When we lost him, it’s was my first experience of the loss of an actor my age, whom I grew watching and admiring.
It was heartbreaking.
More so, it was shocking.
I stood in front of the Viper Room, on the spot he collapsed 6 years later as his brother, Joaquin Phoenix, called the police for help.
He was there with his girlfriend at the time, Samantha Mathis, Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers and brother Joaquin.
He was working on his final film in New Mexico I believe earlier that day. The film to this day remains and unreleased and unfinished.
After the news broke, the director of the film looked at the footage from that day and found that after he had yelled cut and wrapped for the day, all cleared the set.
However one camera remained rolling.
River Phoenix stood in front of the camera, All lights on set had been turned off and personnel cleared, and stared directly into it for a few moments, sending chills down the director spine.
He would die that night.
I, like most. first became aware of River from the 1986 Rob Reiner film, Stand By Me.
Quickly, his star rose prominently in Hollywood.
When he starred in Sydney Lumet’s Running On Empty In 1988… he earned himself an Academy Award nomination.
Following, he and close friend, actor Keanu Reeves, were both thrilled at the prospect of working together.
They both decided they would accept the leading roles as male prostitutes in director Gus Van Sant’s controversial film, My Own Private Idaho, together.
Driving down Sunset Boulevard, they were both ecstatic at the prospect of making the film togther…one of two they would make, the latter being I Love You To Death. They were taking the leap into territory that would scare off many actors their age.
When it hit screens, people saw a daring and brilliantly executed performance by Phoenix that would Be associated with his name forever.
It is, in both my opinion and that of many others, the most powerful performance of River Phoenixes short and amazing career.
It would be on this set of this film that River Phoenix first tried heroin.
Like James Dean 30 years before him, he was about to become a legend for all the wrong reasons.
One of the most talented actors of his generation, he would battle that addiction until the night he died.
When speaking of River and the effect it had on dear friend Keanu Reeves, friends of the actor state simply:
”It’s unspoken. It’s understood: you just don’t go there with him. Ever.”
Music was his passion, possibly his first passion from most accounts. The night he died, twenty five years ago tonight, He was now 23 years old and struggling to reestablish himself in Hollywood.
Excited that his band was going to play the Viper room that night he was devastated when he was told they were not going to be able to accommodate his band for the set they had prepared for.
The pain of this rejection sent him into the bathroom where her shot up a speedball.
The dosage was lethal and the effects would begin to take old immediately.
Thinking he needed air, he excused himself and walked outside where he collapsed and began to have violent seizures
The call to police made by Joaquin has since been released. Why, I’ll never forgive.
It is one of the most devastating and heartbreaking moments in the family’s lives.
Why this was released is not a question I ponder, vultures.
Disgust with those that allowed this private and painful moment in Joaquin’s life to be public is fucking disgusting.
I watched one of his final films two days ago, Sneakers, Where he played a juvenile delinquent brilliant computer hacker who is part of a team which included Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd and Sydney Poitier whom he had worked with on the film Little Nikita four years previously.
He was skinny, he was funny, he was now a heroin addict. During promotional tours for the film, He could be seen wearing sunglasses throughout interviews with members of the cast…nodding in and out of consciousness.
The magnitude of this loss to my generation, was the loss of our innocence.
My friend Sean, Brother Sean , from episode 25 of the Voices Film & Television…For Cinephiles Podcast would be the friend to tell me the next night:
“River Phoenix died last night he overdosed at Johnny Depps club “The Viper Room” In Hollywood.”
I yelled out:
And in Sean’s eyes I could tell he felt what I felt as we were both talking about an actor our age who had penetrated our hearts on the film screen and was now suddenly gone.
He was to play Jim Carroll in The Basketball Diaries. This role went to Leo.
He was to play the role of the Interviewer in Interview With The VampirI…this role would go to Christian Slater.
I’m not going to include trailers or photographs today.
I will only include a beautiful tribute song Natalie Merchant recorder a year later for her solo album, Tigerlily.
The poignant song is called: