Stereotypical slacker. Big-screen phenom. Mystery man.
Keanu Reeves has been all of these things -- sometimes all at once. He’s also, without a doubt, a bona fide Hollywood A-lister. But underneath that movie-star status lies a mystery man who, after all the years in the spotlight, is still revealing little bits of himself. Like Bill Murray and Jeff Bridges, Reeves has found himself walking the walk of a legend. But has he taken advantage of this power? Absolutely not. Keanu has always just done things his way.
At 54, Reeves has spent more than half his life in the public eye. That fact alone deserves a spirited, "Whoa!" He's survived multiple career slumps, some heartbreaking loss, and through it all, has managed to maintain an elusiveness -- all while keeping his A-list star status intact.
How did we get here? From his indie-stoner beginnings to the action-hero breakthroughs that made him a household name, here are 20 facts and tidbits that make Keanu just so ... Keanu.
1. A shock-rocking babysitter
During his promo tour for John Wick 2, Keanu stopped by The Tonight Show. Host Jimmy Fallon held up the cover to Alice Cooper's album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare, revealing that the shock-rocker was friends with Reeves’ mother, Patricia, and used to babysit Keanu when he was a toddler.
"I grew up in Toronto … and there was a recording studio, Nimbus 9, and my mother was in costume design,” Reeves said. “She was in rock and roll, and they had friends and he had friends, and Alice Cooper, I'm told, babysat me. I mean I don't know how that could possibly happen, but it did, supposedly."
Reeves admits he's foggy about any memories with the rockstar, but there is one thing he hasn't forgotten. "I remember there was fake poo in the fridge. Like somehow, that connected like that." You know, when you think about it, this all makes complete sense.
2. Hello, Dolly
Having a costume designer for a mother led to some fun dress-up opportunities for Reeves. During a visit to The Talk, the actor revealed that, as a teen, he once went trick-or-treating in the Playboy bunny costume Dolly Parton wore during her famous appearance on the magazine's cover in 1978.
“There was one year, I was in performing arts high school, and Dolly Parton had done the cover of Playboy and so you know she had the bunny [ears]. I wore that for Halloween," he explains. “Thank you Dolly! Yeah, so I was on a streetcar in Toronto in 1983 wearing that,” before adding, “Oh, and stockings!” If only there was a photo to back up this story.
According to Keanu, "There's no evidence."
3. Career goals, on ice
Keanu's teenage years were challenging. His mother moved around a lot, which caused Reeves to bounce around from one school to the next. "It was difficult," he told The Daily Mail. "I went to four different high schools in five years. I was OK academically, good at English and creative writing. I was on the chess team."
He was also quite skilled at being the goalie for his school's ice hockey team. So skilled, in fact, that he was given a nickname, "The Wall." He had his sights set on a professional career in the sport, but an injury forced him to pivot his focus to his other love: acting.
Reeves found himself attending Toronto School for the Performing Arts. But as prestigious as the school was, the actor still faced difficulties. "It was a very small school and I guess I didn’t fit in," he explains. "I had conflicts and run-ins with the staff. The principal and I didn’t see eye to eye. I was one of those 'Why?' kids – I asked too many questions about everything. I couldn’t stop even if it got me into trouble."
Ultimately, the actor ended up getting expelled at 16. "Of course, it wasn’t funny then – it’s a terrible letter to receive, saying you can’t come back to school next year. Getting asked to leave was very upsetting," he said.
According to Macleans, he was one credit shy of graduating.
4. A cool breeze comes to Hollywood
But once he moved to L.A. to chase an acting career full time, Reeves was met with resistance from his representation. It seemed that Keanu, which translates to "cool breeze over the mountains," was just too exotic and difficult to pronounce.
During a 2017 interview, the actor recalled the defining moment, saying he drove to the ocean and pondered other names. The moniker he originally went with: Chuck Spadina. To be clear, that's pronounced "Spuh-dye-nah." It was immediately turned down. That didn't faze him, though, as he had a backup option up his sleeve. It turns out Page Templeton Taylor wasn't a strong fit either. Thankfully, when all was said and done, his agents, and the world, ended up accepting the actor, exotic name and all.
5. The puppy factor
It's been three decades since Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure hit the big screen. Its success led to an animated series, a live-action TV show and a big-screen sequel. Thirty years later Bill and Ted Face the Music is finally in production.
Why is the franchise so beloved? Above everything, it’s the charm of Winter's Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Reeves's Ted Theodore Logan, III. Director Steven Herek told The Hollywood Reporter it all comes down to "the puppy factor."
“I used to tell both Alex and Keanu: ‘I need more Labrador retriever.’ Because I felt that these guys were sort of like lovable Labs. And weirdly enough, they understood what I was talking about.”
6. Indie scene kids
Keanu Reeves found success in the movie biz early on. He ended up making a soulful connection with fellow actor River Phoenix, when they worked together on Lawrence Kasdan's I Love You To Death in 1988. Their performance in the movie also connected with director Gus Van Sant, who was dead-set on having the duo star in a movie he was writing.
My Own Private Idaho was the project. The story, about two male prostitutes, was loosely based on Shakespeare's Henry IV and instantly captured Reeves' interest.
But it took some work to get Phoenix on board. River's agent allegedly wouldn't even show the young actor the script. So, Reeves hopped on his motorcycle -- an early '70s Norton Commando, to be exact -- and drove 1,300 miles from Toronto to Florida, to talk him into signing on. Phoenix agreed and ended up winning Best Actor at 1991's Venice Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Awards and the National Society of Film Critics.
7. Taking Shakespearean risks
Between shooting scenes for his 1995 hit action flick Speed, Reeves indulged in some unexpected hobbies. He was learning lines, all right… but not for the movie he was shooting. Instead, he found peace of mind in reading Hamlet, of all things.
“I finished playing Jack, went into the trailer, and, you know – 'How all occasions do inform against me,/ And spur my dull revenge’,” Reeves said. He was balancing his fast-rising stardom with a creative curiosity that wasn't as accessible to the masses. "There was definitely a yin and yang thing going on.”
Reeves' research paid off. He played the role of Don John in Kenneth Branaugh's big-screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
Then the actor notoriously refused an $11-million-dollar paycheck to return for Speed 2. Reeves recalled to GQ that Fox wasn't happy with his decision, allegedly blacklisting him for nearly a decade. “I didn't work with [Fox] again until The Day the Earth Stood Still," Reeves said. He also refused an offer to star alongside Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino as Chris Shiherlis in Michael Mann's Heat -- the role Val Kilmer ended up playing in the movie.
Why on earth would he make such decisions? To headline a stage production of Hamlet at The Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg, Canada, of course.
8. Rockstar potential
In 1991, as his star was still on the rise, Keanu Reeves formed a grunge band with Robert Mailhouse, an actor he randomly met at a supermarket. The outfit was called Dogstar. Mailhouse played drums and Reeves was on the bass guitar. Over the course of the band's existence, they dropped three official releases: 1996's Quattro Formaggi EP, which was followed by the 1996 album Our Little Visionary and, finally, 1999's Happy Ending.
There's a certain appeal to watching celebrities step out of their lanes. But, even though Reeves' band opened for the likes of Bon Jovi and David Bowie, the actor told GQ they never fully achieved rockstar status for one basic reason: “I guess it would have helped if our band was better.”
9. Unlikely action hero
Believe it or not, Reeves wasn’t the original choice for his now-iconic role in Point Break. When the film was in development, Matthew Broderick was being mulled for the role of Johnny Utah, with Charlie Sheen as Bodhi. To the suits in charge, the very notion of a guy from Bill & Ted playing an F.B.I agent seemed silly. But Reeves eventually got the part, giving audiences a taste of a different Keanu than they were used to.
Part of what made this transition so acceptable was the actor's inherent likability. Reeves has "a charisma that's not manufactured or engineered," said Point Break director Kathryn Bigelow. "There's a purity and an innocence to him that translates--which, coupled with a very strong persona, is a winning combination."
That winning combination also scored big for Fox when another iconic action flick, Speed, premiered. “I always felt Keanu would be perfect after seeing Point Break …. What is nice about him as an action hero is that he’s vulnerable on the screen. He’s not threatening to men because he’s not that bulky, and he looks great to women," director Jan De Bont told EW.
“To me he represented something too young, too cool — hippie," De Bont continued. "He’s represented too much the grunge look for too long. I felt like he had to grow up. In this movie he is really coming of age.”
10. An accidental marriage?!?
Winona Ryder co-starred alongside Keanu Reeves in 1992's Bram Stoker's Dracula, playing Mina Harker to his Jonathan. As the classic horror tale goes, the two characters get married before the mysterious Count hooks her with his vampiric wiles. So, of course, there's a scene in the Francis Ford Coppola movie where the two tie the knot. And according to Ryder, it's quite possible the actors actually became husband and wife on that day.
“We actually got married in Dracula. No, I swear to god I think we’re married in real life,” she revealed to Entertainment Weekly. “In that scene, Francis [Ford Coppola] used a real Romanian priest. “We shot the master and he did the whole thing. So I think we’re married.”
So wait: Is Winona Ryder really Winona Reeves? Not really. It may have been a real priest on set, but the actors' real names were not used in the ceremony. But then again, if the two want to cosplay as the Harkers anytime soon, we'd play along.
11. Chosen... in a parking lot
It's hard to think of Neo in The Matrix and not think of Keanu Reeves. The franchise changed action movies and transformed the actor into a global superstar. But what if we told you that Keanu almost missed out on the role? The Wachowskis first courted Will Smith and Sandra Bullock for the role of "The Chosen One." Neither actor expressed interest, which pivoted the filmmaking duo's attention to Reeves.
During a Reddit AMA promoting the first John Wick movie, Reeves recalled, "The Wachowskis wanted to meet, and they sent me the script, and the script was absolutely amazing.
"We ended up hanging out in a parking lot outside the offices just talking and riffing, and we basically just kinda shook hands - they told me they wanted me to train for four months prior to filming, and I got a big grin on my face and said: Yes.
"That's how it happened."
12. Taking some poetic license
Storytelling is at the heart of acting, but it seems that Reeves likes to tell tales in more ways than one. Back in 2011, the actor teamed with artist Alexandra Grant for a book of poetry, Ode to Happiness. W Magazine referred to it as a "grown-up children's book."
The poem starts off like this:
"I draw a hot sorrow bath. In my despair room, with a misery candle burning, I wash my hair with regret shampoo after cleaning myself with pain soap.
"Then, I put on my alone again silk pajamas and go to sleep. When the hue has gone blue and you can't quite grin and bear it, let this word picture remind you it can always be worse," the poem concludes. It leaves us to wonder if there was much more to 2010's Sad Keanu meme than meets the eye.
In 2016, the two released "Shadows," a poem/art collaboration featured in multiple art shows. Exhibits Los Angeles and Paris gave birth to a new business venture: X Artists' Books, a publishing house.
13. The man behind the camera
In 2013, after five years of production, Reeves released his directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi. The action movie was inspired by the life of Tiger Chen, the personal trainer and stunt man he worked with on all three Matrix movies. While the two would train, Chen would dazzle Reeves with "stories about Chinese tradition, his hometown, martial arts, his training — including a story about his master, whom he said would hold birdseed in his hand, and when a bird would land to eat, he’d collect its chi so it couldn’t fly away."
"He led a very modern life, and yet he carries with him this tradition," Reeves said of Chen.
Reeves didn't just direct the film, either: He played the villain, giving the movie some of that Keanu star clout. The flick got positive feedback when it hit the festival circuit. But its theatrical release lasted just one week, barely breaking $100,000 at the box office.
14. Easy rider
Keanu Reeves loves motorcycles. No, really. He loves motorcycles. So much so, in fact, that he owns his own bike shop. According to GQ, the actor teamed up with a motorcycle designer named Gard Hollinger in 2011 to found Arch Motorcycle Company.
According to Hot Cars, the company came about by a chance encounter and “almost didn’t happen." But it did happen, and the result ended up being "one of the most revolutionary motorcycles anyone has ever seen!"
Reeves is a self-proclaimed bike nerd, so it makes sense he'd be bringing the coolest, most badass custom bikes to the market.
The original Arch motorcycle model is the KRGT-1, which has a going price of $85,000 -- a fancier version of the bike allegedly sells for $120,000. There's a third model in the pipeline, called the Method 143, and according to the company's website, the motorcycle will be limited to 23 units.
15. Shaped by loss
On the night of October 30, 1993, Keanu's close friend, River Phoenix, died of an overdose of heroin and cocaine outside Hollywood's famous Viper Room. It was a loss that still affects Reeves to this day. "We shared an artistic sensibility," the actor told The Irish Times just this year. "River was just so down to earth, spiritual and a unique artist. Yeah, I miss him."
Seven years after Phoenix’s death, Reeves was dealt another blow. His girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, gave birth to their stillborn daughter, whom they named Ava Archer Syme-Reeves. Just a year later, she got into a fatal car accident. According to Paper, on April 2, 2001, Syme was at the home of friend Marilyn Manson.
"Manson noticed she was partied out and had a designated driver take her home," the account reads. "Syme, for whatever reason, was compelled to return to the party. Driving back in her Jeep Cherokee on Cahuenga Boulevard, she hit three parked cars and was flung from the driver's seat. The 28-year-old was pronounced at the scene, around 6:20 a.m."
“When the people you love are gone, you’re alone,” Reeves said in 2006. “I miss being a part of their lives and them being part of mine. I wonder what the present would be like if they were here—what we might have done together. I miss all the great things that will never be."
16. Buddhism adjacent
Keanu Reeves isn't one to broadcast any religious ideologies. But there have been rumblings, ever since the actor starred in 1993's Little Buddha, that he's a Buddhist.
"I started to have books shipped out to me whilst I was doing 'Much Ado About Nothing,' and began reading, practicing posture and sitting," Reeves told I-D in 1993. "The first things I learnt were the four noble truths: suffering, the cause of suffering, the path that leads to suffering, and the sensation of suffering.
“The Buddhists believe in no 'self.' The 'I' -- what we call the 'ego' in the West -- does not exist."
The actor expressed interest in the religion in that interview, and throughout the 26 years since playing Siddhartha in Little Buddha, he has dabbled in some of the religion’s practices. Reeves is featured as a celebrity narrator, alongside Richard Gere, in the 2004 documentary, Discovering Buddhism.
However, in 2013, he denied being a part of the religion, telling The Daily Beast that while he was "supremely spiritual," he hasn't "taken refuge in the dharma."
17. No role is too small
Reeves has shown he's not afraid to take on smaller, more obscure acting gigs. The actor has a small recurring role in the Pop TV series Swedish Dicks, playing "a stuntman turned hit man named Tex." The program is about two private detectives from Sweden trying to make it in Los Angeles. The show stars Peter Stormare, who is not only close friends with Keanu, but co-starred with the actor in 2005's big screen comic book adaptation of Constantine.
Oh, and Reeves added some last minute voice-over narration for the 2016 Key & Peele movie comedy, Keanu. He was the cat, of course.
18. Octavia gives thanks
Keanu Reeves has built up quite a reputation as a good-hearted soul, whether it's giving up his seat on the subway or eating lunch with a homeless man. And in Hollywood, such good samaritans can be hard to come by. In fact, Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer owes a lot to the Matrix actor. Spencer told Meredith Vieira that right after moving to L.A. from Alabama, her car broke down while she was on the way to one of her first auditions.
“No one would help me because my car was so dirty. I had parked my car underneath a tree, so birds were just having a field day all over my car and I never washed," Spencer revealed. "It wasn’t until Keanu Reeves came by. He was on a motorcycle, he had his little motorcycle helmet and sunglasses and I didn’t recognize it was him when he pulled over. And he was like, ‘Hey, do you need some help?'”
Needless to say, she was embarrassed about the whole thing. “I was so mortified. I was like, ‘Oh no, he's gonna touch my car!’. [...] To this day, I go to his movie every opening weekend, whatever he has, because that was a sweet thing to do."
19. Road-trippin' with an A-lister
In March of 2019, Keanu was on a flight to Los Angeles when the plane ended up made an emergency landing in Bakersfield. No one was hurt, but there sure was a bunch of confusion among some of the passengers. Instead of waiting at the airport, Keanu took the reigns and, along with a select group of strangers, hopped in a van to complete the trip -- because they'd get to L.A. quicker that way.
On the road trip, Reeves did his best to entertain his fellow passengers with some Bakersfield facts, and music from his phone.
“That time when your flight out … almost crashes and you have to emergency land in a remote airport but at least Keanu Reeves is having as bad a day as you are,” fellow road-tripper Amir Blum shared on Twitter. “I mean, near death experience followed by fans annoying you for pictures. Doesn’t get much worse.”
20. That part sounds familiar...
Barely a month after John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum hit theaters, Keanu Reeves dropped by E3 2019 to deliver a big surprise. Reeves, who has appeared in a handful of futuristic flicks -- the Matrix trilogy and Johnny Mnemonic come to mind -- is finally adding video game to his resume. The actor will be in Cyberpunk 2077 as non-playable character, Johnny Silverhand, described as a "rockstar turned vigilante." (Hmmmm: Kind of like a bass player-turned-John Wick-style assassin? Sounds familiar.)
Reeves' appearance at the con was a shock to everyone. Xbox head Phil Spencer told Variety that, to keep the appearance a secret, "a stand-in delivered his lines during rehearsals and a codename was used to reference him in conversations."