The death of River Phoenix: How his career was cut short
The tragic death of River Phoenix: As his mother pays tribute on what would have been his 53rd birthday – how his career was cut short by an overdose outside Johnny Depp’s nightclub
- The actor tragically died on October 31, 1993 after a drug overcose outside the Viper Room nightclub
- READ MORE: Friend reveals River Phoenix’s harrowing final minutes
River Phoenix’s death sent shockwaves through Hollywood, after the promising actor’s career was suddenly cut short by a devastating overdose.
The actor’s mother shared a moving tribute to her son on Thursday on what would have been his 53rd birthday.
In her post, Arlyn ‘Heart’ Phoenix wrote her son is ‘still alive in her’ despite his death, and described his birth as ‘one of the most amazing days of her life.’
Famed for his acting talent and good looks, River’s star had been on the rise before he died on October 31 1993, following a battle with drug addiction.
He famously collapsed outside Johnny Depp’s nightclub Viper Room in Los Angeles after a drug overdose at the age of just 23.
Tragedy: River Phoenix’s death sent shockwaves through Hollywood, after the promising actor’s career was suddenly cut short by a devastating overdose
Sad: The actor’s mother shared a moving tribute to her son on Thursday on what would have been his 53rd birthday (pictured together in 1988)
While pals knew that River had been using drugs, his death still came as a huge shock, especially after he’d stayed sober for two months while working on the film Dark Blood in Utah and New Mexico.
Upon returning to Los Angeles, River returned to using drugs and went on a ‘massive’ binge of cocaine and heroin, which culminated in his death outside Viper Room.
The venue became a hotspot for Hollywood names despite its dingy appearance, with stars able to let their hair down away from prying eyes, but its title was forever tarnished in the wake of River’s death.
On the night of his death, a bouncer had escorted Phoenix outside the nightclub — where he suddenly collapsed dropped to the ground.
River’s girlfriend, the actress Samantha Mathis, and his younger brother, actor Joaquin Phoenix, were among those present at the time of his death.
While his loved ones quickly dialled 911, it was too late to save him.
Mathis previously told The Guardian: ‘I knew something was wrong [the night that River died], something I didn’t understand.
‘I didn’t see anyone doing drugs but he was high in a way that made me feel uncomfortable — I was in way over my head. Forty-five minutes later, he was dead.’
Sad: River famously collapsed outside Johnny Depp’s nightclub Viper Room in Los Angeles after a drug overdose at the age of just 23
Sad death: The venue became a hotspot for Hollywood names despite its dingy appearance, with stars able to let their hair down away from prying eyes
Lauded: During the late River’s 11-year acting career (which spanned from 1982-1993), he starred in numerous films, including Stand By Me
The 2018 interview with The Guardian marked the first time that Mathis publicly spoke out about her then-boyfriend’s passing. The couple, who worked together on the film The Thing Called Love, had been together for a year until River’s untimely death on Halloween 1993.
Prior to his relationship with Mathis, River was previously in a relationship from February 1986 to June 1989 with Emmy-winning actress Martha Plimpton, whom he met in 1985 during production of the 1986 film The Mosquito Coast. River and Martha would later work together again in the 1988 film Running on Empty.
During the late River’s 11-year acting career (which spanned from 1982-1993), he starred in numerous films, including The 1985 film The Explorers, The 1986 classic Stand By Me, the 1988 film Running on Empty, the 1989 film Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, and the 1991 film My Private Idaho, to name a few.
He also overcame a difficult childhood which saw his parents join the Children Of God cult, a group which later become infamous for sexual abuse.
River’s performance in Running on Empty earned him his first only Oscar nomination, which came in the Best Supporting Actor category (He lost the Oscar to Kevin Kline for Kline’s performance in the movie A Fish Called Wanda).
As of the 2023 Oscars ceremony, the late actor is the sixth-youngest person to ever be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (River was 18-years-old when he was nominated.
At the time of his death in 1993, River was survived by his mother Heart, his father John (passed away in 2015) and four younger siblings (listed from oldest to youngest): sister Rain, brother Joaquin, sister Liberty, and sister Summer.
River and his younger brother Joaquin hold the distinction of being the only pair of brothers to be nominated for an Academy Award in the acting categories.
The Phoenix brothers have a tight bond as Joaquin paid tribute to his late brother in his acceptance speech when he won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in the 2019 film Joker at the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony in 2020.
‘When he was 17, my brother [River] wrote this lyric. He said: ‘run to the rescue with love and peace will follow,’ Joaquin said, while fighting back tears, in his acceptance speech.
Birthday Tribute: On what would have been his 53rd birthday, Heart shared an emotional tribute to her son, writing he is ‘still alive in her’
The Phoenix Brothers: River (behind) and Joaquin (in front) hold the distinction of being the only pair of brothers to ever be nominated for an Academy Award in the acting categories
River at The Oscars: Although his acting career lasted only 11 years, River earned an Oscar Nomination for Running on Empty (pictured with then-girlfriend Martha Plimpton in 1989)
Joaquin wins the Oscar: River’s brother Joaquin paid tribute to him in his acceptance speech when he won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in the 2019 film Joker
On what would have been his 53rd birthday, Heart shared an emotional tribute to her son, writing: ‘August 23, 1970…one of the most amazing days of my life…bringing Earthbound a living being…truly a touch of the most sacred.
‘Just as he tried to do with most people, River Jude embraced each of his siblings (who entered through the same portal after him) with his humor, wisdom, authenticity, talent, compassion, vulnerability and undying Love. I would say he was and still is our greatest teacher.
‘The greatest pain I experienced in my life was the pain of natural childbirth and even tho quite different, the pain of my son’s passing.
‘But almost instantaneously on both occasions, the gifts that he brought were imbued in each of us and so we carry on celebrating his life for those 23 precious years.’
‘There are no guarantees in life and I don’t believe any of us were promised that we would not experience ‘tragic moments’.
‘I count it one of the greatest blessings by living in the moment and drawing upon inner knowing as a sacred pathway to navigate through life’s many challenges. River’s life and death taught me that, in no uncertain terms.
‘I am in awe of the fact that he is very much alive in me. Thank you for all the precious messages that I have received through these past 30 years.’
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