Teen Magazine, April 1994 v38 n4 p82(2)

Remembering River

Actor River Phoenix died outside a Hollywood nightclub on Oct 31, 1993 of a massive drug overdose. Phoenix's short but memorable acting career included roles in such films as 'Stand By Me' and 'The Mosquito Coast.' He was an Oscar best supporting actor nominee for his role in 'Running on Empty.'

Born in a log cabin in Oregon and named for the river of life in the Hermann Hesse novel Siddhartha. Died outside the Viper Room, Johnny Depp's trendy West Hollywood nightclub, in the wee hours of Halloween.

With his hair cut short and dyed dark for the filming of Dark Blood, which he'd been working on that very day, River was hardly noticed by passersby as he went into convulsions outside the club. His life expired on a curb, the result of a massive drug overdose. The tragic truth is that this guy was a flame that glowed in the dark and that should not have been snuffed out so soon and so suddenly, especially not by drugs. The thought that ripples through everyone's mind: What a waste. River once said, "Drugs aren't just done by bad guys and sleaze bags. It's a universal disease." His death proves drugs aren't even worth considering. Even now, months later, the letters continue to pour in to 'TEEN, proving that River's thousands of fans are still very much feeling the loss of an awesome talent and a very giving life.

Always musically inclined, River wanted to record a solo album at 10 to showcase his abilities on lead guitar, bass and keyboards. That being too difficult at the time, he decided to break into show biz by becoming an actor and was quickly signed by a commercial agent.

A 1985: Stand By Me was River's first big film break. Even at 15, said Rob Reiner, the film's director, there was something special inside River "that his parents are responsible for. He's obviously been loved quite a bit."

B 1986: The Mosquito Coast. Cast as the son of an eccentric scientist (played by Harrison Ford), River spent several months on location in exotic Belize. As Ford said after River's death, "He always stood for something." Indeed, River said it best himself: "My family doesn't waste the world's resources," he stated. "We eat what we grow. We don't exploit animals. We use up less than our share of electricity and power. We have solar heating. We aren't materialistic."

C 1988: For his role of the son in a fugitive family in Running On Empty, River was nominated for an Oscar !R^ for Best Supporting Actor, thus being recognized as one of the most excellent talents of his generation. After his death, Running On Empty director Sidney Lumet remembered him with these words: "You saw this purity, this incandescence in him. He had the face of a fawn or some magical forest creature."

D 1989: River discusses his role as the young Indiana Jones with director Stephen Spielberg in the action adventure Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, starring Harrison Ford.

E 1991: Playing against type, River portrayed a Marine who falls for a homely girl and learns a thing or two about love in Dogfight.

River was a self-admitted quick-change artist. "I have a lot of chameleon qualities," he once said. "I get very absorbed in my surroundings." This may be a clue to his untimely demise. Some time earlier, he told a reporter that working on The Mosquito Coast had a powerful impact on him. "It was the first time I really escaped from myself and became another character," he said. "I have to be careful what movies I take on..." because, of course, that ability to become part of his surroundings had its dark side. To get an idea of what the mean street life was like for his role in My Own Private Idaho, River hung with real-life street kids and heroin users. He absorbed it all. In the film River played a narcoleptic drug addict, and the movie both begins and ends with scenes of him drugged out and suffering convulsions. An eerie foreshadowing. Once, in one of his rare interviews, River told a reporter, "I could die tomorrow, and the world would go on!" Well, it does. The only thing is, there's a bright light missing and somehow things are just a little dimmer now.

The text on this page © 1994 Petersen Publishing Company

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