SHORT HILLS, N.J. - Dana Reeve, who won worldwide admiration for her devotion to her "Superman" husband, Christopher Reeve, through his decade of near-total paralysis, has died of lung cancer at the age of 44. Reeve, a singer-actress who gave up some of her own career to be one of the nation's best-known caregivers, died late Monday at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Medical Center, said Kathy Lewis, president of the Christopher Reeve Foundation.
Reeve had succeeded her husband as chair of the foundation, which funded research into spinal-cord paralysis cures. She announced in August that, while she wasn't a smoker, she had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Lewis visited Reeve in the hospital Friday and said Reeve was "tired but with her typical sense of humor and smile, always trying to make other people feel good, her characteristic personality."
"She was a woman with an incredible heart who really put herself out there to help people with disabilities and especially those who are caregivers - something she knew a lot about," Lewis said.
Four months ago, at a fundraising gala for the foundation, Reeve looked healthy in a long, formal gown and said she was responding well to treatment and her tumor was shrinking.
"I'm beating the odds and defying every statistic the doctors can throw at me," Reeve said then. "My prognosis looks better all the time."
Asked how she kept her spirits up, Reeve said she "had a great model."
"I was married to a man who never gave up," she said.
Christopher Reeve, star of Hollywood's "Superman" movies, became an activist for spinal cord research after a horse-riding accident paralyzed him in 1995. He died Oct. 10, 2004.
Dana Reeve was a constant companion and supporter of her husband during his long ordeal and his work for a cure for spinal cord injuries.
The couple had a 13-year-old son, Will, and Dana Reeve had two grown stepchildren, Matthew and Alexandra.
Reeve, who lived in Pound Ridge, had appeared on Broadway, off-Broadway and regional stages and on the TV shows "Law & Order," "Oz," and "All My Children."
She was on the board of the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts, where she met Christopher Reeve doing summer theater, and the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.
A year ago, she won a Mother of the Year award from the American Cancer Society. A society vice president, Dr. Michael Thun, said Reeve "has shown strength and courage in the face of tremendous adversity." Doctors say 1 in 5 women diagnosed with the disease never lit a cigarette.
In addition to her son and step-children, she is survived by her father, Dr. Charles Morosini, and sisters Deborah Morosini and Adrienne Morosini Heilman.
No funeral plans were announced. The family said donations could be made in Dana Reeve's memory to the Christopher Reeve Foundation in Short Hills, N.J.