River Phoenix "If I have some celebrity, I hope I can use it to make a difference. The true social reward is that I can speak my mind and share my thoughts about the environment and civilization itself."- River

Early Years of River

River with his family

River Phoenix had a large impact on the 80's/90's movie scene, his films like Stand By Me are what made him a house hold name. But, he started out just like any other actor in Hollywood or maybe even a little worse. Before the famous name "River Phoenix" would be known worldwide, his name was River Jude Bottom, his name River was chosen in relevance to "the river of life" and his middle name Jude is after The Beatles song Hey Jude; he was born on August 23rd, 1970 in Madras Oregon. He was the first child of 5 to parents Arlyn (Heart) and John Lee Bottom , and was the older brother to Rain, Joaquin (Leaf), Liberty and Summer Bottom. In the late 1970's, the family moved to Florida to join the New Religious Movement or also known as The Children of God, but what the family didn't know is that the church was involved with child rape to which River was a subject of at just age 4 so Arlyn and John relocated their family to California and changed their last name to Phoenix. The family was completely broke so the 5 children would sing on the streets of Los Angeles for spare change, one day when they were singing a talent agent spotted them and saw the talent they all had and decided to represent all the kids. River's first jobs were doing small commercials but then got loads of TV jobs, his first role was in a TV show called Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, then Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia.

How Great Could his Career have Been?

River was one of those actors who wasn't afraid to take chances when it came to his roles, he put a lot of passion into his work and you could tell that when you watched each and every one of his movies. He was a very passionate person and you can see that in his interviews when he talked, he didn't want to speak of himself but of his work. From his early acting days you could tell that he put everything he had into a role to make sure that it was his best and that the audience would fully enjoy the movie. People have said if he hadn't died, his career would've been bigger than actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp.

River Phoenix Filmography

  • Stand By Me (1981)
  • The Mosquito Coast (1986)
  • A Night in The Life of Jimmy Reardon (1988)
  • Dogfight (1991)
  • My Own Private Idaho (1991)
  • The Thing Called Love (1993)
  • Dark Blood (1993)

5 Iconic River Phoenix Roles

1. Chris Chambers

the young tough guy with a soft heart, the movie was focused on the journey of main character Gordie LaChance (Wil Wheaton), but it was River’s portrayal of the iconic character that captured audience’s hearts. The clip shows how heart-felt the character of Chris is when Gordie is putting himself down saying he's "weird" and that he'll "never be a writer"; Chris tells him that he will be and he wishes he wouldn't be so hard on himself.

2. Danny Pope

In the 1988 film Running On Empty, River plays a teenage boy named Danny Pope who is forced to run from his parents past mistakes in the late 1970s when he was just two years old; The story follows Danny and how he begins to break from his parent's fugitive lifestyle. The role got River a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars. In this clip, Danny explains to his girlfriend Lorna that his real name isn't actually Michael and that his parents are the ones who set off the bomb in a Laboratory that paralyzed a janitor and he doesn't know how to live a normal life besides running away from the law.

3. Mike Waters

River played a street hustler with narcolepsy, it follows the story of his character and Keanu Reeves character Scott as they travel around to find Mike’s estranged mother. His performance in the movie is not only powerful but moving. In this scene, It shows Mike coming from a night of hustling and on his way home he meets a guy name Hans who wants Mike to get in the car with him but Mike doesn't want to which puts him into a narcoleptic spell.

4. James Wright

The film follows the musical journey of wannabe country singer Miranda Presley (no relation) who moves from the big apple to Nashville. The Bluebird Cafe holds auditions, she does not get the job as the in house singer but as a waitress. Along the way she makes friends with Linda Lue Linden (Sandra Bullock) and falls in love with bad boy country singer James Wright (River). With this being one of his final movies before his tragic death, River’s performance offered blends of confidence and that he was able to bring a sensitivity to the character. In this clip from the film, you see the characters at the cafe trying to win their spot as the regular act; it then moves to James, Kyle Davidson, Miranda and Linda Lue in the parking lot and you see how River portrays James to be sort of a sly and rude guy when he first meets Miranda.

5. "Boy"

River played the villain in the movie Dark Blood, unfortunately the movie wasn’t able to be finished since River passed away before it’s finish date. But 19 years later in 2012 it was released in a private screening. The film follows his character Boy, who is waiting for the end of the world to come after his wife dies of radiation poisoning then once a stranded couple come along, Buffy and Harry he rescues them but ends up holding them captive because of his desire for Buffy. In this clip, "Boy" has told Buffy and Harry that he would drive them into town so they can leave the desert but his truck has to be fixed first to which he asks for Buffy's help, you can see once she comes over to help that he has attraction for her and is aggressive about it, but once Buffy sees Harry is coming then she makes him stop.

The Death of River Phoenix

It was Halloween night, 1993; River had just finished shooting what would be his final movie Dark Blood and decided to celebrate at Johnny Depp's LA night club called The Viper Room with his sister Rain, brother Joaquin and girlfriend Samantha Mathis. River had started his drug addiction in 1991 on the set of My Own Private Idaho and had struggled from then on. His best friend, Flea who is the bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers had invited River up on stage to play a set with him but when there were to many people performing that night Flea had to cut River from his set which neither wanted. When River heard he was cut from the performance, after being clean for two months he immediately went to find someone who would sell him drugs and was successful; he went into the club bathroom and took the drugs, what he thought was cocaine happened to be a speedball (a cocaine and heroin mixture) which after taking it started to shut his body down. River came out of the bathroom and started saying "too much" multiple times to his siblings and girlfriend, he then started to pass out to which then they took him outside for some fresh air to help him but once he walked out of the club he collapsed onto the pavement. River began convulsing on the street, his sister Rain began giving him mouth to mouth then Joaquin called 911, when Paramedics arrived he still was breathing but had no pulse or heartbeat. At 1:51 am on November 1st 1993, River Phoenix was pronounced dead and on that day the world lost an icon.


As its been almost 25 years since his death in 1993, River left behind a career and legacy that will live on for years and future generations to come. The name "River Phoenix" has become a household name, my parents grew up with his movies and now my generation is growing up knowing him and what an influential person he was, also what an incredibly talented actor he was for the time that the world had him. Even though he wasn't in a lot of films, he had given stunning performances in all of them and is credited by the directors, crew and co-stars for how hard he worked and his passion for the work he did. In the years since his death, his mother Heart Phoenix has since started a charity foundation in his name called the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding; the foundation focuses on addressing the prevention of violence in all forms. Their mission is to carry River's legacy in his work with social justice, animal rights, and environmental rights.

River & Friends

River became close to Flea on the set of My Own Private Idaho in 1991; after River died, Flea wrote a song dedicated to him titled "Transcending".

Keanu Reeves

Created By
Taylor Worth-Mabb

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