The Animals Agenda, Jan/Feb 1994
Often The Most Sensitive Suffer From A Painful World
By Zoe Weil
River Phoenix, an actor, musician, and animal rights and
environmental activist, died of a drug overdose on October 31,1993. I did
not know River, who was only 23 when he died, but I mourn him. And I mourn
for a world that lost a talented young man who's love for and commitment to
the earth and it's inhabitants was a model for us all.
River's death weighs heavily, not only because it was so tragic,
but also because of the warning it delivered. River had exceptional talent,
the love of a wonderful, devoted family, and friends who shared his
beliefs. He was surrounded by others who loved the earth as he did and who,
like him, felt great sorrow and anger about its destruction. He was neither
isolated in his values nor alone in his activism.
Yet despite the love and success in his life, River was compelled
to take the drugs that killed him. I do not presume to to know why he took
the drugs he did, but I imagine that he - like other successful, loved, and
loving youth - sought to find in drugs escape and solace from a painful
world. Many of us in the animal rights and environmental movements have
friends and acquaintances who have felt such terrible despair that they
turned to drugs for release. They felt the pain inflicted upon other life
so deeply that they longed for relief from their own pain. Young people are
the easiest prey of this despair as they struggle to define themselves and
their values in a world that so often reveals itself to be cruel.
Youth deserve a healthy world, yet they inherit filthy waterways
and oceans, dwindling numbers of species, global warming, acid rain,
nuclear waste, and escalating violence. It is any wonder that the most
sensitive among them - the human rights, animal rights, and environmental
activists - often suffer the most?
Let River be a beacon, then, an inspiration calling those of us
left behind to rededicate ourselves to the ideals for which he was admired.
Let his death remind us to continue to work for a healthy and humane world
where young people can celebrate life and not have to mourn so deeply and
so often. Let his death compel us to help the young people who care most
about the earth. Let his death increase our desire to empower youth to heal
the planet rather than to lose all hope that they can make a difference.
River made a difference each day of his life. I hope his death will
move others to work for a healthier, more compassionate world, so that
young people will not feel drawn to numb themselves against a culture too
cruel to endure, but will, instead, be able to live with joy and peace and
The text on this page © 1994 The Animals Agenda.