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 love.

The text on this page © 1994 The Animals Agenda.

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