Keanu Reeves is one of the most
popular actors in Hollywood and famous worldwide. He played in the iconic movie
trilogy The Matrix and in other famous movies such as John Wick and Speed.
Keanu Reeves is estimated to be worth $350 Million as of April 2017. In the Media
Keanu Reeves has become known as “Sad Keanu” after a picture of him sitting on
a park bench alone in New York went viral. This biography of Keanu Reeves tries
to summarize his childhood, career and personal life and examine his
personality to find out if Keanu really is sad.
& Early Years
Charles Reeves was born on September 2, 1964 in Beirut, Lebanon. In Hawaiian
Keanu means “cool breeze over the mountains”. His mother is Patricia Taylor,
who worked as a showgirl and costume designer. His father Nowlin Reeves was a
geologist. While Patricia was originally from England, Nowlin had a more
diverse ancestry consisting of Hawaii, British, Portuguese and Chinese roots. When
Keanu was only three years old when his father abandoned his family and Keanu
had to moved to Sydney, Australia with his mother. Keanu’s sister Kim was born
in Sydney after the formal divorce of their parents. Soon after that Keanu, Kim
and their mother moved again, this time to New York. Keanu’s father kept living
in Hawaii, where Keanu kept visiting him until the age of 13. In New York, Keanu’s mother got married for
the second time. She married director Paul Aaron and they all moved to Toronto,
Canada. After one year of marriage Keanu’s mother and Paul Aaron got divorced. Soon
after the divorce she got married again, this time to a rock promoter Robert
Miller in 1976. From this marriage, Keanu’s half-sister Karina was born.
However, this marriage also didn’t last and Keanu’s mother got divorced for the
third time. In 1994, Keanu’s mother got married for the fourth time with
hairdresser Jack Bond. In the same year Keanu’s father was sentenced to 10
years in prison in Hawaii for possession of cocaine. Grandparents or
baby-sitters mostly raised Keanu and his sisters, because of the emotional
instability of their mother and constantly moving from place to place.
Furthermore, because they were always moving, Keanu had to change four
different high schools until he dropped out at the age of 17 to pursue an
acting career. At school he always had troubles because of his dyslexia.
However, Reeves claims that his dyslexia encouraged him to become an actor,
because he often pretended to understand things in school. In an interview with
Handbag magazine he explained that he used acting as way of coping: “I didn’t finish high school. I did a lot of
pretending as a child. It was my way of coping with the fact that I didn’t
really feel like I fit in.”. Before he dropped out, Keanu was a successful
soccer and hockey player in high school. After he dropped out of college he
went after a career as an actor.
age of 15 Keanu Reeves started acting in the stage production of ‘Romeo and
Juliet’ in a theatre in Toronto. In the 1980s he acted in small roles in short
films and commercials for brands like Coca Cola. In 1986 he scored a supporting
role the movie ‘Youngblood’, which was about hockey and filmed in Canada. After
this movie, Keanu decided to move to Hollywood were he played in adolescent
movies and got a supporting role in the movie ‘Dangerous Liaisons’, which got
nominated for an Oscar in the year 1988. His first big role was in the movie ‘Bill
& Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ (1989) in which he played the role of Ted who
travelled though time with his friend Bill. In the year 1991 a sequel for the
movie was made in which Keanu also starred. The movies were a success but also
led to the audience associating Keanu with Ted, who was a goofy and troubled
teen. With his next movies Keanu tried to distance himself from stigma of Ted by
playing a narcoleptic hustler in the movie ‘My Own Private Idaho’ (1991) or a FBI
agent in the movie ‘Point Break’ (1991). With the role he in the movie ‘Point
Break’, Keanu won the MTV award for ‘Most Desirable Male’ in 1992. Additionally,
Keanu started to play in bass guitar in the band Dogstar in 1991. His big
breakthrough came with the big-budget movie ‘Speed’ in which he played next to
the already well-known actress Sandra Bullock. This movie was the first step
for him in becoming an action star and gave him fame and a position in
Hollywood. However, becoming famous did not stop Keanu from playing in
small-budget movies or supporting roles as long as he thought the movie was
well written and the role he was playing was meaningful. In the following years
Reeves starred in small, experimental as well as big films like ‘The Devil’s
Advocate’ in which he acted next to Al Pacino in 1997. Keanu was offered to
play in the movie ‘Heat’ opposite to Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, however he
denied that role in order to star in ‘Hamlet’ performed in a 789-seat theatre. Keanu
also denied the offer to play in a sequel of Speed and turned down $11 million.
His career peaked in 1999 when he played in the cyber adventure directed by the
Wachowski brothers. His role as Neo in ‘The Matrix’ became received extremely
well critics and became very popular among the audience. The big success of the
movie led to two sequels, which allowed Keanu to establish himself as a
After the Matrix trilogy Reeves
starred in multiple movies including romantic comedies like ‘Something’s Gotta
Give’ (2003) and dramas like ‘The Lake House’ (2006) as well as in some
small budget movies. He also kept taking on roles in action movies like
‘Constantine’ (2005) or ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ (2008). In 2005 Keanu received a star on the Walk of
Fame. Alternating between small- budget and big-budget movies during the mean
time, Keanu played in the action movie ‘John Wick’ in 2014. In the movie Keanu
played the leading role John Wick who searched for revenge for his dog’s
murder. The movie became a success and led to the making of a second chapter
for the movie.
After having an instable
childhood with many turbulent and traumatic events (his relationship to his
biological father, 3 stepfathers, moving from city to city), Keanu was
devastated when River Phoenix his co-star in the movie ‘My Private Idaho’ died
because of a drug overuse in 1993. The two became close friends while shooting
the movie and remained best friends afterwards. In 1998 Keanu started to date
Jennifer Syme, a production assistant. The couple was expecting a child in 1999
however the baby was stillborn. Reeves and Syme split after the tragedy but
remained close friends until Jennifer died in a car accident in 2001. In an
interview with Parade magazine in 2006 Keanu said: “Grief changes shape, but it never ends. People have a misconception
that you can deal with it and say, ‘It’s gone, and I’m better’. They’re wrong.
When the people you love are gone, you’re alone. I miss being a part of
their lives and them being part of mine. I wonder what the present would be
like if they were here – what we might have done together. I miss all the great
things that will never be”. Keanu had several short-term romantic
relationships later in his life, however none of them lasted.
In 2001 his sister Kim, whit
whom Keanu is very close, was diagnosed with leukemia. After battle that lasted
for years, the cancer fell into remission. Keanu donated to numerous cancer
foundations and started a private cancer foundation. Keanu has no relationship
to his father anymore and does not like to talk about him. When he was asked
about his relationship with his father in an interview he answered: “Jesus, man. No, the story with me and my
dad’s pretty heavy. It’s full of pain and woe and fucking loss and all that
In an interview for the Rolling
Stones magazine in August 2000, Keanu admitted using drugs more often when he
was younger but that he does not use them frequently anymore.
While interviewing Keanu for
the Rolling Stones magazine Chris Heath makes some comments about hic character
and the way Keanu is behaving during the interview.
According to Heath it is very
hard to have a conversation with Keanu, because he takes very long pauses
before answering a question. And when he finally answers after seconds of
silence the answer is mostly very short. Heath describes Keanu as showing a big
effort to be polite, but notes that there is also agony involved. In the same interview
Keanu opens about his passion for motorbikes and the accidents he had,
especially about the one he had during a ‘demon ride’ (turning of the lights of
the motorcycle while driving at night). Keanu explains that he felt like he was
going to die but also admits that he might do it again.
Furthermore, Keanu is known for
often using public transportation. A video recorded on a cell phone showing him
giving his seat to an older lady on the subway went viral and received many
positive comments regarding his politeness.
At the beginning of this part,
it must be noted that the personality traits discussed are based on knowledge
gathered from interviews and news coverage and therefore are speculative.
According to the Trait Theory of personality each
individual adjusts to the world by developing certain traits. Having
experienced a lot of tragic and traumatic events, such as being abandoned by
his father, loosing his close friend, unborn child and ex-girlfriend Keanu also
adjusted to the world by developing specific traits. These traits will be
examined by The Big Five Factor Theory. The
Big Five model consists of five broad dimensions of personality; extraversion,
agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness and openness. Each dimension contains
multiple traits and is correlated to many behaviors. For each dimension an
individual can be somewhere on the spectrum between low and high.
seems to be low on the scale for extraversion. In his interviews he challenges
the interviewer to keep the conversation going and seems to be quiet, passive
and not very talkative. He especially avoids talking about his personal life
and things that upset him (e.g. his relationship to his father). He also does
not make a warm impression and seems to be rather cold, distant and ‘cool’, not
smiling much and becoming known as ‘Sad Keanu’.
the information gathered about Keanu, he seems to be high in agreeableness. In
his interview with the Rolling Stones magazine, the interviewer described him
as extremely polite. Furthermore, the video of him giving his seat to an older
lady shows that he is altruistic, kind and helping towards others. He is also
very modest and does not care much about money. He turned down a big-budget
movie in order to play Hamlet in a small theatre and starred in many small
movies and as supporting role just because the script was meaningful for him.
His donations to multiple charity organizations also show that he is an
altruistic individual, which indicates that he is high in agreeableness.
Neuroticism. It is
hard to speculate about the level of neuroticism of a person, especially for
Keanu because he does not show many emotions, either negative or positive. His
quotes after the loss of his loved ones however might indicate that he went
through depression. Furthermore, his ‘demon rides’ might be interpreted as an
unhealthy way of coping, which could be interpreted as high neuroticism. Having
used drugs in his youth could also be an indicator of neuroticism. According to
research, individuals who experienced unpleasant events with family and friends
scored higher on neuroticism. Keanu had bad experiences with his family from
early childhood (his father leaving, multiple stepfathers, moving a lot) throughout
his adulthood (the death of his unborn child and ex-girlfriend) as well as with
his friends (the death of his close friend River Phoenix). This could indicate
that he is high on neuroticism.
may be high on conscientiousness because wanted to become an actor since his
adolescence and pursued his goal. He also tried really hard and took an many
different roles in order to get rid of the Ted stigma he got after the movie ‘Bill
& Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ (1989). This may be interpreted as striving
for achievement. He has also shown that he is hard working and responsible by
playing in up to four movies in a year and successfully overcoming challenging
roles like playing Neo in ‘The Matrix’ (1999). Furthermore, he received a star
on the walk of fame and became an A-list actor, which also indicated that he
might be high on conscientiousness.
also seems to be high on the dimension openness. Because of his job as an actor
he can be considered creative. The effort he made in playing diverse characters
can indicate that he prefers variety. Furthermore,
he played in several action movies and is a passionate motorcycle rider, which shows
that he likes action in his life.
To sum up it can be said
that since his childhood Keanu has had a hard life and lost a lot of people that
he loved, which gives him reason to be ‘Sad Keanu’. He started his career by starring
in small and supporting roles and became an A-list actor, earning a star on the
walk of fame. His personality can be summed up as introverted, agreeable, neurotic,
conscientious, and open.