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Other documentary review : This Road Will Never End (Channel 4 documentary)

The Last 24

"The last 24" (also airing under the title "The Final 24" depending on channels) is a documentary series produced by Discovery Channel, focusing on the last day of six celebrities who died prematurely. It follows the tracks of a different famous person during their final 24 hours, trying to explain why events took that unexpected turn. Other celebrities featured in that first batch are John Kennedy Jnr, Sid Vicious, Marvin Gaye, John Belushi and Hunter S Thompson.

Warning : the following review may upset some sensitive readers.


The documentary consisted of a montage of scenes from River's last day, re-enacted by actors, intertwined with interviews from real people who had known him.

I was surprised that they had so many people who knew him actually talking in the doc. Until lately, his surroundings shied away from any question about him.

  • George Sluizer, the director of "Dark Blood", the movie that he was shooting when he died and that never got finished.
  • The photography director on the same film - who told again the "incident" that the camera kept rolling after River's ultimate scene while the lights were off, so two days after his death while watching the rushes, they saw him only lit by the candles like in a church, standing there for a few seconds. And were quite spooked by it.
  • William Richert, director of "A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon", who also become a friend afterwards.
  • Matt Ebert, labelled as "a close friend" (...), with whom he did research on street male prostitutes for "Idaho". Apparently, he gave for the documentary some videos he'd recorded of the time, and boy was that creepy...
  • Dirk Drake, former tutor from his arrival in Gainesville at 17.
  • Dickie Rude, who I had never heard of until that, but they say his wife was River's personal assistant at the time, and that they attended the "welcome party" at the Nikko hotel with him, Rain, Joaquin and Samantha. They also say in the doc that one of those three called the couple when River collapsed on the pavement of the Viper Room.
  • And the detective who worked on the case and one of the medics who tried to resurrect him and drove him to hospital.

The re-enactment of scenes with actors was... odd, and added to the fabricated factor. But in a way it helped keeping the distanciation that "this is infotainment, it's Hollywood, we're just here to tell a juicy tale with drama effects, don't take it too seriously!".

Especially as the actor playing River wears the hippie blonde-ish long-hair that River is often associated with, especially for his "wild days".
As I remembered, at this time River's hair was cut very short and dyed in black or dark brown for the movie Dark Blood. 5 min before the end of the documentary, I had confirmation of it when they showed a picture of River with George Sluizer on set.

Some might consider it a detail. I think it says something about the level of accuracy you can expect from the rest of the documentary. In a balance between researched facts and dramatic effects, the latter seems to have won.
On the other hand, they also had a lot of real videos, some previously unseen :

  • some filmed on the sets of "Running on Empty" and "Jimmy Reardon".
  • some filmed during some research done for "My Own Private Idaho" and on set.
  • a video from an Aleka's Attic gig (I know there is one doing the rounds but I can't recall if it's the same).
  • Rehashed snippets from Oscar night etc.
  • And near the end, one of him with his dogs, pretty sweet, from a PETA ad.
They also seem to have picked only the worst pictures of him for still shots. The ones on which he looked stoned or ill, or early ones where he smiled on cue. To support the claims of "intensity" that made his acting so noticeable, it was not very convicing. Did Nancy Ellison (who made his most beautiful portraits) refuse to let them use her photos?

They threw in a theory (supported by the detective) about what happened that night.
River had been "clean" for two months while shooting "Dark Blood", except the last day from George Sluizer's comment on his comatose behavior on set then. All of that has been reported before in other places.
He also stayed clean all night long because he was supposed to jam with Flea on the VR stage.

But (according to them) he threw all caution through the window after Flea told him that he couldn't actually play (too many musicians that night). And had a speedball to drown his frustration / disappointment.

The coroner reported that he had 8x the dose of cocaine considered as lethal in his blood, so for him "Either he didn't know it was pure and he ingested the same amount he was used to, or he took way too much of it". Thank you for pointing the obvious. All these years at the medecine university have paid off...

Matt Ebert's theory (not contradicting this one) is that since River had been clean for a few months, his tolerance level had been "reset" to nearly nothing. While someone who takes drugs every day gets a built-in tolerance that keeps increasing.

They showed a the video taken at Gus Van Sant's house while shooting "Idaho", of Flea and River jamming together, Flea demonstrating some riffs, River trying to play along.
I will forgive a tiny bit to Ebert for the grossness of sharing personal documents like his videos of River, because I had never really seen River playing guitar, so that one was cool.

On the down side, they ran the complete call of Joaquin to the 911.
Half of the documentaries done on River include this recording.
Which may be one reason why there aren't more close friends of River contributing to them. I won't blame them for it.

In conclusion, it's an odd piece, worth watching for the previously unseen material, but unsettling in places, and to take with a grain of salt. Or a whole saltcellar.

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