River Phoenix: A Life and Career Cut Tragically Short

Herbie J Pilato

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As documented on Buzzfeed.com, in the 1980s, "River Phoenix was a rare combination: a teen heartthrob and a deeply talented actor who was expected to become one of the greatest actors of his generation. He made his mark in Stand By Me, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (playing young Indy), and Running on Empty, for which the then 18-year-old earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Academy Awards."

But sadly, as Buzzfeed.com went on to relay, "while Phoenix espoused a clean living lifestyle publicly, he privately struggled with drugs. On Oct. 30, 1993, Phoenix went with his girlfriend Samantha Mathis and siblings Joaquin and Rain to the Hollywood club the Viper Room. While there, Phoenix took drugs and soon collapsed outside. He died later that night at just 23. A toxicology report would find cocaine and morphine in his blood."

"While Phoenix's tragic death meant he would never go on to become a leading actor of his generation, his brother Joaquin would. In 2020, Joaquin, while accepting the Best Actor Academy Award for Joker, paid tribute to his older brother by quoting one of his lyrics. Later in the year, he and his partner Rooney Mara named their first child River."

According to Grunge.com, "Phoenix grew up in the limelight. He appeared in his first film, Explorers, at age 13. He would go on to star in other movies such as My Own Private Idaho; while he was also known for his music and had his own alternative folk/rock band, called Aleka's Attic, which included his little sister, Rain."

As Grunge.com continued to report, "Growing up in the spotlight, Phoenix was outspoken about disliking the idea of being famous, and as his acting career took off, so did his abuse of alcohol and other drugs. While his fans and the general public did not know about his behind-the-scenes drug use, his family and friends recall his frequent binges, according to the book "Running with Monsters," written by Phoenix's good friend, Bob Forrest.

As reported on Biography.com, "Phoenix was born in Madras, Oregon, in 1970. His real name was River Jude Bottom, and his parents were working on a farm when he was born, but they favored a bohemian lifestyle so they frequently moved. Eventually, the family moved to South America, where his parents then served as missionaries for Children of God, a religious organization that People later referred to as a cult. The family sometimes played music on the street to earn some extra money, and that's where River developed the ability to play guitar and sing."

By the late 1970s, and as Grunge.com chronicled, "the family left the Children of God and settled in Florida. There, Phoenix and his siblings started competing in talent shows, which led to them gaining some attention from talent scouts. Soon, they were on their way to California, where River first appeared in commercials before nabbing a role on the short-lived 1982 TV series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Phoenix eventually made his film debut in 1985's Explorers, but it was his role in "Stand By Me" the next year that made him one of the most sought-after young stars in Hollywood."

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA
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