River Phoenix was an American actor, musician, and animal activist. He was the older brother of Rain Phoenix, Joaquin Phoenix, Liberty Phoenix, and Summer Phoenix.
Phoenix’s work encompassed 24 films and television appearances, and his rise to fame led to his status as a “teen idol”. He began his acting career at age 10, in television commercials. He starred in the science fiction adventure film Explorers (1985) and had his first notable role in 1986’s Stand by Me, a coming-of-age film based on the novella The Body by Stephen King.
Phoenix made a transition into more adult-oriented roles with Running on Empty (since 1988), playing the son of fugitive parents in a well-received performance that earned him a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and My Own Private Idaho (since 1991), playing a gay hustler in search of his estranged mother. For his performance in the latter, Phoenix garnered enormous praise and won a Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival, along with Best Actor from the National Society of Film Critics.
Phoenix was born on August 23, 1970 in Madras, Oregon, the first child of Arlyn Dunetz and John Lee Bottom. Phoenix’s parents named him after the river of life from the Hermann Hesse novel Siddhartha. And he received his middle name from the Beatles’ song “Hey Jude”. In an interview with People, Phoenix described his parents as “hippieish”. His mother was born in New York to Jewish parents whose families had emigrated from Russia and Hungary. His father was a lapsed Catholic from Fontana, California, of English, German, and French ancestry. Since 1968, Phoenix’s mother travelled across the United States. While hitchhiking in California she met John Lee Bottom. They married on September 13, 1969, less than a year after meeting.
1980–1985: Early work
Back in the United States, Arlyn began working as a secretary for an NBC broadcaster and John as an exteriors architect. Talent agent Iris Burton spotted River, Joaquin, and their sisters Summer and Rain singing for spare change in Westwood, Los Angeles, and was so charmed by the family that she soon represented the four siblings.
River started doing commercials for Mitsubishi, Ocean Spray, and Saks Fifth Avenue, and soon afterward he and the other children were signed by casting director Penny Marshall from Paramount Pictures. River and Rain were assigned immediately to a show called Real Kids as warm up performers for the audience.
Since 1980, Phoenix began to fully pursue his work as an actor, making his first appearance on a TV show called Fantasy singing with his sister Rain. Since 1982, River was cast in the short-lived CBS television series, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, in which he starred as the youngest brother, Guthrie McFadden. River arrived at the auditions with his guitar and promptly burst into a convincing Elvis Presley impersonation, charming the show producer. By this age, Phoenix was also an accomplished tap dancer.
Although Phoenix’s movie career was generating most of the income for his family, it has been stated by close friends and relatives that his true passion was music. Phoenix was a singer, songwriter, and an accomplished guitarist. He had begun teaching himself guitar at the age of five and had stated in an interview for E! I fell into commercials for financial reasons and acting became an attractive concept”.
Prior to securing an acting agent, Phoenix and his siblings tried to forge a career in music by playing cover versions on the streets of the Westwood district of LA, often being moved along by police because gathering crowds would obstruct the pavement. From the first fruits of his film success, Phoenix saved $650 to obtain his prized possession, a guitar with which he wrote what he described as “progressive, ethereal folk-rock”.
Phoenix was a dedicated animal rights, environmental and political activist. He was a prominent spokesperson for PETA and won their Humanitarian Award in 1992 for his fund-raising efforts. Moreover, Phoenix was a lifelong vegan. His first girlfriend Martha Plimpton recalled: “Once when we were fifteen, River and I went out for a fancy dinner in Manhattan, and I ordered soft-shell crabs. He left the restaurant and walked around on Park Avenue, crying. I went out and he said, ‘I love you so much, why? … ‘ He had such pain that I was eating an animal, that he hadn’t impressed on me what was right.”
He financially aided a great many environmental and humanitarian organizations, and bought 800 acres (320 ha) of endangered rain-forest in Costa Rica. Further, as well as giving speeches at rallies for various groups. Likewise, Phoenix and his band often played environmental benefits for well-known charities as well as local ones in the Gainesville, Florida area. He campaigned for Bill Clinton in the 1992 US presidential election.
Musician (and future drug counselor) Bob Forrest, a good friend of Phoenix, in his 2013 memoir Running With Monsters. Moreover, gave one of the most detailed accounts of Phoenix’s final days and the moments leading up to his death. Forrest said that in the days leading up to his death. Similarly, Phoenix was staying with Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante. The two would do large amounts of drugs together, embarking on huge binges, and barely if ever slept. He said the drug routine was consistent for all of them, as he was there doing drugs with them. First they would smoke crack or inject cocaine intravenously, then inject heroin.
- Full Name: River Jude Phoenix
- Date of Birth: August 23, 1970
- Birth Place: Madras, Oregon, United States
- Date of Death: October 31, 1993
- Death Place: West Hollywood, California, United States
- Siblings: Joaquin Phoenix, Rain Phoenix, Summer Phoenix, Liberty Phoenix, Jodean Bottom
- TV shows: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Robert Kennedy and His Times
- Cause of death: Combined drug intoxication
- Resting place: Cremated, remains scattered in Micanopy, Florida, U.S.
- Occupation: Actor, musician, activist
- Years active: since 1982–1993
- Parent(s): Arlyn Phoenix, John Lee Bottom
- Relatives: Rain Phoenix (sister), Joaquin Phoenix (brother), Liberty Phoenix (sister), Summer Phoenix (sister)
- Genres: Alternative rock, folk rock
- Instruments: Vocals, guitar
- Associated acts: Aleka’s Attic
CV Read More Robert Covington
Reference River Phoenix