River Phoenix died on October 31, 1993, and he has now been gone for more than 23 years. Despite this, the Oscar-nominated actor and rocker continues to loom over Hollywood 29 years after he died from an overdose of cocaine and heroin.
Last week, actor Michael J. Fox recalled Phoenix’s kindness to him while he was filming his 1991 film Doc Hollywood in Florida.
“River Phoenix and his brother [Joaquin Phoenix] had a place there,” Fox explained to People. “He used to come and pick us up and take us to his house for a barbecue. It’s funny because that was an act of kindness built on an act of kindness.
He explained that the two met when Phoenix appeared in an episode of Fox’s hit television show Family Ties in 1985. Phoenix, who was nine years younger than Fox, wowed the cast member, but he was having trouble with a scene.
“So I approached him and asked, ‘What’s the problem?'” “‘I feel like a d,’ he said.” Fox recalled to the publication. ‘You feel like a d?’ I asked. Why?’ ‘I feel goofy, I feel like a d,’ he said. ‘Welcome to the business,’ I said. That’s all. That is the highest level of achievement you will achieve: feeling like a d.’ It’s ridiculous. It’s a stupid profession to have.
We use things we shouldn’t use, eat things we shouldn’t eat, and stand in a place because the light is better there, and it’s all goofy, but if you stick with it, you can find a way to tell a story that other people can’t.”
Fox believed that Phoenix’s later hospitality was payment for his advice.
‘It always seems to be the most talented guys who fail.’
In his new memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, Matthew Perry reflected on Phoenix, his co-star in the 1988 film A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon.
“River was a better actor than I was, but I was more amusing. But I certainly held my own in our scenes, which was no small feat in retrospect “Perry, who was born a year before the Stand by Me star, wrote “But, more importantly, River simply saw the world differently than we all did, and that made him fascinating, charismatic, and, yes, beautiful, but not in a Gap ad kinda way (though he was that, too) — in a there-is-no-one-else-in-the-world kinda way.”
Perry controversially added, and later apologised for doing so: “It always seems to be the most talented players who fail. Why do original thinkers like River Phoenix and Heath Ledger die while Keanu Reeves lives on?”
Despite Perry’s claim that he “selected a random name,” Reeves was familiar with Phoenix, having co-starred in the critically acclaimed 1991 drama My Own Private Idaho. In a November 2021 interview, Reeves was nearly moved to tears while discussing his late friend. It’s still “weird speaking about him in the past,” according to Reeves.
On the day that would have been Phoenix’s 52nd birthday, Aug. 23, 2022, his actress sister, Rain Phoenix, wished him a happy birthday with a quote from poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau: “On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfil the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.”
And Phoenix’s name has been mentioned several times over the years. Phoenix’s death affected Ethan Hawke, who co-starred with him in the 1985 film Explorers, Hawke’s first, in November 2020, according to the Guardian.
“He was the brightest light, and this industry chewed him up, and that taught me a valuable lesson,” Hawke said. “If I had to pick one reason why I never moved to Los Angeles, it would be that I believe it is too dangerous for an actor like me to be in that kind of climate.”
ASamantha Mathis, Phoenix’s co-star in that year’s The Thing Called Love and his real-life girlfriend at the time of his death, speculated on what he would do if he lived.
“I think if River were still alive, he’d be acting, directing, saving the environment, just living and hanging out,” she told People in October 2018. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
Among the many other occasions when Phoenix was remembered was in February 2020, when his younger brother, Joaquin, who has credited River with putting him on the acting path and was notably the person who dialled 9-1-1 on the night his brother died, accepted the best actor Oscar for his performance in the film Joker.
“When my brother was 17, he wrote the line, ‘Run to the rescue with love, and peace will follow.'” Joaquin made an emotional statement in a rare public comment at 1:10 in the video below. The audience applauded.