River Phoenix was a multi-talented American youth who achieved several successes during his life. He was an actor, singer, songwriter, guitarist, dancer, and indeed a bundle of talent. An early bloomer, Phoenix began his acting career at the age of 10 and achieved “teen idol” status with his groundbreaking role in the 1986 coming-of-age film Stand by Me.
He received much critical acclaim when he appeared in adult-oriented roles in films such as Running on Empty (1988) and My Own Private Idaho (1991), for which he received an Oscar nomination. Sadly, River Phoenix’s life came to a tragic end in 1993 when he was just 23 years old.
Biography of River Phoenix
River Phoenix was born on August 23, 1970, in Madras, Oregon, in River Jude Bottom. His parents, Arlyn Dunetz and John Lee Bottom joined a controversial religious movement called “Children of God” in 1973 as missionaries. As a result, the family moved several times and lived in places like Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and several South American countries. After a long time, the couple was disappointed by the group and finally returned to the United States in the late 1970s. They settled in Micanopy, Florida, and officially changed their last name from “Bottom” to “Phoenix”.
River Phoenix grew up with 4 younger siblings; sisters Rain, Liberty, and Summer, and a brother named Joaquin. He is said to have received no formal education but learned to play guitar on his own. During his childhood, he often played the guitar and sang with his siblings on street corners where they received food and money from strangers. The family eventually moved to Los Angeles, where both parents got a job with NBC. During a performance in front of a small crowd on a street corner in Westwood Los Angeles, Phoenix and his siblings were discovered by talent agent Iris Burton, who offered to represent them all. He then began appearing in commercials to make quick money, although his initial passion was music.
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Phoenix also began his acting career with his debut on the television show Fantasy. By the age of 12, he had trained well in both guitar playing and tap dancing. Both talents earned him a place in the cast of the short-lived musical series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1982-83), and he received a Young Artist Award for his performance. He had his first major film role in 1985 as Wolfgang Müller in the Sci-Fi film Explorers. The talented actor cemented his status as a bonafide Hollywood star when he starred in the old-age film Stand By Me (1986). His profile as an actor continued to rise in the late 80s when he was cast in several feature films.
Phoenix was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the supporting character Danny Pope in the highly acclaimed film Running on Empty (1988). His acting career then became even more vibrant as he appeared in films such as the blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), I Love You to Death (1991), My Own Private Idaho (1991), The Thing Called Love (1993) and several others.
Phoenix’s last film Dark Blood was nearing completion when he died in October 1993. It remained unfinished for almost 2 decades but was finally completed and released in 2012.
Cause of Death
In the early morning hours of October 31, 1993, the River Phoenix collapsed and died on the sidewalk outside The Viper Room, a nightclub in West Hollywood, California. His sister Rain, his brother Joaquin and his girlfriend at the time, Samantha Mathis, were all with him at the time of the tragic incident. Various attempts by paramedics to revive the beloved actor were unsuccessful and he was finally pronounced dead at 1:51 a.m. at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
According to his autopsy report of November 15, 1993, Phoenix’s death was the result of fatal poisoning after a drug overdose. He had high concentrations of morphine and cocaine in his blood, in addition to smaller concentrations of other substances. His remains were cremated and his ashes scattered at his family’s ranch in Micanopy, Florida.
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Other Facts About River Phoenix
Despite his immense success as an actor, River Phoenix remained true to his passion for music. In 1988 he founded the alternative folk/rock band Aleka’s Attic together with his sister Rain Phoenix. Other members of the band include Tim Hankins, Josh Greenbaum, Josh McKay, and Sasa Raphael. The band recorded many songs and had several gigs, but never released an album. After the group broke up in 1992, Phoenix continued to write and perform as a solo artist.
The star was also very passionate about animal rights and environmental activism. He was a lifelong vegetarian and an outstanding spokesman for the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He was also involved in fundraising for various environmental and humanitarian organizations.