DOLLY November 1994


by Santi Pintado

This month marks the anniversary of River Phoenix's tragic death, and judging from the mountains of letters we get here at Dolly, it's obvious that you also remember River. Santi Pintado pays tribute.

On October 31, 1993, a young, brilliant and much-loved Hollywood actor died tragically outside an LA nightclub. River Jude Phoenix was just 23 years old when he collapsed on the pavement outside Johnny Depp's Sunset Strip Viper Room nightclub after a lethal drug cocktail. His sister Rain, his brother Leaf, his girlfriend Samantha Mathis and Red Hot Chili Peppers friend, Flea, were with him at the time.
It's now a year since River's tragic death, and people are still talking about his rising star-his potential and what could have been. With his underground band, Aleka's Attic, upcoming roles in Dark Blood and Interview With The Vampire, River had the world at his feet. What went wrong?
It was after starring in My Own Private Idaho with his buddy, Keanu Reeves, that rumours about River being hooked on drugs began. The media blamed Hollywood for the tragedy, re-hashing stories about Drew Barrymore, Corey Feldman, and the "live fast, die young" cliched cases of John Belushi and James Dean.
A public letter came from River's mother, declaring that her son wasn't a drug addict. The Viper Room was filled with flowers, candles and poems from River's fans, who (unsuccessfully) begged the club's owner, Johnny Depp, to place a star on the pavement in front of the club as a tribute to River.
"I think it's in bad taste and I just want to put this all behind us," Johnny responded at the time-but one thing's for sure, River left his mark on Hollywood and in our hearts.

JOHNNY DEPP (close friend)
"It's a devastating, tragic loss. He was a genuinely good person with a great brain, a good heart, and a promising future. It would be terrible if people judged him because of a fatal mistake. I hope that he's remembered for the contributions he made, not only to film, but also to saving the Earth. From his death, I hope kids understand there's no way to win with drugs."
KEANU REEVES (close friend)
"You can't blame Hollywood for what happened to River, kids are doing drugs everywhere in the world. He had his own very personal problems-I will never discuss them with the press-they're just way too personal. River had a self-destructive side to his personality. He was angry and hurt that he couldn't have a private life once he became famous. He just couldn't deal with having his private life on the front page all the time."
HARRISON FORD (Indiana-Jones and The Last Crusade co-star)
"I loved him as a son and watched him grow into a man of talent, integrity and compassion."
COREY FELDMAN (Stand By Me co-star and good friend)
"He's one of the only actors in Hollywood who defended me through my drug problem. Young people really must learn the lesson that drugs kill."
DIETER BRUMMER (Home and Away actor)
"River Phoenix has left behind a bad example for teenagers. If somebody says drugs are bad, then kills themselves on a cocaine overdose, what else can you think?"
"It scared the hell out of me. We're basically the same age. This town can be very manipulative, baffling, and very, very powerful."
"It's just so tragic. It's difficult in this business making the transition into adulthood, but River Phoenix did it perfectly."
"River wasn't a regular drug user. The excitement and energy of the nightclub were just way beyond the realm of his usual experience and control."

The text on this page & DOLLY November 1994

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