Tough Facts About Keanu Reeves, The Otherworldly Star

June 23, 2023 | Miles Brucker

Tough Facts About Keanu Reeves, The Otherworldly Star

Keanu Reeves is an enigma, but he's got his reasons. Although he's faced abandonment, loss, betrayal, and ridicule, like John Wick, he just keeps moving forward.

1. He Was Born In Beirut

Though he grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Keanu Reeves was actually born in Beirut. His mother, Patricia, had been working as a showgirl in Paris when she fled to Beirut and met his father, Sam, a Native Hawaiian. The couple had one more child after Keanu—but this was no happy family. Though Keanu's mother has been a constant source of support in his life, his father? Well, that's a different story.

keanu reeves

2. His Dad Was A Drifter

Keanu has always described his father as a "drifter," and he drifted right out of their lives when Keanu was only three years old. Keanu saw his father only sporadically when he was growing up—but even from a young age, he could tell that his dad was no role model. Soon, it was Keanu who walked out on his father.

Keanu Reeves FactsGetty Images

3. His Father Abandoned Him

Sam Reeves led an incredibly troubled life before he met Keanu's mother in Beirut, and that didn't change after. Keanu called him a "'60s burnout" and a "deadhead reject". Keanu would occasionally go visit his dad in Hawaii, but after he turned 13, he never went back. Father and son would never see each other again—though Keanu would soon have a very good reason for hating his dad.

Keanu Reeves FactsGetty Images

4. He Got Expelled

Even after his dad walked out, Reeves' life never settled down. The family moved to Australia, then New York City, and then finally Toronto. After all that moving around, Reeves struggled to fit it. He went to four different high school and he was expelled from one for bad behavior. He didn't even end up getting his degree, but he did find what he wanted to do with his life.

Keanu Reeves FactsGetty Images

5. His Name Was "Too Ethnic"

Though Reeves dabbled in hockey like many young Canadians, he found something he liked even more: acting. He started looking for work by the 1980s, and he got some harsh advice early on. His agents told him that his name was "too ethnic" and suggested he go by K.C. or Casey Reeves instead. He tried it for a short time before he went back to Keanu—thank god.

Keanu Reeves FactsMetro Goldwyn Mayer ,Youngblood

6. His Star Started To Grow

After a slow start, Keanu really put himself on the map with a little movie called Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Audiences loved his time-traveling slacker character, but Reeves still wanted to do something a little more dramatic. That's when he read the script for Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho. The heartfelt, if scandalous, story about street hustlers piqued Reeves's interest.

He was even more excited when he heard who Van Sant wanted to cast as his co-star.

Keanu Reeves FactsBill & Ted

7. River Phoenix Was His Friend

Van Sant wanted teen heartthrob River Phoenix to play Reeves's costar. Seeing as the two of them were already friends, Reeves couldn't have been happier. But getting him on board wasn't going to be easy. When Phoenix's agent heard about the movie's shocking content, she refused to even show the script to her client. But Van Sant had a secret weapon.

Christian Slater FactsWikimedia Commons, Alan Light

8. He Rode 1,000 Miles

If someone puts up a wall, just go around it. Since Van Sant knew the two young actors were buddies, he told Reeves to take the script to Phoenix directly. But Reeves didn't just hop on a plane—instead, he hopped on his 1974 Norton Commando and rode 1,300 miles from Toronto to the Phoenix family's ranch in Florida.

Keanu Reeves FactsGetty Images

9. They Became Even Closer

Doing a 1,300-mile motorcycle ride for nothing has got to sting, but thankfully, Van Sant's plan worked. Phoenix loved the script, and My Own Private Idaho ended up being a hit, and a landmark film in the history of queer cinema. Not only did the movie put Keanu on the map as a hot young actor, but it brought him even closer to River Phoenix.

Unfortunately, that only made the tragedy that was coming even more painful.

River Phoenix FactsGetty Images

10. He's Not Great At Accents

After My Own Private IdahoKeanu Reeves was officially one of the hottest young actors to watch—for about a minute. Unfortunately, the critics wouldn't always be so kind to him. The tide started to turn right around the time of Reeves's...questionable performance in Bram Stoker's Dracula. The movie required Reeves to do a British accent. That shouldn't be a problem for an actor like Reeves though, right?


Special Effects factsBram Stoker

11. The Critics Were Brutal

Keanu Reeves wasn't exactly a legend in the early 90s, and critics were ready to turn on him in an instant. One critic wrote, "Reeves's performance is as painful as it is hilarious," and that was one of the nicer reviews. As the decade went on, the critics would only grow more and more ruthless. But there are worse things than bad reviews—as one devastating event would soon put things painfully into perspective.

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, ewanjudecolinchristian

12. He Got Tragic News On Set

In 1993, Reeves agreed to star in a certain action movie about a certain bus that can't slow down. It would prove to be the biggest hit of his career thus far—but in the middle of production, Reeves received some heartwrenching news: River Phoenix was dead. He had collapsed outside Johnny Depp's nightclub The Viper Room, and he never regained consciousness.

In show business, they say, "The show must go on", but for Reeves, that wasn't an option this time.

River Phoenix FactsGetty Images

13. He Couldn't Keep It Together

Everyone on the set of Speed could see just how hard the loss hit Reeves, no matter how hard he tried to hide it. Eventually, director Jan de Bont was forced to rearrange the entire filming schedule to give Reeves the time he needed to grieve. Once he'd pulled himself together, he completed filming and Speed went on to be a box office smash.

Critics were even kind to him this time. The studio, Fox, couldn't believe their luck—but Reeves's next move would put him on their blacklist.

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, Anna Hanks

14. He Made Powerful Enemies

Speed's success had Fox execs crying for a sequel, but Reeves made a shocking decision. He turned down all offers to do a sequel, instead heading north to Manitoba to perform as Hamlet on stage. Fox execs were furious, and they knew how to hold a grudge. They blacklisted him for the next 14 years.

Keanu Reeves FactsThe Devil

15. He Became A Punchline

By the time 1997 rolled around, Keanu Reeves's acting abilities were an open joke among movie critics. In a review of the film The Last Time I Committed Suicide, Empire magazine wrote, "Reeves gives the nearest thing to a performance in his career as the enthusiastic feckless drunk". CNN's film critic outright declared him as "void of talent".

After such a promising start, it looked like Keanu Reeves was destined for the B-list. Then a bizarre script came across his desk—and it changed his life forever.

Keanu Reeves FactsGetty Images

16. He Was The Last Choice

In 1996, director team the Wachowskis were looking for someone to star in their next movie. They wanted Will Smith, the biggest action star in the world at the time, but he didn't have faith in the script. Next, they wanted Nicolas Cage. Then Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, Leo DiCaprio, and Johnny Depp. After all those names fell through, Reeves got the nod to play Thomas Anderson, a computer programmer who goes by Neo online.

He ended up being absolutely perfect in the role, and The Matrix became one of the biggest movies of the 90s. But not everything was going right for him.

Keanu Reeves FactsShutterstock

17. He Was Forced To Be In A Flop

They can't all be hits. The year after The Matrix, Reeves appeared in a thriller called The Watcher. The movie was a flop, and critics panned Reeves's performance. That had to sting, but that wasn't even the worst part. Reeves didn't even want to be in the movie in the first place! The way he tells it, he actually turned the movie down—but little did he realize, someone was screwing with him.

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, Anna Hanks

18. His Friend Screwed Him Over

Keanu Reeves was as surprised as anyone when he got the call to start working on The Watcher. He had, after all, turned the movie down. Well, apparently someone really wanted him to be in the movie. Allegedly, one of Reeves's friends had forged his signature on a contract, and the studio wasn't backing down. Reeves had two options: A lengthy court battle, or just do the movie.

He chose the latter. It was probably the right decision, but appearing in a critical and commercial failure that you didn't even agree to? That's got to suck.

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, Daniel Benavides

19. The Wheels Started To Fall Off

The Watcher wasn't exactly a high point in Reeves's career, but he could afford a couple airballs. He was Neo, after all, and hype for the Matrix sequels was reaching a fever pitch. With The Matrix Reloaded coming out in May and The Matrix Revolutions following just six months later, 2003 should have been the biggest year of Reeves's career.

Instead, it was the beginning of the end.

Keanu Reeves FactsGetty Images

20. His Big Moment Was A Big Disappointment

To put it simply, the Matrix sequels were a massive disappointment. Reloaded performed well, but many fans and critics had some issues with the convoluted plot. Then Revolutions came out, and the bottom fell out completely. The film was a massive disappointment at the box office and a critical failure, and Keanu was right at the center of it.

After the heights of the late 90s, it would be over a decade before Reeves's career recovered.

Keanu Reeves FactsShutterstock

21. His Career Crashed And Burned

Pretty much everyone today agrees that Keanu Reeves is a legend, but that wasn't always a given. Critics never really forgot about early performances like in Dracula, and the failure of the Matrix sequels cemented Reeves's place as a Hollywood punchline. Further disappointments like Constantine and 47 Ronin didn't help matters. Studio offers, once plentiful, completely dried up.

By 2010, it was hard to see Keanu Reeves as anything but a has-been. Then came a little movie called John Wick.

Keanu Reeves FactsConstantine(2005), Warner Bros.

22. He Made John Wick Happen

Everyone knows that Keanu Reeves is the star of John Wick, but he's more important to the movie than most people realize. The moment he read the script, he knew this was something special, and he took a major role in the development. Not only did he work closely with the screenwriter to develop the story, but he also sent the script to his old Matrix stunt double, Chad Stahelski.

Stahelski ended up directing the movie with another old Matrix stunt performer, David Leitch. The rest is history.

Keanu Reeves FactsJohn Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Thunder Road Films

23. His Films Are Banned In China

Reeves is known for being one of the nicest guys in Hollywood—just ask the staff at any of the myriad hotels he lived in over the years—but he does occasionally manage to get into trouble. For instance, did you know that his movies are banned on several streaming platforms in China? In 2022, Reeves performed a poem as part of a fundraiser for Tibet House US.

The Chinese government was clearly not pleased. But that wasn't Reeves's only brush with trouble.

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, Box Repsol

24. He Hit Someone With His Porsche

Even quiet, unassuming celebs like Reeves have to deal with paparazzi, and sometimes, it can get messy. In 2007, photographers hounded Reeves as he entered his Porsche. Then things took a frightening turn. Reeves struck one of the photographers with the car. Was the man standing directly in the car's path? Of course—but do you think a paparazzo isn't going to try and squeeze every penny out of a celeb like Reeves?

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, Matthew Lamb

25. He Won The Case

A few months later, the photographer slapped Reeves with a nearly $1 million lawsuit. He claimed that Reeves ought to be liable for "medical bills, damages, and lost wages". But don't worry: Reeves's lawyer managed to embarrass the man in court.

Alison Silva claimed that the incident had caused serious damage to his hand, affecting his work. Well, Reeves's lawyer managed to produce footage of Silva using said hand the climb a fence shortly after the accident. The jury found in Reeves' favor, and the judge threw the case out. The case ended up being little more than an annoyance for Reeves—but the same can't be said about this next legal snafu.

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, Daniel Benavides

26. A Fan Claimed He Was The Father

At least Keanu knew that paparazzo was liable to sue him—the next time it happened, he never saw it coming. In 2009, a woman named Karen Sala made a truly shocking accusation: She claimed Keanu was the father of her children. She demanded "$3 million a month for spousal support and $150,000 a month in retroactive child support".

However, people soon realized that Sala wasn't exactly credible.

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, Governo do Estado de São Paulo

27. Her Story Didn't Add Up

Sala not only claimed that Reeves was the father of her children, but she claimed that he used hypnosis and disguised himself as her ex-husband to impregnate her! Hmm...doesn't quite sound like something Keanu would do, does it? Reeves did end up having to go to court to clear up the whole matter, but thankfully, the judge sided with him and tossed the suit.

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, Governo do Estado de São Paulo

28. Matthew Perry Kept Dunking On Him

Before the John Wick days, "Keanu Reeves" had become an easy stand-in for a "bad actor," and few people mined that vein as much as Matthew Perry. Unfortunately, he went a little too far. Once, Perry opined, "Why is it that the original thinkers like River Phoenix and Heath Ledger die, but Keanu Reeves still walks among us?"

He said something similar when Chris Farley passed. Ouch.

Keanu Reeves FactsGetty Images

29. He Regretted Saying It

Maybe Perry felt bad, or maybe he really liked John Wick, but he's since walked back those comments. When people dug up his cruel comments, he made a public apology: "I’m actually a big fan of Keanu. I just chose a random name, my mistake. I apologize...should have used my own name instead". Seeing how close Keanu was with Phoenix in particular, I'm not sure he'd accept the apology.

Keanu Reeves FactsGetty Images

30. He Found His Soulmate

In 2009, Reeves met visual Alexandra Grant for the first time. The two hit it off, and they soon realized they wanted to work together. Soon, they released Ode to Happiness, with Reeves providing poetry and Grant creating the illustrations. Their friendship blossomed over the next several years, and they eventually formed their own publishing company, X Artists' Books.

Reeves had some painful loves in his past, so he took things slow—but he and Grant eventually realized there was something more to their partnership.

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, ms sherwood

31. He Went Public

Though they secretly started dating in 2019, Reeves and Grant made their first public appearance together in 2020. After decades of reclusive behavior, it seemed like Reeves was finally ready to come out of his shell. But why had he been so secretive before? Well, it turns out that when it comes to his love life, Keanu has an incredibly painful story.

Keanu Reeves FactsShutterstock

32. He Dated His Co-Star

Keanu eventually learned to keep his love life on the down low—but back in the 80s, he wasn't quite so smart about it. In 1986, he worked on a movie called Babes In Toyland. One of his co-stars was a pretty young actress named Jill Schoelen, who would late go on to date names like Brad Pitt. Their characters got together onscreen, and it's no surprise that they got together offscreen as well.

They dated for three years—but Keanu was a hot, young actor. He couldn't stay tied down for long.

Keanu Reeves FactsBabes in Toyland(1986), Orion Television

33. He Dated A Pregnant, Married 19-Year-Old

Keanu's next flame was British socialite Amanda de Cadenet. This was his most scandalous relationship by far. De Cadenet wasn't just married to Duran Duran bassist at the time—she was also pregnant with his child. Oh, and not to mention that she was just 19 years old at the time. But she took one look at Keanu and thought, "I wonder how many pregnant women have affairs?"

At least one, we can confirm.

Keanu Reeves FactsShutterstock

34. Their Scandalous Love Fizzled

The relationship with de Cadenet was the stuff of tabloid dreams—but it couldn't last long. Whether it was the eight-year age difference, the marriage, or the baby, we can't say for sure. Whichever one, Reeves called it quits. But maybe de Cadenet gave him some ideas, because soon, he'd be married himself—though this was anything but a traditional marriage.

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, Anna Hanks

35. He Married Winona Ryder

Did you know that Keanu Reeves was married to Winona Ryder—and still is? That's what Reeves says. Though the two friends were never in a real relationship, their characters got married on screen in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Director Francis Ford Coppola hired a real Romanian priest to perform the ceremony, and they filmed the entire thing unbroken.

Since they never got a divorce, I guess they're still married?

Keanu Reeves FactsGetty Images

36. He's In A Band, Man

Keanu Reeves is a man of many hats, and one of those says "Musician". In 1991, he formed an alternative rock band called Dogstar, in which Reeves played bass and sang backing vocals. It was never quite as successful as Keanu's acting career—but it did lead him to the love of his life.

Keanu Reeves FactsGetty Images

37. He Dated David Lynch's Assistant

Jennifer Syme was David Lynch's assistant, and she first laid eyes on Reeves at a party his record label threw for Dogstar. They hit it off instantly, and started dating almost immediately. Keanu had been intensely private about his love life, but he was clearly head over heels for Syme. The pair appeared together in public as boyfriend and girlfriend, something Reeves had not done in a long time.

However, their love quickly turned into a nightmare.

Keanu Reeves FactsShutterstock

38. They Suffered An Unimaginable Loss

Just a year after they first met, Syme became pregnant with their first child. In a tragic turn, their child ended up being stillborn. The grief was too much for them to bear, and the two of them broke up within weeks of the loss. If this was where their story ended, it would already be a tragedy—but it was still going to get so much worse.

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, Anna Hanks

39. She Made A Fatal Mistake

Jennifer Syme never truly recovered from the loss of her child. On April 1, 2001, she went to a party at Marilyn Manson's house. After a few too many, a friend drove her home—but then she made a terrible decision. Still inebriated, she hopped in her car to head back to the party. She did not buckle her seatbelt.

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, Craig Noce

40. They Got Back Together

Sometime around dawn on April 2, 2001, Jennifer Syme lost control of her car. Without her seatbelt on, she was partially thrown from the vehicle, and she perished instantly on impact. But it gets even more heartbreaking. Investigators questioned Reeves about her final days, and he revealed that they had actually gotten back together.

They were finally starting to get their lives back on track after the loss of their child, when it was all suddenly ripped away.

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, GabboT

41. He Knows Loss Far Too Well

Reeves served as a pallbearer at Symes' funeral, along with David Lynch, Dave Navarro, and others. Between the loss of River Phoenix, his child, and now his beloved partner, grief was becoming something that Reeves understood far too well—but rather than succumb to it, Reeves embraced it.

Keanu Reeves FactsShutterstock

42. He Felt Connected To John Wick

When Reeves first read the script for John Wick, his grief was the thing that stuck out immediately. He does lose his wife and his dog in the first 10 minutes of the movie, after all. "I love his grief," Reeves once said in an interview—clearly, it's something he and the character have in common.

But there is one person in his life for whom Reeves did not grieve: His deadbeat father.

Keanu Reeves FactsJohn Wick: Chapter 2(2017), 87Eleven

43. His Dad Went To Jail

While Keanu Reeves was off being a movie star in the 90s, his dad Sam was hitting rock bottom. His addiction spiraled out of control, and he wasn't about to get any support from his famous son. Eventually, authorities busted him for possession and distribution and sentenced him to 10 years. Sam Reeves reached out to his son for help—but he was barking up the wrong tree.

Keanu Reeves FactsGetty Images

44. He Never Returned His Dad's Calls

Sam Reeves wasn't exactly the father-of-the-year, but at least he tried to have a relationship with his son—it's just his son wanted nothing to do with him. Sam reached out to Keanu many times over the years, but never heard anything back. His incarceration for drug offenses was the last straw. That hit too close to home for Keanu.

Keanu Reeves FactsWikimedia Commons, Anna Hanks

45. He Turned His Back On His Family

The press heard about Reeves's strained relationship with his dad, and they reached out to Sam's family to hear their side of the story. On reporter asked Keanu's paternal grandmother about him, and her response was tragic: "He doesn’t want to know us any more. He won’t take Sam’s calls for help". In fact, it was worse than that. Keanu outright despised his father.

Keanu Reeves FactsShutterstock

46. He Had Cruel Words For His Father

Keanu Reeves is famously even-tempered, but in one interview, the topic of his father managed to get a rise out of him. He said, "[Illicit substances] are truly evil. My dad dealt in death, and he deserves to rot in jail until his sentence is over so nobody can die from the [illicit substances] he sells". But that quote reveals the real reason why Keanu was so angry.

Keanu Reeves FactsShutterstock

47. It Cut Close To Home

Sam Reeves's arrest came right around the same time as River Phoenix's overdose. Reeves and his father were already distant, but when Sam went away for drug-related offenses, right after illicit substances claimed one of his closest friends, that was the straw that broke the camel's back. But that doesn't mean Sam ever stopped trying.

Keanu Reeves FactsShutterstock

48. They Never Made Up

The years started to pass, but Sam Reeves never lost hope that he might be able to patch things up with his son. But no matter what he did, Keanu wasn't interested. Sam's health eventually started to fail, and he told people that his dying wish was to see his son again. It wouldn't happen. Sam Reeves passed in 2018. Keanu did not attend the funeral.

But while he may have hated his father, Keanu might have taken after him more than he realized.

Keanu Reeves FactsGetty Images

49. He Took After His Dad

Sam Reeves was a drifter, who could never settle in one place for long. You could say the same thing about his son. Though he's long been one of the best-paid men in Hollywood, for many years, Reeves didn't actually have a home. He lived out of his suitcase and moved from one hotel to the next, never staying in one place for long.

However, it looks like Alexandra Grant has finally made him decide to settle down—the two purchased a Hollywood Hills mansion in 2013. Though within a year, Reeves had reason to regret it.

Keanu Reeves FactsShutterstock


50. Fans Kept Breaking Into His Home

Maybe it was good that Keanu never owned a home. Not long after he purchased his place in the Hills, he awoke to a sound in his library. He found a woman sitting silently in a chair. She looked up and told her that she was there to meet him. Authorities eventually took her away for a mental evaluation, but mere days later, a different woman pulled the exact same stunt.

Except this time, she stripped down and skinny-dipped in the pool before authorities came to take her away. Never a dull moment if you're Keanu Reeves, I guess.

Keanu Reeves FactsKnock Knock, Voltage Pictures

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

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