Keanu Reeves is a bona fide superstar and Hollywood icon, but he’s also secretly a generous philanthropist and co-worker. Throughout his career, Reeves has given others money that might have gone into his pocket. He has also generously funded many charitable efforts without openly claiming credit.
Reeves has, again and again, used his star power (and the resulting cash) to amplify the earnings and efforts of others. He has built a successful career for himself, while never losing sight of ways to help others.
He put money back into the Matrix franchise
It’s a toss-up whether the bigger star of the Matrix movies is Reeves or the series’ incredible special effects. To ensure the ongoing high quality of those effects and the participation of the staff behind them, Reeves gave up “points” that normally pay an actor hugely after release of the movie. According to The Wall Street Journal, his contract for The Matrix‘s two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, gave up part of his claim to a share of the profits of these movies so that more money would be available for the special effects and costume departments. Not an outright cash gift, this generous move made a huge amount of money available to the ensuing productions in the popular franchise.
An executive who spoke with The Wall Street Journal commented, “He felt that they were the ones who made the movie and that they should participate.” The money put back into the productions allowed for great staffs and high level creative achievement. Though Reeves’ payday was still significant, the compensation he passed up was in the millions.
He cut his pay to hire others
After he was signed to star in The Devil’s Advocate in 1997, Reeves learned that movie’s budget didn’t allow for hiring Al Pacino. Reeves was eager to work with the acting legend. He took a sizable pay cut so that Pacino could also star.
When the same situation arose in the making of the sports comedy The Replacements in 2000, Reeves again took a large pay cut so he could work with actor Gene Hackman. Later, he enthused about the project to the New York Post, saying, “I got to have some really great acting experiences this past year, like working with Mr. Hackman.”
In both cases, he gave up large portions of his salary so that other actors could come aboard. He explained his generosity to Hello magazine, saying, “Money is the last thing I think about. I could live on what I have already made for the next few centuries.”
He donates time and money to cancer research
Reeves runs a private foundation that benefits cancer research and children’s hospitals. In keeping with his modest approach to his philanthropic life, he told Ladies Home Journal (via Snopes), “I don’t like to attach my name to it, I just let the foundation do what it does.”
One of Reeves’ sisters was diagnosed with a type of leukemia in the ’90s, achieving remission later in that decade. He funds efforts to find treatments and cures for cancers without publicly taking credit for his efforts through his foundation.
Public efforts found him manning the phones at a Stand Up to Cancer telethon in 2008. Stars like Reeves generously gave their time and used their star power to encourage fans to become callers, donors and participants in the efforts to heal cancer. Cancer research is extremely expensive. ABC Anchor Charles Gibson pointed out, “In the long run there’s a public awareness responsibility here that may be more important than the money.”
His goal: healing spinal injury
Reeves has donated to SCORE (Spinal Cord Opportunities for Rehabilitation Endowment), a charity founded after a UCLA hockey player’s spinal cord was injured during a post-season game. According to USAToday (via Scorefund.org), that player, Sean Gios, said, “I was conscious throughout the entire accident so I felt the numbness sweeping up. I knew immediately something was very wrong…. When they straightened out my legs I still felt like they were bent and that’s when I really knew how serious it was.”
Reeves got into the net at a celebrity fundraiser for SCORE, revisiting a one-time dream of playing pro hockey. Reeves, nicknamed “The Wall” (according to an interview with The Globe and Mail) for his impenetrable goal defense in high school, was tasked with stopping pucks from Cuba Gooding Jr., D.B. Sweeney, Alan Thicke, and Rachel Blanchard of Clueless, among others.
He bought his mom a house
What does a great son do after some hefty paydays? He thanks his mother! Reeves told Playboy that one of the changes brought by wealth was that, “I can buy my mom a house.”
Reeves famously lived in a hotel for years, only committing to his own place towards the end of last decade. Describing it to The Daily Mail, he drew a picture of his modern but comfortable residence, “It’s very rectangular with a lot of straight lines, but there’s also a lot of limestone tile. I used stone, glass, steel and wood.”
There’s no word on where his mother’s gifted place is, nor whether it, too, is made with limestone and steel, but one can only hope it contains a guest room for her generous son.
He gifted his stunt crew motorcycles
An oft-repeated story of Reeves’ generosity is that he gave the stunt staff of The Matrix movies Harley-Davidson motorcycles. “We were all in this thing, and we were training together beforehand,” Reeves said in an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “I just wanted… to give a bigger thank-you to all these guys who helped me make this, I think, one of the great movie fights in the history of cinema.”
The definitive stunt sequence on the film was a choreographed martial arts ballet comprised of over 500 separate moves that left Reeves and the stuntmen seeking ice baths for their bruises and strains. The five-minute scene remains a fan favorite.
He has faced his share of rumors
You don’t get to be one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood without some strange rumors coming your way. Reeves was sued by a woman who suggested that he had used hypnosis and impersonated her ex-husband to impregnate her. She sought $3 million in spousal support from the actor, and $150,000 a month, retroactively, in child support. As reported by The Guardian, DNA testing disproved her claims; Reeves was not the father of her four children.
Another rumor was that he had secretly married billionaire mogul David Geffen. No record of the union ever existed, and Reeves shrugged off the fiction as a bizarre facet of fame, telling Empire magazine, “it’s as if [the rumor] exists in another universe that doesn’t have much to do with me.”
He passed on the sequel to Speed
Speed made Reeves a big deal, catapulting him from young actor to certified action star. The bomb-on-a-bus thriller was a huge box office smash. A script was developed for Speed 2, and despite an offer of significant cash, Reeves passed. According to The Wall Street Journal, “He read the script and hated it,” his manager said.
Though this isn’t exactly an example of him generously giving away cash, he did pass on a million-dollar deal to maintain his professional integrity, thereby giving another actor a shot at fame and fortune.
Reeves told Jimmy Kimmel, (via EW), that his thinking at the time was, “It was about a cruise ship and I was like okay, speed cruise ship… not so fast… cruise ship is even slower than a bus.”
Speed 2, with a plot about a hijacked commercial cruise filled with diamond merchants and a copper-poisoned madman, did not outshine the original Speed, critically or at the box office, suggesting that Reeves is a pretty smart script reader.
He’s not all about the money
Despite rocketing to fame, Reeves is uncommonly grounded and not focused on earning. As he told Hollywood.com, “Money doesn’t mean anything to me. I’ve made a lot of money but I want to enjoy life and not stress myself building my bank account.”
Speaking to the New York Post, he summed up his motivation to pursue quality acting rather than big pay, saying “I guess I don’t connect the enjoyment and the money,” he says. “I work on a part and hopefully realize a part, and make good films. Some of the successes I’ve had I’m grateful for, because it creates other opportunities. [The way] I look at it is I get to act again.”
Such unassuming pursuit of acting experiences may be why he has played such a diverse array of roles: a computer hacker in another world, an adolescent goofball, a young doctor, an assassin and a scab quarterback, among others.
Reeves, the motor enthusiast, pays it forward
Motor-sports enthusiast Reeves helms a customer motorcycle company called Arch Motorcycles. The high-end machines are painstakingly built to order in Los Angeles. But the company not only creates the machines, it made one rider’s dreams come true.
Young rider Damian Jigalov was given sponsorship by Reeves’ motorcycle company. Jigalov placed an impressive fifth in one of his first races with his new sponsor, no small feat for a thirteen year old. A press release (via Roadracingworld.com) announcing the sponsorship notes that Reeves and his business partner Gard Hollinger were “immediately drawn” to the talented rider.
Damian posted a thanks to Reeves and Arch Motorcycles on his Facebook page when the deal was inked. Reeves’ support of this biking prodigy is helping the kid racer compete at the world’s highest levels. So far the partnership has been successful, with Jigalov riding well at events throughout the Italian speed circuit.