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A Profile of River Phoenix

Updated on March 7, 2015

River Phoenix is held in high acclaim and is considered to be one of the best actors of his generation. He was a devoted environmentalist and animal-rights activist. A talented musician, along with his sister Rain Phoenix, they both sang and wrote songs for his band Aleka’s Attic. Although a child star from a young age, he tragically died at the age of just twenty-three.


River Jude Bottom was on born in Oregon, America, on August 23, 1970, the oldest of five children. His father John was a carpenter and his mother Arlyn was a secretary in the Bronx, New York. In 1968, his parents met in California while working as fruit pickers. At the age of two, his family moved to South America and joined the Children of God, a religious cult. Growing up he would play the guitar and sing with his sister, Rain Phoenix, on the streets of Venezuela while his family would be handing out leaflets. In 1977, his parents felt disillusioned with the cult and decided to leave, returning to America they settled in Los Angeles.

With the encouragement from his parents, Phoenix started acting professionally on television. In 1982, he landed his first acting role in the television series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Although the show ran for one series, Phoenix made another brief appearance on television programs and starred in Surviving a film made for television. In 1985, he played a very young inventor in the film The Explorers his debut film; the following year he starred in the box office hit Stand By Me. His acting in the film won him rave reviews, in just a few years Phoenix had become a child star in films. In the same year, he also acted in Mosquito Coast, playing Harrison Ford‘s son in the film. In 1988, he played the son of a 1960’s radical in the film Running On Empty, receiving an Academy award for best supporting actor. The same year he was with Little Nikita, landing a role in the film as a high school student.

He made a brief appearance playing a young Indiana Jones, in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Branching out into comedy films he starred in I Love You To Death, in which helps a scorned wife seek revenge on her husband. In 1991, he again received rave reviews for his outstanding performance as a male prostitute in the film My Own Private Idaho. The same year he also starred in Dogfight, playing an American marine drafted into Vietnam. In 1992, acting alongside an all-star cast of Hollywood actors, Phoenix played a supporting role in the film Sneakers. In 1994, his last completed film Western Silent Tongue was released.

Although an environmentalist and strict vegetarian from a very young age, Phoenix was a drug user. In 1993, director George Sluizer had given him an acting role in the film Dark Blood, during the filming Phoenix hadn’t been using any cocaine. Waking up one morning before arriving at the film studios, he started taking cocaine once again. Film crews were surprised to see the once energetic actor, turn up lethargic and withdrawn from everyone else around him. After a day filming, he arrived with his girlfriend, Samantha Mathis, and Joaquin Phoenix, his brother and sister at Johnny Depp’s nightclub, the Viper room. In the evening that followed Phoenix was taking even more drugs, feeling ill, he went outside the nightclub. Seconds later he collapsed on the pavement and started having seizures. Panicking his brother telephoned for an ambulance while his sister helped him as he lay on the pavement. When the paramedics arrived, they failed to resuscitate Phoenix, he was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. 31 October 1993, Phoenix was pronounced dead on arrival at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Family, friends and fans around the world were shocked at his death of the young actor. After a memorial service, his ashes were scattered on his family’s ranch in Florida.

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