The Superman curse refers to a series of supposedly related misfortunes that have plagued creative people involved in adaptations of Superman in various media, particularly actors who have played the role of Superman on film and television. The "curse" is frequently associated with George Reeves, who starred in Adventures of Superman on television from 1952 to 1958, and died of a gunshot wound at age 45 under disputed circumstances (officially ruled a suicide); and Christopher Reeve, who played the superhero in four theatrical films from 1978 to 1987, was paralyzed in a 1995 horseback riding accident, and died nine years later at age 52 from a heart attack.
The curse is often invoked whenever misfortune is experienced by actors and other personnel who work on Superman adaptations, so much so that some talent agents cite the curse as the reason for the difficulty in casting actors in the role in live-action feature films.
A more prosaic explanation for the alleged 'curse' is that given the high number of people involved in the many adaptations and treatments of the Superman story over the years, a number of significant misfortunes would inevitably accrue - as they would do in any substantial sampling of random individuals.
The following actors who played Superman have sometimes been cited as victims of the "Superman curse".
Kirk Alyn played Superman in two low-budget 1940s serials but failed to find work afterwards because he was too closely identified with the role, and was relegated to voice-overs, commercials and uncredited screen roles. He later appeared as Lois Lane's father in the 1978 Superman film. Alyn suffered from Alzheimer's disease later in his life and died in 1999 at the age of 88.
Bud Collyer voiced the first Superman cartoon from 1941-43. He went on to enjoy a career in TV, hosting the game show To Tell the Truth. He returned to Superman by voicing The New Adventures of Superman for CBS in 1966. Three years later, he was dead of a circulatory ailment at the age of 61.
George Reeves played Superman in the 1951 film Superman and the Mole Men and the ensuing television series Adventures of Superman. Like Alyn and Reeve, he was too closely associated with the role to find further work. On June 16, 1959, days before he was to be married, Reeves was found dead of a gunshot wound at his home with his Luger near him. The death was ruled a suicide, but controversy surrounds the death, as Reeves's fingerprints were never found on the gun, and he had been having an affair with the wife of MGM exec Eddie Mannix. It was Reeves' death that inspired the conspiracy theories and the urban legend of a curse associated with the character.
Christopher Reeve played Superman/Clark Kent in the Superman film series, Superman: The Movie (1978), Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983), and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). Like Kirk Alyn, Reeve was so closely identified with the character that it was difficult for him to acquire lead parts in other films, and was largely relegated to Superman sequels and supporting roles. The actor was paralyzed from the neck down after being thrown from his horse in a cross-country equestrian riding event on May 27, 1995. Reeve died on October 10, 2004 due to heart failure stemming from his medical condition.
Marlon Brando, who played Jor-El in the 1978 film, is cited due to the misfortune he suffered in his private life, such as his son Christian's shooting of his half-sister Cheyenne's boyfriend in 1990 and subsequent decade-long imprisonment, Brando's own admission in court he had failed his son and daughter, his daughter's 1995 suicide and his later reclusiveness. He died in July 2004, three months before his Superman co-star Christopher Reeve. He would later posthumously "appear", courtesy of stock footage, in 2006's Superman Returns.
Margot Kidder, who played Superman's love interest Lois Lane opposite Christopher Reeve, suffers from intense bipolar disorder. In April 1996, she went missing for several days and was found by police in a paranoid, delusional state. Kidder dismisses the notion of a curse, remarking in a 2002 interview, "That is all newspaper-created rubbish. The idea cracks me up. What about the luck of Superman? When my car crashed this August, if I hadn't hit a telegraph pole after rolling three times, I would have dropped down a 50ft to 60ft ravine. Why don't people focus on that?"
Comedian Richard Pryor, who had previously suffered from a drug addiction that led to a near fatal suicide attempt, starred as villain Gus Gorman in 1983’s Superman III, but later took Superman's side near the end of the movie and became a hero. Three years later, he announced that he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He died of cardiac arrest on December 10, 2005 at the age of 65.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the writer and artist who co-created Superman, sold the rights to their creation to DC Comics for a relatively small amount of money, in contrast to the amount of money the character has generated over the decades. Despite the repeated efforts over the course of the rest of their lives to recover legal ownership of Superman, and a share in the immense profits that the character for DC Comics, DC's copyright on the character was renewed. By the 1950s, Shuster's worsening eyesight prevented him from drawing, and he worked as a deliveryman in order to earn a living. Jerry Robinson claimed Shuster had delivered a package to the DC building, embarrassing the employees. He was summoned to the CEO, given one hundred dollars, and told to buy a new coat and find another job. By 1976, Shuster was almost blind and living in a California nursing home. In 1975, Siegel launched a publicity campaign, in which Shuster participated, protesting DC Comics' treatment of him and Shuster. In the face of a great deal of negative publicity over their handling of the affair (and due to the upcoming Superman movie), DC's parent company Warner Communications reinstated the byline dropped more than thirty years earlier and granted the pair a lifetime pension of $20,000 a year plus health benefits. The first issue with the restored credit was Superman #302 (August 1976). Siegel died in 1996 and Shuster in 1992.
Brothers Max Fleischer and Dave Fleischer who produced the Paramount Superman cartoons began to quarrel with one another and their studio suffered financial disaster. After selling off Paramount Studios, the new owners fired the two brothers. One of them died in poverty.
The curse was invoked after three people involved in the creation of the Superman Returns DVD suffered injuries, one of whom fell down a flight of stairs. Another was mugged and beaten up and a third smashed into a glass window. Director Bryan Singer remarked, "My DVD crew absorbed the curse for us."
Kate Bosworth played Lois Lane in Superman Returns. Although she did not suffer any physical attacks, accidents or illnesses, she lost her romantic relationship with actor Orlando Bloom in 2006, which she blamed on the Superman Curse.
The following actors have portrayed Superman but are not typically associated with the curse.
Dean Cain became a household name in the early to mid-1990s for his portrayal of Superman/Clark Kent in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. He went on to have various roles in shows such as Frasier and Law & Order, as well as made-for-TV movies. He has also made guest appearances in two other Superman-related series: in an episode of Smallville as the villainous Dr. Curtis Knox, and a recurring role in Supergirl as the title character's foster father, Jeremiah Danvers. ABC News correspondent Buck Wolf once commented, "(Cain) has yet to find the right role."
Actor Brandon Routh, who played Superman in the 2006 film Superman Returns, dismisses the notion of the curse. He stated that what occurs to one person or set of people will not necessarily occur to everyone, and that he does not live his life in fear. Routh eventually played recurring character Ray Palmer (The Atom) on other DC Comics-related projects, Arrow and The Flash. (In The Flash, characters even make veiled references to his time as Superman.) He currently stars as Palmer in the spin-off series Legends of Tomorrow.
Bob Holiday played Superman on Broadway in the 1960s musical It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman!. He called the idea of a Superman Curse "silly." He states that "nothing but good" has come from his playing Superman.
Henry Cavill, who plays Superman in the 2013 film Man of Steel and the 2016 sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, has said that he does not believe there is a Superman curse, and that incidents thought to be evidence of it are explained by bad luck.
For the first time since 1947, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's names were back in Superman comics, and listed as the Man of Steel's co-creators.