Keanu Reeves is an iconic Canadian-American actor, guitarist, and philanthropist. From his time-traveling in Bill and Ted, playing bass guitar for his band Dogstar, and to his assassination escapades in John Wick, Reeves has had an amazing action-filled career.

Now at 54, the actor has carved out a solid niche for himself in Hollywood, but not without his own dose of grief and heartbreak. The pain of losing his best friend, his first child to stillbirth, and his wife to a fatal car crash nearly 18 years ago hasn’t abated or given him a chance to move on.

What happens when a 45-year-old woman finally meets her 54-year-old teenage crush? She giggles mortifyingly and he “handles the situation effectively.”

Hadley Freeman, writer and reporter for The Guardian, got to sit in an interview last weekend with Reeves to discuss his latest movie, John Wick 3: Parabellum. Hadley admits to being star-struck and dazed at first. The global star had been all gentle and humble, calmly introducing himself, offering her the sofa and sitting on the hotel-room chair. 

Needless to say, Reeves is an iconic man. This new chapter of John Wick, Parabellum, has more violence, action, pomp and heavier play than the first two chapters, and that’s saying something.  His role as John Wick is driven from a passionate place in his heart, since John wick also has to deal with the grief of losing a wife, much like Reeves in real life.

A source of motivation

Reeves opened up to Hadley about the loss of wife affected his journey as John Wick. The plot of the Wick movie is centered on grieving a long lost love, and it doesn’t seem like much of a coincidence that Reeves was casted to play the role. Jennifer Syme and Reeves had baby Ava in 1999, but the angel had been stillborn. The grief of losing the baby took a major toll on the parents and put a strain between them, leading to their breakup in 2000. Syme later died in a fatal car crash in 2001 that claimed her life instantly [1].

“With any character, the way I think about it is, you have the role on the page, you have the vision of the director and you have your life experience,” he says.

Speaking on how his grief came into play with his delivery of the role, Reeves said: “Oh yeah, I thought it was one of the foundations of the role for John Wick. I love his grief. Well, for the character and in life, it’s about the love of the person you’re grieving for, and any time you can keep company with that fire, it is warm. I absolutely relate to that, and I don’t think you ever work through it. Grief and loss, those are things that don’t ever go away. They stay with you.”

He explains that grief doesn’t disappear with age or experience. “I don’t think it’s about getting older. It’s always with you, but like an ebb and flow,”

Loss at an earlier age

When Reeves was 3, his father abandoned the family. At an age when a boy should idolize his father, he sadly got bailed on.

“For sure, I think it’s definitely traumatizing. But it’s hard to know how [it affected me] because I don’t know what the other life would have been, you know what I mean?” he says.

Reeves’ father was later convicted of trading and possession of heroin, in the mid-90s, when Reeves was riding high on fame and stardom. Right around this time, his father reached out to him, for obvious reasons. Reeves said he didn’t follow up on the contact, not because the man was only reaching out for favors, but as he said, “I just didn’t. You need a license to buy a dog, or drive a car. Hell, you need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.”

Reeves has been weighed down by all the periods of grief he’s lived through, but he let them spur him onto greatness beyond his wildest imaginations.

Grief and loss: ever-present emotions

The loss of a loved can be overwhelmingly painful and difficult to overcome. Grief is the aftermath of loss. Losing a loved one creates a vacuum in a person’s heart, and at the initial period, this vacuum could be physically felt, sometimes resulting in actual physical pain, especially when the love a person had for the deceased was strong.

Loss can affect your sense of judgment for a while, your view of life, aspirations, drive and focus, and it can basically tear down a person’s dreams [2].

Loss isn’t always about death. Truly, the strongest feelings of loss culminate from the death of a loved one, and can be worse when the person died painfully and suddenly.

More subtle instances of loss could be losing a job, physical ability, health, transition, leaving a home (especially for kids), losing a partner to breakup or divorce, losing a pet, etc [3]. It could either be sudden or predictable, and predictable loss is usually easier to deal with, though not less painful.

Reeves’ losses had been sudden. He hadn’t planned that his best friend would die of a drug overdose, that his baby Ava would have been stillborn, or that his wife would have died instantly in a car crash. Perhaps the shock of his losses is the reason why he’s had a too-hard time moving on.

Stages of grief

Grief is intense sorrow and the natural response to loss [4]. Grief can be extremely painful and intense, and it’s been generally categorized to progress through 5 stages [5]:

Denial: The defense mechanism that occurs when we’ve first heard a terrible news and are refusing to accept it.

Anger: Intense rage as the reality of the loss sets in. Why you? Why this person? We may usually transfer this aggression to other people or even ourselves.

Bargaining: The “what-if” stage. You find yourself thinking of several ways by which the loss could have been prevented.

Depression: The anger lowers down into gnawing sadness and you spiral into the black hole – crying, mourning, suffering, and regretting.

Acceptance: The sadness doesn’t go away, but you’ll gradually come to terms with what has happened and accept it as your reality.

One may never really get over their grief, but they can overcome the worst of it and break away from the bondage. Everyone deals with grief differently. Some people find solace in talking to their family and friends, while others prefer to keep their thoughts locked in. It’s difficult, but there are certain activities you could engage in to ease the pain, which include:

  • Counselling
  • Exercising
  • Engaging in your hobby
  • Talking to friends and family
  • Volunteering with children
  • Charity
  • Listening to music
  • Spending time outdoors with nature
  • Joining as support group

Most importantly, let yourself walk through the stages of grief. Don’t try to bottle it in and lock it away. Allow it to take a natural course, and the above activities can help to ease the overwhelming pain.

Reeves’ way of dealing with grief

He focused on the greater good. For the first few years, he kept it to himself that he had been funding children’s cancer hospitals, aiding the families of the youngest and most vulnerable kids. Several hospitals across the country has benefited from Reeves’ benevolence.

He opened up about this in a 2009 interview with the Ladies Home Journal [6]. I have a private foundation that’s been running for five or six years, and it helps aid a couple of children’s hospitals and cancer research. I don’t like to attach my name to it, I just let the foundation do what it does.”

Reeves lives a simple life. He’s not big on pomp and extravagance, and the evidence lies in his 2010 viral sad photo. In an interview with Hello! Magazine in 2003, he said [7]: “Money doesn’t mean anything to me. I give lots away and live simply. We all know that good health is much more important.”

Reeves is an icon that would remain in many hearts forever.


  1. Karl, Mardelon. Keanu Reeves’ Life Is More Tragic Than You Think. Cheat Sheet. 15-01-19
  3. Admin. Grief and Loss. University of Texas.
  4. Staff Writer. What is Grief? Mayo Clinic.
  5. Web MD. What Is Normal Grieving, and What Are the Stages of Grief?
  6. Keanu Reeves Has Been Running a Secret Cancer Foundation to Fund Children’s Hospitals. Inspire to Change.
  7. Editor. Keanu Reeves gives £50 million to unsung heroes of ‘The Matrix’. Hello! Magazine. 28-05-2003
  8. Wikipedia. Keanu Reeves.
  9. Wikipedia. Bill and Ted.
  10. Wikipedia. Dogstar (Band).
  11. Wikipedia. John Wick.
  12. Wikipedia. John Wick 3: Parabellum.
  13. Freeman, Hadley. Keanu Reeves: ‘Grief and loss, those things don’t ever go away.’ The Guardian. 18-05-19
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