California

The death of Superman

June 16, 1959
Los Angeles, California
Actor George Reeves is killed, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound

Reeves had appeared in many movies during his career, but is best remembered for the titular role in the television serial The Adventures of Superman. He reluctantly took the role, as television at the time was considered greatly inferior to cinema, and feared he would be typecast. It seems his fears were valid; in the two years between the ending of The Adventures of Superman and his death, Reeves held no other roles.

On the night of June 16, Reeves was at home sleeping when his fiancé Leonore Lemmon brought several friends over to continue a night of revelries. Reeves came down, irritated at the noise. He drank with his guests for a while, then angrily returned to his bedroom. Lemmon, as reported by the Sarasota Journal (June 17, 1959), “blurted: ‘He’s going to shoot himself.’ A noise was heard upstairs. She continued, inexplicably: ‘He’s opening a drawer to get the gun.’ A shot was heard, ‘See there — I told you!’”

Reeves was found naked, face up on his bed, his feet on the floor, with a gunshot wound to his head. The group did not immediately call police. They explained later it was due to a mixture of shock, intoxication, and the late hour. The death was ruled a suicide, and no investigational procedures — such as checking Reeves’ hand for gunshot residue — were performed.

Several theories have been proposed over the decades, attempting to explain the death. Some assert Reeves was murdered, either by Lemmon, a friend who was angered after Reeves insulted his wife, or a jealous ex-lover. Others claim the death was genuinely suicide, citing depression from a lack of work or to escape the pain left after a recent near-fatal car accident. Another suggests Reeves was the victim of a hit orchestrated by the mafia.

The movie Hollywoodland staring Ben Affleck is loosely based on the events and presents three of the most probable scenarios for the shooting: accidental, a mob hit, and suicide.

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