Reeves is best known for his acting career, beginning in 1985 and spanning more than three decades. He gained fame for his starring role performances in several blockbuster films including comedies from the Bill and Ted franchise (1989–1991); action thrillers Point Break (1991), Speed (1994), and the John Wick franchise; psychological thriller The Devil's Advocate (1997); supernatural thriller Constantine (2005); and science fiction/action series The Matrix (1999–2003). He has also appeared in dramatic films such as Dangerous Liaisons (1988), My Own Private Idaho (1991), and Little Buddha (1993), as well as the romantic horror Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992).
Since becoming active in the film industry, Reeves has earned critical acclaim. One New York Times critic praised Reeves' versatility, saying that he "displays considerable discipline and range... he moves easily between the buttoned-down demeanor that suits a police procedural story and the loose-jointed manner of his comic roles". However, Reeves has spent much of his later career being typecast. A recurring character arc in many roles he has portrayed is one of saving the world, as can be seen in the characters of Ted Logan, Buddha, Neo, Johnny Mnemonic, John Constantine, and Klaatu. His acting has garnered several awards, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
During his film career, Reeves has engaged in several forms of artistic expression. Active as a musician for over a decade, he played bass guitar for the bands Dogstar and Becky. Acting onstage, he performed as Prince Hamlet for the Manitoba Theatre Centre's production of Hamlet. He wrote the text for a picture book, Ode to Happiness, illustrated by Alexandra Grant. He has also produced a documentary, Side by Side, and directed the martial arts film Man of Tai Chi.
Keanu Charles Reeves was born in Beirut, Lebanon on September 2, 1964, the son of Patricia (née Taylor), an English costume designer and performer from Essex, and Samuel Nowlin Reeves, Jr., an American man from Hawaii. His father is of Chinese, English, Native Hawaiian, and Portuguese ancestry. Reeves has said, "My grandmother is Chinese and Hawaiian so I was around Chinese art, furniture, and cuisine when I was growing up." He has also spoken of his English ancestry, mentioning happily watching British comedy shows such as The Two Ronnies during his childhood, and how his mother imparted English manners that he has maintained into adulthood. Reeves' mother was working in Beirut when she met his father.
Reeves' father earned his GED while imprisoned in Hawaii for selling heroin at Hilo International Airport. He abandoned his wife and family when Reeves was three years old, but Reeves knew him until he was six. They last met on the island of Kauai when Reeves was 13. Reeves moved around the world frequently as a child, and lived with various stepfathers. After his parents divorced in 1966, his mother became a costume designer and moved the family to Sydney, and then to New York City, where she married Paul Aaron, a Broadway and Hollywood director, in 1970. The couple moved to Toronto and divorced in 1971. When Reeves was 15, he worked as a production assistant on Aaron's films. Reeves' mother then married Robert Miller, a rock music promoter, in 1976; the couple divorced in 1980. She subsequently married her fourth husband, a hairdresser named Jack Bond. The marriage ended in 1994. Grandparents and nannies babysat Reeves and his sisters, and Reeves grew up primarily in the Yorkville neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario.
Within five years, Reeves attended four high schools, including the Etobicoke School of the Arts, from which he was expelled. Reeves stated he was expelled because he was "just a little too rambunctious and shot [his] mouth off once too often... [he] was not generally the most well-oiled machine in the school". Reeves excelled more in sports than in academics, as his educational development was challenged by dyslexia. He was a successful ice hockey goalie at one of his high schools (De La Salle College "Oaklands"), and earned the nickname "The Wall". Reeves dreamed of playing hockey for Canada but an injury ended his hopes for a hockey career. After leaving De La Salle College, he attended Avondale Secondary Alternative School, which allowed him to obtain an education while working as an actor. He later dropped out and did not obtain a high school diploma.
Reeves began his acting career at the age of nine, appearing in a theatre production of Damn Yankees. At 15, he played Mercutio in a stage production of Romeo and Juliet at the Leah Posluns Theatre. Reeves dropped out of high school when he was 17. He obtained a green card through his American stepfather and moved to Los Angeles three years later. He lived with his ex-stepfather, Paul Aaron, who was a stage and television director. Reeves made his screen acting debut in an episode of Hangin' In. In the early 1980s, he appeared in commercials (including one for Coca-Cola), short films including the NFB drama One Step Away and stage work such as Brad Fraser's cult hit Wolfboy in Toronto. In 1984, he was a correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation TV youth program Going Great.
His first studio movie appearance was Youngblood (1986) in which he played a Québécois goalie. Shortly after the movie's release, Reeves drove to Los Angeles in his 1969 Volvo. His stepfather had convinced Erwin Stoff in advance to be Reeves's manager and agent. Stoff has remained Reeves's manager, and has co-produced many of his films.
After a few minor roles, Reeves received a sizeable role in the 1986 drama film River's Edge, which depicted how a murder affected a group of teens. Following this film's critical success, he spent the late 1980s appearing in a number of movies aimed at teenage audiences, including Permanent Record, and the unexpectedly successful 1989 comedy, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, along with its 1991 sequel, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey.
From 1991, Reeves played bass guitar in the grunge band Dogstar. During the early 1990s, Reeves started to break out of his teen-film period. He appeared in high-budget action films like Point Break, for which he won MTV's "Most Desirable Male" award in 1992. He was involved in various lower-budget independent films, including the well-received 1991 film, My Own Private Idaho with River Phoenix. In 1992, he played Jonathan Harker in the Francis Ford Coppola-directed blockbuster Bram Stoker's Dracula.
In 1994, Reeves's career reached a new high as a result of his starring role in the action film Speed. His casting in the film was controversial, since, except for Point Break, he was primarily known for comedies and indie dramas. He had never been the sole headliner on a film. The summer action film had a fairly large budget and was helmed by novice cinematographer-turned-director Jan de Bont.
Reeves's career choices after Speed were eclectic: despite his successes, Reeves continued to accept supporting roles and appear in experimental films. He scored a hit with a romantic lead role in A Walk in the Clouds. He made news by refusing to take part in Speed 2: Cruise Control – despite the offered $11 million paycheck, which would have been his largest to date – in favour of touring with his band and playing the title role in a 1995 Manitoba Theatre Centre production of Hamlet in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Of his performance, Roger Lewis, the Sunday Times theatre critic, wrote, "He quite embodied the innocence, the splendid fury, the animal grace of the leaps and bounds, the emotional violence, that form the Prince of Denmark ... He is one of the top three Hamlets I have seen, for a simple reason: he is Hamlet."
However, Reeves's choices after A Walk in the Clouds failed with critics and audiences. Big-budget films such as the sci-fi action film Johnny Mnemonic and the action-thriller Chain Reaction were critically panned and failed at the box office, while indie films like Feeling Minnesota were also critical failures. Reeves finally started to climb out of his career low after starring in the horror-drama The Devil's Advocate alongside Al Pacino and Charlize Theron. Reeves took a paycut of $1 million for The Devil's Advocate so that Pacino would be cast, and later took a 90 per cent paycut for the less successful The Replacements to guarantee the casting of Gene Hackman. The Devil's Advocate did well at the box office and garnered good reviews.
The 1999 science fiction-action hit The Matrix, a film in which Reeves had a starring role, was a box office success and attracted positive reviews.
In between the first Matrix film and its sequels, Reeves received positive reviews for his portrayal of an abusive husband in The Gift. Aside from The Gift, Reeves appeared in several films that received mostly negative reviews and unimpressive box office grosses, including The Watcher, Sweet November, and The Replacements. However, the two Matrix sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, along with Something's Gotta Give and the 2005 horror-action film, Constantine, were box office successes and brought Reeves back into the public spotlight. Reeves performed with the band Becky for a year, but quit in 2005, citing his lack of interest in a serious music career.
In early 2005, Reeves' accomplishments in Hollywood were recognized by the Hollywood Walk of Fame with a star located at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.
His appearance in A Scanner Darkly (2006), based on the dystopian science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick, received favourable reviews, and The Lake House, his romantic outing with Sandra Bullock, was a success at the box office. He went on to play the lead character in two 2008 films, Street Kings and The Day the Earth Stood Still. In February 2009 he starred in director Rebecca Miller's film The Private Life of Pippa Lee, which premiered at Berlinale.
Beginning in 2008, Reeves began pre-production on his directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi. The film is a multilingual narrative, partly inspired by the life of his friend, stuntman Tiger Chen. Filming occurred on mainland China and Hong Kong. During Man of Tai Chi's five years of scripting and production, Reeves acted in several B movies with lead roles as Henry in 2010's Henry's Crime and John in 2012's Generation Um.... During that time, Reeves also played Kai in the critically panned 47 Ronin. Critics widely attribute the film's poor performance to its direction, pacing, focus on special effects, and editing.
In 2011, he returned to other artistic mediums of expression. Having played music earlier in his career, he forayed into literature by writing the text for a "grown-up picture book" entitled Ode to Happiness. The text was complemented by Alexandra Grant's illustrations. In 2011, he produced the documentary Side by Side about the supplanting of photo-chemical film by digital camera technology; Reeves interviewed several celebrated directors including James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, and Christopher Nolan.
Reeves's first directorial film, Man of Tai Chi, premiered in 2013 with showings at the Beijing Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival. The work was awarded in Beijing and praised by recognized director of action genre films, John Woo.
Reeves has continued acting while exploring other forms of artistry. In October 2014, he played the title role in the action thriller John Wick. The film, which stars Reeves as a retired hitman, opened to positive reviews and performed well at the box office. He reprised the role in John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), which was also well received. In 2016, Reeves appeared in the horror thriller The Neon Demon and the dystopian romance The Bad Batch.
Reeves had a cameo in the Jordan Peele/Keegan-Michael Key action comedy Keanu where he voiced the eponymous kitten. Keanu director Peter Atencio revealed that the filmmakers had contacted Reeves' management about Reeves appearing in the film, who declined on his behalf. When Reeves' sister showed him the trailer, Reeves contacted the filmmakers directly about appearing in the film. As the film had been mostly completed, they decided to have a scene where he voices the kitten.
In January 2009, it was announced that Reeves would star in the live-action film adaptation of the anime series Cowboy Bebop, initially slated for release in 2011. Because of budgeting problems, the script was sent for a rewrite, and the project's status is currently unknown.
In April 2011, Reeves referenced that a third instalment of the Bill & Ted series was possible. He further elaborated on the film in December 2013 during a taping of NBC's The Today Show. "I'm open to the idea of that...I think it's pretty surreal, playing 'Bill & Ted' at 50. But we have a good story in that. You can see the life and joy in those characters, and I think the world can always use some life and joy."
Reeves has been linked to the maritime romance The Modern Ocean.
Reeves is entitled to British citizenship through his English mother. He holds Canadian citizenship by naturalization. He grew up as a Canadian and identifies as such, and holds an American green card. Reeves' biological father was born in the United States but Reeves required a green card because he was not eligible to claim automatic citizenship by birth abroad to one United States citizen.
In January 2000, Reeves's girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, gave birth eight months into her pregnancy to Ava Archer Syme-Reeves, who was stillborn. The strain put on their relationship by their grief resulted in Reeves and Syme's breakup several weeks later. On April 2, 2001, Syme was driving alone on Los Angeles' Cahuenga Boulevard when she sideswiped three parked cars, rolled over several times and was thrown from the car. Authorities believed she died instantly. She reportedly was being treated for depression and taking two prescription drugs, which police found in her car. Reeves, who was scheduled to begin shooting back-to-back Matrix sequels during the subsequent spring, sought "peace and time to deal with this", according to his friend Bret Domrose, a guitarist in Reeves's alternative rock band Dogstar.
Reeves has been described as atheist and as having interest in Buddhism. He has previously said he is non-religious and not a Buddhist, but has mentioned an interest in Buddhism when studying for certain film roles. In September 2013, when asked if he was a spiritual person, he replied with: "I don't know? I don't know the spiritual Richter-scale measurement! That's a weird answer, isn't it? I don't know. Do I believe in God, faith, inner faith, the self, passion, and things? Yes, of course! I'm very spiritual ... Supremely spiritual ... Bountifully spiritual ... Supremely bountiful. [Laughs.]"
In 2010, an image of Reeves became an internet meme after photos of him, seemingly depressed while sitting on a park bench eating alone, were posted to a 4chan forum. The images were soon distributed via several blogs and news sites. These pictures led to the "Keanu is Sad" or "Sad Keanu" meme being spread on internet forums. An unofficial holiday was created when a Facebook fan page declared June 15 as "Cheer-up Keanu Day". On the first anniversary of "Cheer-up Keanu Day", Reeves was interviewed for an article in the British newspaper the Guardian.
In 2008, Reeves was sued in Los Angeles Superior Court by paparazzo Alison Silva. The unsuccessful $711,974 suit claimed Reeves allegedly hit and injured Silva with a Porsche concluding a family visit at a Los Angeles medical facility. The lawsuit took a year and a half to make it to trial, during which time Silva continued to attack Reeves and demand payment. At the trial, all 12 jurors rejected the suit, needing only an hour of deliberation to reach their verdict.
In 2014, two stalkers trespassed upon Reeves' Hollywood Hills home. On September 12, 2014, Reeves awoke and found a female stalker in his library, who told him that she was there to meet him. While Reeves calmly talked to her, he called 9-1-1 and alerted the police. They arrived, arrested her and took her in for psychological evaluation. Three days later, a second female stalker made her way into his home through a gate that was left unlocked by a cleaning company. The intruder undressed and took a shower in Reeves' bathroom and then proceeded to swim naked in his swimming pool. The cleaning crew became suspicious and alerted Reeves, who was not at home. He then notified the police and the stalker was remanded.
Reeves set up a cancer charity, choosing not to attach his name to the organization; he has also supported PETA, the SickKids Foundation and Stand Up To Cancer. His sister Kim has battled leukemia for more than a decade.
Reeves is quoted as saying "Money is the last thing I think about. I could live on what I have already made for the next few centuries." It has been reported that Reeves gave approximately US$80 million of his US$114 million earnings of The Matrix sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, to the special effects and makeup staff. The story has been denied by special effects staff themselves as an urban legend. The story likely had its roots in a back-end deal Reeves made with the producers of The Matrix Reloaded relinquishing his contractual right to a percentage of the earnings from the ticket sales. Reeves reportedly did so to allow producers the flexibility for an extensive special effects budget. The value of Reeves' foregone share of the ticket profits has been estimated as US$38 million, which was added to the overall movie budget, rather than going directly to special effects.
Reeves co-founded a production company, Company Films. The company helped produce Henry's Crime, a film in which Reeves stars.
An avid motorcyclist, he co-founded Arch Motorcycle Company. The business builds and sells custom motorcycles.