The Superman Curse: How the Role Has Ruined Lives

Just before Man of Steel opened in 2013, DC Entertainment declared June 12th as Man of Steel Day. But even though Superman may be the most popular superhero of all time, playing the character has become something of a curse.

Christopher Reeve / Kirk Alyn / George Reeves / Henry Cavill.
Source: Getty Images

The irony is that taking on the role of the man of steel – the man who can’t be defeated – has seemed to ruin people’s lives. The “Superman curse” has haunted anyone involved with the superhero, whether it’s the TV series or the movies, and including both actors and crew members. With this long list of bad luck, disaster, and even death, it’s a wonder people still sign up for the role.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster: The Creators Were Struck First

It looks like the first victims of the Superman curse were the creators themselves. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster wrote and created Superman before selling the rights of the character to DC Comics for a laughable amount. They made only $130.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster pose in front of sketches of Superman.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

After selling the rights, the superhero started making big bucks for DC. Poor Siegel and Shuster were unable to make a dime from their Man of Steel. They tried recovering legal ownership or a share in the profits, but to no avail. Superman’s creators lived sub-modest lives while Superman became a billion-dollar franchise.

Struggling to Survive as Superman Rakes in Billions

Siegel and Shuster hit rock bottom and struggled to survive for several years. By the 1970s, Shuster lost his vision, and Siegel became bitter about the media as a whole. In 1975, Siegel was quoted: “I can’t stand to look at a Superman comic book. It makes my physically ill. I love Superman, and yet to me he has become an alien thing.”

A cover art for the Superman comic book.
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The two partners launched a campaign in another effort to regain the rights of their creation. Eventually, Warner Bros. gave in and restored their byline. The men finally received compensation: a salary of $20,000 for the rest of their lives.

Kirk Alyn: From Superman to Commercials

Back in the 1940s, the initial, low budget, black-and-white Superman series popped up on the small screen. Front and center was an actor named Kirk Alyn. Starting in 1948, he portrayed Superman in two 15-episode series, Superman and Atom Man vs. Superman.

Kirk Alyn poses on set as Superman.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

He became popular as the Man of Steel, but by the time the show ended, Alyn found it impossible to find any acting work. He told the Associated Press one day: “I couldn’t get another job.” The only roles he was able to get were those in commercials, and minor, uncredited roles.

He Blamed Superman for His Failing Career

Alyn was typecast as Superman and “the world wouldn’t accept him as anything else.” He grew very bitter and blamed his famous role for his career failing and fading into obscurity. It should be noted, though, that Alyn did benefit from a wave of nostalgia in the ’70s.

A still of Alyn in Superman.
Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis/Getty Images

The decade served him somewhat well as he became in demand on the college circuit and at comic book conventions. He ended up living until 1999, passing away at age 88, but the last part of his life was full of suffering. Alzheimer’s disease ate away at his faculties before he took his last breath.

George Reeves: The First One to Call Out a Curse

George Reeves is known as the one who brought the Superman curse to the media’s attention. He played the Man of Steel in the 1951 movie, Superman and the Mole Men. He then starred in the Superman TV series for six years, between 1952 and ’58.

Reeves holds his head high in a still from the television series Adventures of Superman.
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Like Alyn, he also gained success with the role. And like Alyn, he was also typecast and had trouble finding other work. There was one movie, From Here to Eternity, which he starred in but was met with resistance as “test audiences expressed their distaste for seeing Superman at war.”

He Died Mysteriously in His Own Home

Despite the fact that Reeves wasn’t even playing Superman, viewers couldn’t help but see the actor as the superhero with the red cape. Apparently, it drove him down a path of depression as his acting career eventually came to a standstill.

A dated portrait of Reeves.
Photo by Ray Fisher/Getty Images

There was a point when he even considered going into wrestling. Then, on June 6, 1959, during a party he was hosting at his own home, Reeves was found dead in his room. It was officially ruled as a suicide, but many doubted that and believed he was murdered (MGM boss Eddie Mannix was blamed, but more on this later on the article…).

Christopher Reeve: From Household Name to Typecast

First of all, let it be known that George Reeves and Christopher Reeve are not related. Okay, that said, Reeve has also played Superman and has also been a victim of the Superman curse. He became a household name in the late ‘70s with his portrayal of Clark Kent/Superman in the film Superman.

A promotional portrait of Christopher Reeve as Superman.
Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures/Getty Images

Reeve then reprised the role for the three sequels. As the pattern goes, Reeve was frustrated when he saw that his career was at a standstill, and he couldn’t land any other roles. Reeve is one of the main actors associated with the infamous curse.

The Fateful Horseback Riding Incident

In 1995, Reeve’s life was destroyed in a horseback riding accident that left him completely paralyzed. He was participating in a cross-country riding event but got thrown off his horse. The result was a paralysis from the neck down and he was never able to walk again.

A photo of Christopher Reeve after the accident.
Photo by Ziv Koren-Pool/Getty Images

Amazingly, he maintained a positive attitude and continued to act. Nearly a decade later, he was suffering from an infection and took antibiotics to combat it. The problem was that the antibiotics he was taking reacted negatively in his system. He had an unexpected heart attack on October 10, 2004 and died. He was only 52 years old.

Dana Reeve: An Unlucky and Untimely Death

The wife of the Christopher Reeve, Dana, is the only one affected by the curse who didn’t play a direct role associated with Superman. Her bad luck was simply due to her closeness with her husband. Dana died just two years after her husband, in untimely and unlucky circumstances.

A dated picture of Christopher and Dana Reeve.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

In 2005, Dana announced her diagnosis of lung cancer, despite never having smoked a day in her life. Leading up to her death, she said she was receiving treatment and that the tumor appeared to be shrinking. A year later, at 44, she passed away.

Margot Kidder: Forever the Damsel in Distress

Margot Kidder is known for her role as Lois Lane in the original Superman series from 1978 to 1987. Kidder’s association with the curse goes to show that it isn’t just the man in the cape who got struck with bad luck.

Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in a scene from Superman.
Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images

Kidder’s career also faced its struggles after Superman. After starring in the first film, her life began to fall apart. She fought with the director, so her part was minimized in later installments. She was also typecast and was unable to get anything other than damsel in distress roles. In 1990, she was involved in a horrific car accident that left her with severe injuries and temporary paralysis.

Bouts of Mania and Finally Suicide

Since it prevented her from working, she entered a phase of depression and manic episodes. In 1996, she suffered a mental breakdown and even disappeared for several days. She was convinced that her ex-husband was trying to kill her, which is why when she began sleeping outside.

A photo of Kidder at the Academy Awards.
Photo by Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

She cut all her hair off, was assaulted by a homeless man, and finally got sent to the UCLA Medical Center for treatment. Despite it all, Kidder dismissed the notion of a Superman curse. She ultimately took her own life in 2018, at the age of 61. (More on Kidder later on…)

Lee John Quigley: Baby Superman Died at 14

The saddest story linked to the curse (and the only British one) is that of Lee John Quigley. The baby boy was the youngest actor to ever play Superman (he was cast at seven months old as the baby version of Superman in the 1978 movie).

A still of Lee John Quigley as Baby Superman.
Source: YouTube

He was on screen for only a moment, but it was enough for him to fall victim. After the film, Lee’s life was a turbulent roller coaster. He was teased and bullied at school, which led him on a road of drug abuse. In 1991, the drugs took his life, as he “inhaled harmful gas aerosols” and died. He was only 14.

Richard Pryor: Even Minor Characters Were Cursed

Comedian Richard Pryor, who portrayed Gus Gorman in Superman III in 1983, was affected by the curse. Pryor was an established comedian by the time he signed on for the role, and he was known for his battle with substance abuse.

A promotional still of Christopher Reeve and Richard Pryor in Superman.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The movie wasn’t well received and did poorly at the box office. Pryor’s performance particularly got a great deal of criticism. Some fans believe the Superman curse got Pryor as well. In 1986, the comedian/actor announced his illness of Multiple Sclerosis. Sadly, his legendary career came to an end. He battled the disease for decades until his death in 2005 at the age of 65.

Bud Collyer: Cartoon Superman Met His Fate

In 1940, Bud Collyer lent his voice on the radio for the role of Superman in The Adventures of Superman. He also voiced Superman in the first cartoon version, which ran from 1941 to 1943. Collyer then went on to host the game shows, Beat the Clock and To Tell the Truth.

An image from the cartoon version.
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Getty Images

But it was his return to Superman that puts him on this list. In 1966, Collyer came back to the superhero world to voice Superman in The New Adventures of Superman, the cartoon series. This second act in the Superman universe drew the curse’s attention. He discovered he had a circulatory ailment and died suddenly at the age of 61.

Marlon Brando: A Life of Misery After Playing Jor-El

The one and only Marlon Brando played the part of Superman’s father, Jor-El, in 1978’s Superman. Unlike the others on the list, Brando was never typecast, and earned a colossal salary and major roles in films. But Brando lived a miserable life for many years.

A still of Marlon Brando as Jor-El.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

His life spiraled out of control after playing his part in Superman. In 1990, for instance, his son, Christian, shot his half-sister Cheyenne’s boyfriend. At the trial, Brando admitted that he had failed as a father. Christian served five years in prison, and Cheyenne killed herself in 1995. Brando eventually turned into a hermit and stopped appearing in public.

Kate Bosworth: She Blames the Curse for Her Breakup

Some of the actors involved in Superman – and those who feel as though life isn’t going as planned – come to blame the curse for their misfortune. Kate Bosworth is one of them. In 2006, Bosworth portrayed Lois Lane in Superman Returns.

A still of Kate Bosworth in a scene from the film.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

She was in a serious, long-term relationship at the time with Orlando Bloom. However, their relationship suddenly ended during the filming of the movie. Before they finished shooting, Bosworth and Bloom broke up. The actress allegedly blames the Superman curse for the fall of her relationship.

The Superman Returns DVD Crew: A Series of Unfortunate Events

In 2006, Superman made a triumphant return with Superman Returns. The reviews were positive, and people loved Brandon Routh as Clark Kent/Superman and seeing Kate Bosworth and Kevin Spacey on the screen. But the curse extended to the DVD crew.

Kate Bosworth attends an event.
Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

The crew endured a series of unfortunate events. For one, a crew member smashed right into a glass window. Another person fell down a flight of stairs, and someone from the set got mugged. Director Bryan Singer joked about it: “My DVD crew absorbed the curse for us.”

Henry Cavill: Doesn’t Believe in the Curse

Perhaps the curse has only affected those before Henry Cavill. The Superman actor has spoken of the curse and stated that he simply doesn’t believe in it. Part of his reason is that he sees several associated actors are doing well, including Dean Cain, Brandon Routh, and Tom Welling.

Henry Cavill attends an event.
Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty Images

“I honestly don’t believe there’s a curse. There’s bad luck, but I don’t think it’s any curse,” he stated. As for Henry Cavill himself, his career has flourished in both film and television, beyond his role as Superman.

Dean Cain: Nothing’s Happened… Yet

Fans consider Cavill to be the only Superman actor to successfully escape the curse, not be typecast, and – up to this point – not to succumb to some sudden, tragic incident. Others, like Dean Cain, have also not fallen victim to the curse.

A promotional still of Dean Cain as Superman.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

Cain affirmed that nothing bad happened to him after his stint as Superman… but made a point to end his statement with “knock on wood.” He’s made himself a career in television, with guest appearances and recurring roles on numerous shows. He’s also stayed in Superman’s universe, portraying Dr. Curtis Knox in Smallville and the foster father Jeremiah Danvers in Supergirl.

Brandon Routh: Not a Believer

Brandon Routh has seen his career in film and television grow, with roles in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), Dylan Dog (2011) and Chuck (2010 to 2011). He’s also played the DC superhero Ray Palmer/The Atom in Arrowverse, and more.

A promotional poster of Brandon Routh as Superman.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

With appearances in Arrow, Batwoman, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl, it’s clear that Routh isn’t typecast as the Man of Steel. When asked if he was worried about the Superman curse, he said that it could be worse – that he could not be cast as Superman and something awful could still happen to him anyways.

Tom Welling: Pays No Mind to It

Tom Welling has seen success in film and TV, as well as behind the camera. He doesn’t pay attention to the curse and has only shown his gratitude for getting the chance to play Clark Kent. Like Routh, he reprised his role in 2019 for Arrowverse.

A still of Tom Welling in Smallville.
Source: Copyright: The WB Television

While these last few actors pay no mind to such a “curse,” other actors who could have been Superman, do fear the omens. Ashton Kutcher screen tested for Superman, but decided not to accept the role, with the “curse” cited as one of the reasons. Same goes for Josh Hartnett.

The Death of George Reeves

We briefly mentioned the mysterious death of Reeves earlier on, but his story warrants more of an in-depth retelling. Back in 1959, the news of the first Man of Steel being found dead in his own home raised many eyebrows and sparked decades of conspiracy theories.

A promotional still of George Reeves as Superman.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

Everyone wanted to know what really happened. Was it actually suicide? Many people were doubtful, including his mother who said she didn’t believe it for one second. That 45-year-old Reeves could take his own life in his home in Benedict Canyon, California, was just so unlikely.

Was It Suicide or Murder?

Reeves was found dead in his upstairs bedroom with one gunshot wound to his head, leading police to assume it was a suicide. However, unusual circumstances convinced people that the cause of death was in fact murder. Author Lee Saylor, for one, believes spent years investigating, interviewing and researching the story.

A dated portrait of Reeves.
Photo by Warner Bros./Getty Images

Saylor believes he uncovered the truth about Reeves death. “It was suicide,” he stated. But since suicide “isn’t cool,” as he put it, people choose to believe that something more happened. His 2012 novel, Hollywood Murder Mystery, discusses all that surrounded Reeves’ death.

A Wide Range of Suspects

There are numerous bizarre circumstances surrounding his death, like how the police weren’t called for nearly an hour after his body was discovered. There were all kinds of suspects, too, like Reeve’s former mistress, Toni Mannix, the wife of one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, MGM executive Eddie Mannix.

A movie poster of Reeves as Superman.
Photo by Lippert Pictures/Getty Images

Reeves’ fiancé, socialite Leonore Lemmon, was also on the list – a woman who often bragged about her contacts with New York gangsters. There was a hitman on the list as well, who was said to possibly have been hired by Eddie Mannix himself.

He Left Everything to His Mistress

Then there’s the dilemma of finding no gunpowder residue on the actor’s skin at all. There were no fingerprints on the gun, either. As for Reeves’ will, he left his entire estate to his mistress – NOT his fiancée, Lemmon, who was to become his wife just three days after he died.

A photo of Lemmon leaving her home after Reeves’ death.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

It was well-documented that Lemmon, the prime suspect for years following the death, had predicted that night that Reeves would kill himself. Okay, so why did Saylor come to the conclusion that Reeves committed suicide?

Leonore Lemmon Heard Something

According to Saylor, he gathered a lot of information, together with a statement made by Lemmon during a recorded interview. “It was something she said during the interview about the night he died,” Saylor explained. “What she had said, four different times, was ‘I heard something,’ but it was never ‘we heard something.’”

A photo of George Reeves during an event.
Source: Pinterest

He puts emphasis on that one word, which to the author said a lot. It’s known that there were four people in Reeves’ home at the time of his death, so why would it only be Lemmon who heard a gunshot?

Depression, Drinking, and a Bad Fight

Another question Saylor asked was why did Lemmon send one of the guests, Bill Bliss, upstairs to check on the host after hearing the gunshot and not go herself? According to Saylor, it’s because she already knew he was dead. He even goes so far as to say she watched him do it.

A dated portrait of George Reeves.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Based on research and interviews, Reeves and Lemmon had a massive fight earlier that day, and Reeves was already depressed about his career. He was extremely sensitive to begin with and had been drinking heavily that night. It all mixes into one troublesome cocktail.

Right In Front of Her

Saylor’s theory is that during the fight between the soon-to-be husband and wife, Reeves pulled a handgun from the nightstand and shot himself in the head, right in front of her. The other people in the house were Carol Van Ronkel and Robert Condon.

A photo of Reeves’ mother leaving the funeral services for her son.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Van Ronkel and Condon were both drunk and passed out in a downstairs bedroom and didn’t hear anything. Saylor believes Lemmon was in shock and probably feeling guilty for having driven her fiancé to suicide, which is why she headed downstairs and played it cool, expecting more guests to show up (Bliss came over after midnight).

She Didn’t Call the Police for an Hour

Later, when Bliss headed upstairs at Lemmon’s request, he discovered Reeves’ naked body lying across the bed with a gun (9MM Luger) between his feet. It was then that the conspiracies began. Lemmon admitted that she didn’t call the police for at least an hour.

A portrait of Reeves and Lemmon.
Source: Pinterest

Why? Because she wanted to protect Van Ronkel’s marriage, apparently, and that she called two of her girlfriends for help instead. Lemmon reportedly made another phone call that she didn’t admit to: she phoned her ex-lover and New York City attorney, Edward B. Williams.

“Superman Is Dead!”

In Williams’ autobiography, he wrote of this night. He claimed that Lemmon called him in the wee hours of the night and told him, “Superman is dead!” That’s when he told her to “call the police and keep your mouth shut.”

A dated publicity portrait of Reeves in Superman.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

The fact that there wasn’t any gunpowder residue is not too surprising to Saylor. The Handbook of Forensic Pathology shows that gunpowder residue, or tattooing, is only apparent when the weapon doesn’t come in contact with the skin. And Reeves’ wound was confirmed as a direct contact wound.

A Stupid Thing to Say

What about the lack of fingerprints on the gun? Police found the gun was thickly coated in oil, and thus wouldn’t show any fingerprints. Then, there’s the prediction that Lemmon made that her fiancée was going to kill himself that very night.

A promotional portrait of Reeves as Superman.
Photo by LMPC/Getty Images

As far as Lemmon predicting that Reeves was going to kill himself, she brushed it off as an off-the-cuff remark, like “he’s probably going to shoot himself.” She admitted that it was a stupid thing to say. All in all, Saylor concluded that it was indeed suicide.

Superman Killed Him

In an interview with Lemmon, she told Saylor “Superman killed George Reeves,” referring to the “typecasting that has been blamed for his death.” During the six seasons Reeves was on the Adventures of Superman, he received a meager salary and was only paid during productions of the show itself.

A dated image of Reeves wearing his Superman outfit.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Reeves wasn’t able to land a decent paycheck or satisfying work in the industry. About 14 months later, he was gone. Saylor wanted it to be clear in his book that Reeves was a very good man.

He Was a Special Human Being

Reeves took care of his co-workers, friends and family. He cooked Thanksgiving dinners and had them delivered to needy families and donated to struggling churches – none of these acts ever made it to the papers.

A still of Reeves in a scene from Adventures of Superman.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

But it wasn’t about publicity for Reeves; he just wanted to give back. “Long-time fans of George Reeves have said that he was human: he wasn’t a saint,” Saylor wrote in his book. “I disagree. I think he was a saint. George Reeves was a very special human being.”

From Iowa to Hollywood

Reeves was born in 1914 as George Keefer Brewer in Iowa. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother’s second marriage fell apart too. Young Reeves went to school in Pasadena and enjoyed acting, singing, and playing guitar.

A dated portrait of George Reeves.
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

By 1935, he was acting at the Pasadena Community Playhouse, which is where he met Ellanora Needles, whom he married in 1940. Reeves was discovered by casting director Maxwell Arnow and was signed to Warner Bros. Studios, where he received the stage name Reeves. In 1939, the newly renamed actor made his first film appearance as Stuart Tarleton in Gone With the Wind.

His Decade-Long Affair With Toni Mannix

Reeves’ personal life was similar to his mother’s. His first short-lived marriage to Needles ended in 1941. His second marriage never came to be as he died three days before the wedding. The 2006 movie, Hollywoodland (with Ben Affleck as Reeves), explores Reeves’ life and relationships.

A dated picture of Toni Mannix.
Source: Pinterest

The reason people thought Mannix was involved in Reeves’ death was because the actor had a 10-year affair with Toni Lanier Mannix. She was a former Ziegfeld Follies showgirl and was rich and beautiful. She showered Reeves with gifts and even bought him his Benedict Canyon home.

The Angry Ex-Mistress

In 1958, Reeves dumped Toni for a young socialite from New York. Lemmon was a party girl with a reputation as a gold digger and she had a bad temper. Reeves and Lemmon got engaged quickly, and she moved into the house Toni had bought for him.

A dated portrait of Lemmon.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Toni, who was eight years older than him, was devastated and started acting out. Reeves eventually filed a restraining order against the woman. It was reported that: “Reeves himself was convinced it was Mannix behind a string of strange incidents that had befallen him in the aftermath of their breakup.”

Margot Kidder’s Final Years

Margot Kidder dropped out of the Hollywood spotlight pretty early in her career, but she went on to live a productive life, appearing in small films, advocating for mental health, and fighting for political issues. But there was a point in her life when she hit rock bottom. And it eventually caught up with her in the end.

A photo of Margot Kidder during a press conference.
Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic/Getty Images

The actress died at her home in Livingston, Montana, at 69. It was later ruled as a suicide. “I think she had enough of Hollywood,” her longtime friend Frank D’Angelo said.

She Struggled With Bipolar Disorder

D’Angelo added, it’s because in Hollywood, “her motto was, when you turn 30 and if you don’t do stuff with producers — and I’m being cordial here — you’re not going to be in any movies.” Kidder struggled with a bipolar disorder throughout her life, and it was her publicized 1996 manic episode that put her back in the spotlight.

A picture of Margot Kidder attending an event.
Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic/Getty Images

She left her home for days, rendering herself homeless for a brief period. It all added to the decline in her career. Once she got treatment, she got better and devoted the rest of her life to advocating for mental health awareness.

She Was Taken Advantage Of

“She was completely open,” D’Angelo said. “She was homeless, and she didn’t regret that. To her that was an experience.” Being so open got her into some trouble. According to Cara Wilder, actor and co-founder of Bozeman Actors Theatre, Kidder always took in people because she had plenty of room in her house.

A portrait of Margot Kidder as Lois Lane.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

“But she got into trouble because people took advantage of her,” Wilder explained. Kidder wasn’t very careful with her money, apparently. In her final years, she went to fan conventions because they paid her a lot of cash to sign things.

She Would Take Any Role

After her breakdown, Kidder took smaller roles in off-beat projects. “I’m not choosy at all! I’ll do practically anything,” she said in 2008. “I’m the biggest wh*re on the block. I live in a little town in Montana, and you have to drag me out of here to get to L.A., so I’m not readily available.”

A still of Kidder in a scene from Smallville.
Source: Copyright: The WB Television

Her final film was 2017’s The Neighborhood, and year prior she was in The Red Maple Leaf, with James Caan, Kris Kristofferson and Mira Sorvino. “Everybody on the set loved her. Everybody gravitated to her,” D’Angelo said.