"I think his legacy is never going to go away," the late actor's son Will Reeve tells PEOPLE
While attending the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation‘s “A Magical Evening” gala on Thursday night in New York City, Will opened up to PEOPLE about how he remembers his parents.
The 27-year-old was just 3 years old when his father, best known for playing Superman, was paralyzed in 1995, and was only 11 when he died in 2004. Two years later, tragedy struck again when his mother Dana died of lung cancer at the young age of 44.
“I think his legacy is never going to go away and think that is a responsibility that I feel, to carry his and my mother’s legacy on for the rest of my life and hopefully beyond that,” Will tells PEOPLE. “I think that the foundation is one way, one tangible way, that his legacy and my mom’s legacy will always live on. And I think the way that I, and my siblings, live our lives is another way. And I think that his impact is felt by the millions of lives that he touched.”
Though Will says many fans will tell him that his dad was their “favorite Superman,” he says they also remember him for his work outside of Hollywood.
“But more than being their favorite Superman, they say, ‘He was one of my favorite people,'” Will explains. “Because he inspired them in ways that had nothing to do with movies.”
“I think that the people who have the most lasting impact on culture are people who made a real difference in the world beyond whatever it is that they were initially known for,” he continued. “And I think that my dad is certainly one of those people … he had an impact on the world well beyond his fleeting fame for being in movies. And I think that he was a change agent in the world, and those are the people who last, and that is why he has lasted.”
Today, Will says he stays connected to his parents through his work with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation alongside his half-siblings Matthew and Alexandra. The foundation is a national nonprofit dedicated to improving quality of life for individuals living with paralysis.
“I think that what my dad and my mom would be so proud of the three of us for, is that we dedicate a lot of time and energy to the Reeve Foundation, but we also dedicate a lot of time and energy to our own lives, and to our own jobs and to our families and to our friends,” he says. “Because what my mom and dad wanted was for us to be our own people, who were fortunate enough to have their guidance as a backbone, as a fundamental driver. So, what would they be happy about? That we are living our own lives in a way that I think would make them proud.”
“It’s a serene empowerment knowing that I have my parent’s values instilled in me,” Will continues. “I am so fortunate to have had my parents, specifically, as my parents … They instilled all the best of themselves, I hope, into me. It’s an honor to try to be like them.”
“I want to be like my parents because they made a real difference in the world,” he says. “They were really important people, I think. And I think that is the way that their legacy has stayed with me. These people mattered. They mattered to the world in a way that is rare and should be celebrated, and I try to celebrate that as much as I can.”
“I love keeping their memory alive,” Will adds. “I love knowing that they matter to other people enough to talk about it.”