get married in a ceremony that's much more realistic than your typical movie wedding.

Coppola himself told The Guardian that he was unhappy with the first version of the scene and that after filming had officially ended, he decided that "having the real wedding ceremony ... would be beautiful." Coppola called Reeves and Ryder back to a Greek Orthodox church and hired a real priest to perform the wedding. In the film, the scene is entirely silent, but the couple drinks from a goblet get blessed with a wreath of flowers and kisses at the close of the ceremony. Regardless of whether or not the priest used their real names, that's got to count for something, right? Ryder seems to think so. "We actually got married in 'Dracula,'" she told Entertainment Weekly in 2018. "No, I swear to god I think we're married in real life."

He prefers to do his own stunts

Though it wasn't his first time fighting his way through scenes and set pieces, Keanu Reeves became known as an action movie star after "The Matrix." The film came out more than 20 years ago, but as he's gotten older, Reeves has continually upped the ante. The "John Wick" films — directed by Reeves's "Matrix" stunt double Chad Stahelski — are filled with the type of visceral action that usually relies on camera tricks and highly trained martial artists, but Reeves famously prefers to handle the material himself. "I do all of the action," he told Sunday Today. "I'm 90% of what's happening there." He says that doing action scenes in his 50s is "more about recovery" than when he was younger, but if anything, he's gotten better with time.

Reeves doesn't constrain his action prowess to a single franchise, either — he shot some pretty incredible stunts for his return to the Matrix in "The Matrix Resurrections." Reeves told Stephen Colbert on "The Late Show" that he and Carrie-Anne Moss jumped off a 46-story building 19-20 times to nail down the perfect shot. When asked why he didn't use CGI for the jump, Reeves said, "Because it's Lana Wachowski, and it's the Matrix, and you need natural light, and you want to do it real." That's the dedication of someone who shaved their legs for a commercial growing stronger with each new opportunity.

He directed a kung-fu movie in 2013

After all the time that Keanu Reeves has spent in front of the camera, it seems only appropriate that he's gotten an opportunity to sit in the director's chair. 2013's "Man of Tai Chi" stars Tiger Hu Chen as a young martial artist who gets in too deep in an underground fighting ring. Reeves not only directed the film but also stretched his acting range by starring as the film's main antagonist.

The film wasn't nearly as groundbreaking as previous Reeves outings, but the critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes calls it "an agreeably old-fashioned picture for martial arts fans — and a solid debut for first-time director Keanu Reeves." Reeves hasn't directed a second film, but that doesn't mean he won't. "BRZRKR" writer Matt Kindt has thrown Reeves' name into the hat for directing the comic's film adaptation, telling The Washington Post, "There's no one better to pull it off than him."

He won't be slowing down any time soon

Keanu Reeves has acted in more movies than most people even aspire to, but don't let that trick you into thinking that he's going to disappear from the big screen any time soon. "Around the time I hit 40, there was this idea of creating more from my artistic loins," Reeves told The Guardian. He said that he often thinks about life like it's a reel of tape. "When you're young, you have a big old reel of that tape left, right? And so, it appears to revolve slowly. Then, time passes, and there's less and less tape left on the reel. It spins faster. It spins faster."

These days Reeves is trying to move just as fast as his spinning tape. He's revisiting old franchises like "The Matrix" and "Bill and Ted" while continuing to push forward on more recent hits (there are currently two "John Wick" sequels in production). At the same time, he's releasing poetry, showing up in video games, and spending time with the people closest to him. All the work "doesn't slow time down," he said. "If anything, it speeds everything up." Luckily for us, Reeves still has plenty of tape left in his reel.