River Phoenix was a multitalented American youngster who achieved several accomplishments during his lifetime. He was an actor, singer, songwriter, guitarist, dancer, and indeed a bundle of talents. An early bloomer, Phoenix began his acting career at the age of 10 and achieved the ‘teen idol’ status with his breakout role in the 1986 coming-of-age film Stand by Me.
He received much critical acclaim when he transitioned into adult-oriented roles in films like Running on Empty (1988) and My Own Private Idaho (1991), scoring an Academy Award nomination for the former. Sadly, River Phoenix’s life came to a tragic end in 1993 when he was just 23 years of age.
Biography of River Phoenix
River Phoenix was born River Jude Bottom on August 23, 1970, in Madras, Oregon. His parents Arlyn Dunetz and John Lee Bottom joined a controversial religious movement dubbed ‘Children of God’ as missionaries in 1973. Consequently, the family moved several times and lived in places like Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and several countries in South America. The couple got disenchanted with the group after a long while and eventually returned to the US in the late 1970s. They settled in Micanopy, Florida, and officially changed their last name from “Bottom” to “Phoenix”.
River Phoenix was raised alongside 4 younger siblings; sisters Rain, Liberty, and Summer and a brother named Joaquin. He is said to have not received any form of formal education, however, he learned to play the guitar on his own. Growing up, he often played the guitar and sang with his siblings at street corners where they received food and money from strangers. The family eventually moved to Los Angeles where both parents gained employment with the NBC. While performing in front of a small crowd at a street corner in Westwood Los Angeles, Phoenix and his siblings were discovered by talent agent Iris Burton who offered to represent them all. Afterward, he began to feature in commercials in order to make some quick cash even though his initial passion was music.
Phoenix equally began his acting career making his debut on the TV show Fantasy. By the age of 12, he had become well-skilled in playing the guitar as well as in tap dancing. Both talents earned him a spot on 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 as Wolfgang Müller in the 1985 Sci-Fi film Explorers. The talented actor cemented his status as a bonafide Hollywood star when he starred in the coming-of-age film Stand By Me (1986). His profile as an actor continued to soar throughout the late 80s as he was cast in several feature films.
Phoenix was nominated for an Academy Award 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 got even busier afterward as he appeared in films like the box-office hit 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 close to completion when he died in October 1993. It remained unfinished for almost 2 decades but was eventually completed and released in 2012.
Cause of Death
In the early hours of October 31, 1993, River Phoenix collapsed and died on the sidewalk outside The Viper Room, a nightclub in West Hollywood, California. His sister Rain, brother Joaquin, and then-girlfriend Samantha Mathis were all with him at the time of the tragic incident. Various attempts by paramedics to resuscitate the beloved actor were unsuccessful and he was eventually pronounced dead at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center at 1.51 am.
According to his autopsy report of November 15, 1993, Phoenix’s death was a result of lethal intoxication following 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 were dispersed at his family ranch in Micanopy, Florida.
Other Facts About River Phoenix
Despite his immense success as an actor, River Phoenix remained true to his passion for music. In 1988, he formed the alternative folk/rock band Aleka’s Attic alongside 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 also had several performances, however, they did not release an album. Phoenix continued writing and performing as a solo artist after the group disbanded in 1992.
The star was also very passionate about animal rights and environmental activism. He was a lifelong vegetarian and an eminent spokesperson of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He also championed fund-raising efforts for several environmental and humanitarian organizations.