‘River Phoenix’s death has startled and depressed everyone I know, even people who had previously dismissed movie stardom as a form of corporate-induced mass hypnosis. About 72 hours after his fatal collapse, a cynical friend and I happened on a recent television interview in which the earnest young actor was laying out his future plans, and we burst into horrified tears. Weird. That’s what we keep saying: Weird that he’s dead; weird that we care so much. Phoenix seems to have been admired by a whole lot of people in relative secrecy- an artist whose work insinuated itself into viewers’s good graces, no matter how faltering its particular vehicle, nor how initially cold-hearted his audience.
‘To wit: As I write this, Hard Copy, hardly a show known for its moral fortitude, is heaping praise on a paparazzi photographer who couldn’t bring himself to document the actor’s dying convulsions. The word on the streets, even in the gossip columns, had always had Phoenix living a pretty honorable and pristine existence relative to the goings-on of his peers- a poetry-reading, vegetarian, open-minded, Democratic life, free of Shannon Doherty’s creepiness, Judd Nelson’s self-destructiveness, Mickey Rourke’s bombast. Occasionally you’d hear about him standing tensely and unsociably on the fringe of some art gallery opening; S/M performer Bob Flanagan, once a member of the improvisational comedy troupe the Groundlings, remembers Phoenix staggering drunkenly onto the stage during one of their skits. But big deal. He was a kid.
‘Mostly he seemed, if anything, too serious, too incapable of relaxing into a benign mindlessness, even for a minute. In a recent issue of Detour magazine, he positively excoriated many of his fellow actors for being ego-driven, and spoke of wanting to move not just out of L.A., but out of this wretched country entirely. Nonetheless, he did continue to live here, and he did apparently die under the influence of drugs at a trendy local nightspot. So it’s hard to know what to think right now. Death always focuses people, even if the demystification process takes years in some cases. It shouldn’t with Phoenix, since his sincerity and forthrightness have never been in question. Ultimately, barring unforseen revelations, his name, his work, will acquire that particular cult holiness that people naturally create to fill in the blanks around the prematurely taken.
‘Phoenix will be our James Dean, just like so many pundits are predicting. Meanwhile, by default, his fellow “outsider” types like Keanu Reeves, Matt Dillon, et al., are stuck being our Marlon Brando, if they’re lucky. And that’s because actors can’t compete with their fans’ imaginations, and the accomplishments we’ll fantasize for a hypothetical mature Phoenix can’t help but outstrip the potential feats of the bona fide middle-aged Phoenix. Life’s funny, and even a little disgusting, that way. Comparisons between Phoenix and James Dean are lazy, not to mention ubiquitous at this point, though they did share several of the qualities that separate great actors from mere signifiers of glamour. Both were extremely attentive to detail yet seemingly incapable of submerging their actual emotions under an artifical personality.
‘No matter how peripheral Phoenix’s role — the scatterbrained junior hippie in I Love You To Death, the poet/Casanova in The Life and Times of Jimmy Reardon, the loyal, spooked son of Harrison Ford’s megalomaniac in The Mosquito Coast — he was always a little more perceptive and soulful- more real- than anyone else onscreen. Even in as offbeat and dislocated a milieu as the Portland street-hustler scene of My Own Private Idaho, Phoenix’s Mike stood out as unusually lonesome- someone who was afraid of, and simultaneously astonished by, his squalid conditions, who desperately sought affection from others while at the same time avoiding sympathizers like the plague. It was a performance that, like most of Dean’s, seemed to distill the confused melancholy of an emerging generation.
‘Phoenix was the son of hippie parents. He sometimes described his acting style as an attempt to represent how he felt upon trading his family’s blanket humanism for the film industry’s hatred of the unrepentent individual. Actress-performer Ann Magnuson, who co-starred with Phoenix in Jimmy Reardon, once remarked to me with a kind of amazement how solid and unspoiled he seemed even then, in the teen-idol phase of his career. As someone who entered showbiz with her own mixed feelings, she wondered how or even if he’d survive its multifarious forms of corruption. Maybe that very struggle explains why, as he aged, his performances exuded ever more sadness and pointed discomfort. His best recent work found him playing overgrown kids who clung for their lives to youthful notions of a perfect romantic and/or familial love. In a profession that divides its young into marginalized wackos with integrity like Crispin Glover and John Lurie, or hipster sellouts like Christian Slater and Robert Downey, Jr., Phoenix was that once-in-a-decade actor honest enough to connect powerfully with people his own age, and skillful enough to remind members of an older generation of the intensity they’d lost.’ — Dennis Cooper, Spin Magazine, 1993
River Phoenix @ IMDb
‘The Short, Happy Life of River Phoenix’
Rio’s Attic: The River Phoenix Encyclopedia
The River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding
My River Phoenix Collection, a Fanpage
Thew River Phoenix Blog
The River Phoenix Discussion Group
RIVER PHOENIX WAS HERE Documentary Official Website
Book: ‘River Phoenix: A Short Life’
Peter Bogdanovich interviewed about River Phoenix
‘My Love-Hate Relationship with River Phoenix’
The Death of River Phoenix Discussion Forum
River Phoenix Forever, a Spanish Fan Blog
Fuck Yeah River Phoenix
Fuck Year River Phoenix’s Hair
River Phoenix Lovers’ Journal
A Boy Named River Phoenix tumblr
‘A decade without River Phoenix’
‘The Strange Saga of River Phoenix’s Final Film’
River Phoenix hometown tour
Trailer: ‘River Phoenix Was Here’, a documentary
A young River & Joaquin Phoenix in ”Afterschool Special: Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia”
River Phoenix’s Emotional Performance In ‘Surviving: A Family In Crisis’ (1985)
Very young River Phoenix sings ‘Rock Around the Clock’
River Phoenix in ‘Family Ties’
Songs for and by
River Phoenix singing ‘Lone Star State of Mine’
Japanther ‘River Phoenix’ (live)
Aleka’s Attic ‘Where I’d Gone’
Panter ‘River Phoenix’
John Frusciante & River Phoenix ‘Height Down’
A few days before his death, on October 31, in L.A., River Phoenix was interviewed by Premiere Magazine on the set of his last movie, Dark Blood, in Utah. He was 23 years old.
Your movies often contain an important social or political message. Is it a deliberate choice from yours?
River Phoenix: What inspires me first is the quality of the written word and script, and not some strategy. At the time of Mosquito Coast, I didn’t choose my parts yet. I went to a casting and I had the chance to join in such a movie.
Most young actors seem to make more commercial choices than you, is it right?
RP: Maybe some of my movies would have been successful if I hadn’t played in… These commercial stuff, I consider them as a pollution of mind. I don’t want to contaminate my work or my convictions with things that won’t contribute to my growth or to the development of my art.
Generally, how do you deal with a part?
RP: Usually, I write the detailed biography of the character. For me it’s the only possible way. To play a sad scene, many will only for example think of their mother’s death. I consider it’s a mistake for an actor to cross the boundary that separates him from his character. Because then you impose him your own references. That’s why I need to have landmarks that only belong to my character. For example, for My Own Private Idaho I wrote a lot. And once the movie was done, I burned it all.
RP: Everything was on the screen.
Was this also not to use it again?
RP: That’s right, even if, as an actor, I’m growing richer and learning with each character. And a new character will then be able to raise from this compilation of parts.
RP: I’m not eating any animal flesh and I don’t feel having the right to take the soul of any living creature. But the movie character, on his side, belongs to the natural food chain, like Native Americans or Inuit. He’s entitled to live on earth’s natural resources.
Could you describe what you enjoy as an actor?
RP: When you look at the movie history, you realize that there are gaps and missing links. My ultimate goal is to try to give in a competent way a voice to characters who haven’t had the chance to talk yet, those who never expressed themselves so far. Even if I’ve not always been able to do so. For me, the ideal recompense, what really fulfills me, is to create something new. Not only to be original at any cost or to be the first one to do it, but because these blanks need to be filled. Besides, I could play the same character again and again, in a different way each time. As many times as I have atoms in my body.
Are you satisfied with what you’ve achieved at this point in your career?
RP: Honestly, I don’t think this way. I never think of me as an actor. I see all of this as new experiences each time, like as many different lives. As many reincarnations. So when I watch my last movie, I’m unable to judge or to be critical. For me, it’s past, and I don’t feel any connection to it anymore, like if it was somebody else than me that I’m not responsible for. I immersed myself in another life that the character appropriated. He expressed himself through me, not the other way around.
It sounds like you’ve always taken care to separate your private life from your actor’s work.
RP: Absolutely. Quite often, when actors have such a strong charisma in real life, eventually it has to affect the characters they play. For myself I’m not charismatic in that way. I’m not a “performer”. Ideally I would stay mute as River. That’s the reason why, for a long time, I’ve said the opposite of what I really thought. In interviews, I’ve also played to be characters that I wasn’t. I’ve lied and often contradicted myself to dumbfound people. It’s all over now, because I have nothing left to hide. Eventually, I’m quite an ordinary person.
14 of River Phoenix’s 25 roles
Marvin J. Chomsky Robert Kennedy and His Times (1985)
‘Robert Kennedy and His Times is a 1985 American television miniseries directed by Marvin J. Chomsky, based on the 1978 Robert F. Kennedy biography of the same name by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.’ — Wikipedia
River scenes as Robert Kennedy Jr
Joe Dante Explorers (1985)
‘For the children who watched in darkened theaters as Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix flew through space in a tricked out Tilt-A-Whirl carriage, the 1985 coming-of-age adventure “Explorers” was a defining moviegoing experience. The film is about a group of three boys drawn into deep space by media-loving aliens. The family sci-fi film is still beloved by a dedicated, albeit small, group of fans — those who may find it hard to believe that the cult film remains a sore spot with director Joe Dante. “It’s not a movie I revisit much,” the director told TheWrap during a recent interview, citing the film’s bad reviews and abysmal box office performance. Phoenix wasn’t thrilled about playing a geek, Dante recalled. “For him it was always a performance because he was vehemently not that guy,” he told TheWrap. “When a girl would come by he would always take the glasses off.”’ — The Wrap
Rob Reiner Stand by Me (1986)
‘Until Stand By Me, the only film River Phoenix had appeared in had been the teen flick Explorers; he had yet to really make his mark. But in Chris Chambers, he was able to exude that tenderness, vulnerability and understated cool he would eventually become known for. In a particularly heart-wrenching scene, Phoenix sits at the trunk of a tree, the campfire flickering in the foreground, and has a breakdown because he thinks he’s worthless. It was a tough one to get right. Director Rob Reiner asked the actor to think of a time when an adult had let him down. “When someone that you really looked up to, and really loved, wasn’t there for you,” he said. The next take, he got it. Reiner never did find out what Phoenix was thinking about. “He kept crying after that scene and I had to go give him a hug. It is a hard scene to play and then snap out of.”’ — collaged
Peter Weir The Mosquito Coast (1986)
‘The little Foxes are a rosy brood, and Helen Mirren plays archetypal Mother Fox with an eloquent, Meryl Streepish glow. She and the kids — River Phoenix as Charles, Jadrien Steele as Jerry, and kid models Hilary and Rebecca Gordon as the freckly twin girls — form a perfect family tableau. And Conrad Roberts becomes a part of the extended family as the compassionate Creole boatman who ferries the Foxes to their new tropical home. This fantasy family of pliable progeny never challenges Fox’s increasingly dangerous tyranny. Like Fitzcarraldo before him, Fox is transfigured by the tropics, a stranger in a stranger land. Theroux’s theme is handily adopted by Australian director Peter Weir, who works from Paul Shrader’s strange screenplay. Weir, who also directed Ford in Witness, has reworked the theme of cultural alienation time and again in such films as The Last Wave, The Year of Living Dangerously and Picnic at Hanging Rock. Here Weir wrestles with similar notions, but with an uncustomarily comic touch. So Mosquito Coast is stripped of its significance and deteriorates into an epic spoofed.’ — LA Times
William Richert A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (1988)
‘In his first starring performance, Phoenix plays Richert’s alter-ego, a middle-class dreamer in an upper-middle-class suburban world of mansions and country clubs and keeping-up appearances. Goodbye centers on Phoenix’s hapless attempts to scrounge up enough money to travel to Hawaii with blueblood girlfriend Salenger instead of following in his dad’s dispiriting footsteps and attending modest McKinley college in the heart of downtown Chicago. Goodbye belongs to the curious literary subset of fictions concerned with what young men do with their penises. I am, as a rule, not a fan of movies or books about brooding young hunks whose overpowering sexuality renders them irresistible to beautiful women. Yet I found it entirely plausible that every woman Phoenix encounters wants to fuck his brains out. There is a sweetness and a vulnerability to Phoenix’s performance that nicely undercuts the locker-room machismo of a guy making a movie about what a stud he was as a young man. Phoenix makes his character’s serial womanizing—in short order, he lapses into romantic clinches with a coffeehouse pick-up, Baxteresque buddy Matthew Perry’s bitchy girlfriend (Ione Skye), Salenger, and lonely older woman Ann Magnuson—seem like part of a noble search for experience and truth rather than a sleazy bid to score as much tail as possible.’ — Nathan Rabin
Richard Benjamin Little Nikita (1988)
‘Jeffrey Nicolas Grant (River Phoenix), a brash hyperactive high school student lives in a San Diego suburb with his parents, who own a successful garden centre. Keen to fly, he has applied for entry to the Air Force Academy. During a routine background check on Jeff, FBI agent Roy Parmenter (Poitier) finds contradictory information on his parents, making him suspect that all is not as it should be. Further investigations reveal that they may be ‘sleeper’ agents for the Soviet Union with a teenager son, Jeff Nicholas. Unable to arrest them as they haven’t actually done anything yet, Roy continues his investigation, and moves into the house across the street from the Grant family. He warms his way into their confidence.’ — Wikipedia
Sidney Lumet Running On Empty (1988)
‘In Sidney Lumet’s latest movie, Running on Empty, River Phoenix portrays Danny Pope, a. k. a. “Mike Manfield” and several other fictitious names. He is 17, in a state of emotional hibernation, and a mystery to his teachers. Yet he performs Mozart’s Fantasia, K. 497, well enough to move an entrance jury at the Juilliard School of Music to remark, “You are very talented, you know.” The pianism in the movie was the work of local pianist Gar Berke, who coached Phoenix for six months prior to filming. Berke’s rendition of Mozart is slower, more meditative than traditionally performed, but exudes the melancholy desired. While on camera, Phoenix synchronized his fingers with a prerecorded tape of Berke playing. It is an amazing feat by Phoenix, who until Running on Empty never studied piano and yet manages to keep alive the illusion that he’s actually playing for extended periods of time.’ — LA Times
Running on Empty – Interviews: River Phoenix, Christine Lahti, Judd Hirsch
Steven Spielberg Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
‘It was a touch of genius on the part of Steven Spielberg to cast River Phoenix as the young Indiana Jones. The director needed a youthful actor for a clever sequence explaining how our favorite archaeologist got his trademark hat, bullwhip, chin scar, fear of snakes, etc., so he enlisted the 19-year-old Phoenix for the role. The actor was fresh off of Little Nikita and Running on Empty, so it must have been pretty exciting to leap into a beloved adventure series. Mr. Phoenix was quite excellent as the young Indiana Jones, delivering a performance that was half of an homage to Harrison Ford and half just plain ol’ heroic derring-do. It’s a clever and very likable little performance, and one that indicated a little “action hero” potential from the young actor.’ — Scott Weinberg
RP in ‘IJatLC’ documentary
Lawrence Kasdan I Love You to Death (1990)
‘While the action takes us where we might expect — both to the hospital and to jail — its resolution does not. Joey emerges from his ordeal a changed man and refuses to press charges. “Somebody puts a bullet in your brain, it makes you think.” In reaching for a climactic coming-together, the filmmakers seem quite consciously to be reaching for that Moonstruck feeling. But here Kasdan doesn’t show Norman Jewison’s precision-grip sense of timing and structure. I Love You to Death is both pleasing and baffling. It’s a movie oddly out of touch with itself, simultaneously anarchic and flaccid. You can laugh at it, even love some of it, but just as likely, you’ll slip off to a dreamy world all your own.’ — The Washington Post
Nancy Savoca Dogfight (1991)
‘River was an absolute pleasure to work with and to be around. He bought a banged up Volvo wagon (his weekly per diem matched my weekly salary!) and chauffeured all his fellow “Bees” and me around town when we had days off. He picked up dinner tabs and made life at the Warwick hotel amusing and unpredictable. One night he and his younger brother, then known to all of us as Leaf (now Joaquin), showed up with motorized toy speedboats that we proceeded to take down to the hotel pool and put to the test. If my memory serves, Rob Lowe was in the vicinity (jacuzzi), dating – and eventually marrying – our makeup woman at the time. River was thoughtful and sweet, not an ounce of territorial actor neurosis, a rare quality. He was also pure as the driven snow, a quality that scrambles like an ant down a drain in a stiff rain in Tinseltown.’ — Lars Beckerman
Gus Van Sant My Own Private Idaho (1991)
‘It’s been 20 years since River Phoenix’s death, and Gus Van Sant’s 1991 road movie My Own Private Idaho is still almost unbearably sad to watch. It isn’t just that Phoenix’s charisma and promise are on full display, though Idaho ranks alongside Running On Empty and Dogfight among his best roles. It’s the way Van Sant’s script leaves Phoenix in a state of constant vulnerability, like a turtle without its shell. At times, his character’s narcolepsy—in which he suddenly, unpredictably falls into a deep sleep—feels like a narrative contrivance, an ongoing deus ex machina calibrated to pivot the story in whatever direction Van Sant decides to take it. But it’s really more a metaphor for a lonely, loveless drifter who has no defense against a world that can take his money, his heart, and his life. Phoenix and his character aren’t one and the same, but they share an openness and sensitivity that’s keenly felt in My Own Private Idaho. They’re prey for a rapacious world.’ — Scott Tobias
Deleted scenes of River Phoenix in ‘My Own Private Idaho’
Phil Alden Robinson Sneakers (1992)
‘Written and directed by Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams) Sneakers is a slightly dated, yet engrossing and humorous thriller about computers, cryptography, espionage, secrets, deception and betrayal. An industrious person could make the argument that this little-known gem – that came and went from theaters without much fanfare in the fall of 1993 – was a sign of things to come! Five techno savvy guys, led by Redford, who has been wanted by the feds since the early 1970s, are called upon to recover a black box that contains an array of computer chips that allow any computer or program to be cracked. This was one of the last films to feature the unbelievably talented River Phoenix, who died of a drug overdose on October 31, 1993, roughly a month or so after the film was released in theaters.’ — collaged
Peter Bogdanovich The Thing Called Love (1993)
‘In Phoenix’s first scene, it is obvious he’s in trouble. The rest of the movie only confirms it, making The Thing Called Love a painful experience for anyone who remembers him in good health. He looks ill – thin, sallow, listless. His eyes are directed mostly at the ground. He cannot meet the camera, or the eyes of the other actors. It is sometimes difficult to understand his dialogue. Even worse, there is no energy in the dialogue, no conviction that he cares about what he is saying. Some small part of this performance may possibly have been inspired by Phoenix’s desire to emulate James Dean or the young Brando in their slouchy, mumbly acting styles. And maybe that’s how Bogdanovich and his associates reassured themselves as they saw this performance taking shape. After all, Phoenix came to the project as one of the most promising actors of his generation, and perhaps somehow an inner magic would transmit itself to the film. It does not. The world was shocked when Phoenix overdosed, but the people working on this film should not have been. It is notoriously difficult to get addicts to stop their behavior before they have found their personal bottoms, and so perhaps no one could have saved Phoenix, who was not lucky enough to find a higher bottom than death. But this performance in this movie should have been seen by someone as a cry for help.’ — Roger Ebert
Sam Shepard Silent Tongue (1994)
‘Enough with the Rehashing of how River Phoenix, 23, overdosed on cocaine and heroin last Halloween outside the Viper Room, in L.A. Either Phoenix is reduced to another drug casualty for the just-say-no crowd to duck over, or he’s romanticized into pinup martyrdom – a James Dean for the ’90s. Phoenix’s talent and memory deserve better. He was an actor, an uncommonly gifted one. Evidence of that can be found in Silent Tongue, a haunting tale of love, death and shame in the Old West. It is Phoenix’s penultimate performance: The last film he completed, Peter Bogdanovich’s sweet but silly Thing Called Love, went swiftly to video. Silent Tongue, a mesmerizing mess written and directed by Sam Shepard (no acting this time), is a more apt swan song. It shows Phoenix at his ambitious best.’ — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
George Sluizer Dark Blood (2012)
‘Dark Blood is a film directed by George Sluizer, written by Jim Barton, and starring River Phoenix, Judy Davis, and Jonathan Pryce. The film wasn’t completed due to the death of Phoenix shortly before the end of the project and remained unfinished for 19 years. Dark Blood consisted of roughly five weeks of on location shooting in Torrey, Utah and was scheduled to complete three weeks of filming interior scenes in Los Angeles, California on a sound stage. Filming was never completed due to Phoenix’s death on October 31, 1993. Production halted while insurers and financiers tried to determine if the movie could be completed, but with important scenes still needing to be shot the film was abandoned on November 18, 1993. For the 2012 release, these missing scenes were replaced with Sluizer providing narration.’ — collaged
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. When I was a little kid I was seriously crushed out on Ricky Nelson. ** Dominik, Howdy!! That’s what I read: about the inability to run in dreams. If you read through yours, correct me if what I read was wrong. I’m perfectly willing to believe that when I’m asleep my legs want me to be killed. Yeah, it’s weird to be excited about freedom but find it very daunting. Curious to find out, though. I bought a mask finally, so I’m all set. Make the total best your ideally shiny weekend. Ha ha. Dog walking down the street in front of you turns its head, looks up at you, and says, ‘Hi’ love, Dennis. ** _Black_Acrylic, A thing of beauty is a joy forever! That phrase was coined for a very good reason. Hooray, whoop, on you winning the contest! But, oh, shit about the prizelessness. I really need to catch up with ‘Midsommar’ one of these minutes. Happy weekend! ** Joseph, Yes, how about that! The Dischord gift from heaven thing. Just in case folks reading this don’t know, I’ll spread your word(s). Everyone, Joseph passes along just the most excellent news if you don’t know it. Joseph: ‘Dischord records has dumped every release they’ve done onto Bandcamp for free. The sounds of which have been permeating this apartment all day as I do my silly job tasks from home. Perhaps you or anyone else here may have an interest in that. It’s filled with classics as well as very deep “this band existed for like 3 weeks in the summer of 83′ but then got in a fight’ cuts.’ Go find Dischord and get in on that, obviously. Treasures galore! Hm, you’re making ‘The Lucky Star’ seem kind of imperative, and curious to boot. Maybe I’ll go try Shakespeare & Co. on Freedom Day aka Monday if their reopening hits that mark. Wine time. You’d like it here. The French liking their wine is not an old wives’ tale (what a horrible phrase, I can’t believe it just popped out of me). Enjoy! ** No Power Pop aficionados here for me to talk with? That’s sad. Oh well. It’s time for River Phoenix Weekend. See you on Monday.