Born George Keefer Brewster, the actor George Reeves was once best remembered for his role as the title character in the TV series Adventures of Superman. In the modern era, however, he’s remembered more due to the mysterious circumstances of his death in 1959.
Born in 1914, his family moved to Pasadena, California, when he was only 15. While living there, Reeves pursued a variety of interests from playing music to boxing, and, of course, acting.
Reeves would go on to achieve considerable fame in the early 1950s when he took the role of Superman in the aforementioned TV series. Reeves himself didn’t expect the Superman series to become as popular as it did: he assumed it would be relatively obscure, and was astonished at his sudden rise to celebrity status.
Reeves took his newfound position as a role model for children very seriously: according to reports at the time, he abstained from smoking when children were around, and eventually quit altogether to set a better example. He also made numerous public appearances in costume, encouraging kids to stay in school and mind their manners.
George Reeves was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head on June 16, 1959. He was in the upstairs bedroom of his home in Los Angeles. A party was taking place downstairs at the time of his death: his fiancée, Leonore Lemmon, was hosting their friends William Bliss, Carol Van Ronkel, and Robert Condon.
When police arrived on the scene, they found difficulty in getting a coherent story from any of the people present at the house. Reeves allegedly had gone to bed around midnight before being awoken by the arrival of guests to his home. He was in a bad mood, according to the guests, but stayed for a drink before storming back upstairs.
Reeves’ death was officially ruled a suicide, with Lemmon stating that her fiancée was depressed over his inability to find acting roles that weren’t Superman-related. However, some fans of Reeves and some investigators believe that foul play may have been involved in his death.
Three bullets were fired from the gun found at Reeves’ feet, and the shell casing from the bullet that ended his life was found under his body. There were no signs of forced entry into the bedroom, but there was also no gunpowder residue on Reeves’ hands. Moreover, no fingerprints were recovered from the gun.
There was also a considerable delay between when the partygoers heard the gunshot and when they called the police. Some reports hold that Lemmon was upstairs at the time of the shooting, leading some to speculate that she may have shot Reeves herself.
Others theorize that Reeves’ on-again-off-again affair with Toni Mannix, wife of MGM vice president Eddie Mannix, could have enraged the Hollywood bigshot. Mannix allegedly had ties to the Mob, leading to rumors that he ordered a hit on Reeves.
In the end, it’s impossible to know what, exactly, happened that night. We may never know the real explanation behind the tragic death of George Reeves, an actor who wanted more out of life than just playing a superhero, but nevertheless took his status as a role model very seriously.