Real name: River Jude Phoenix
Birthdate: August 23, 1970
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River Jude Phoenix (August 23, 1970 – October 31, 1993) was an Academy Award- and Golden Globe-nominated American film actor. He was listed on John Willis' Screen World, Vol. 38 as one of twelve "promising new actors of 1986", and was hailed as highly talented by such critics as Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. His career was cut short, however, when he died of an overdose of heroin and cocaine on Halloween morning at age 23. He was the older brother of Joaquin Phoenix.
In an interview with Details magazine in November 1991, Phoenix stated that he lost his virginity at age four while in the Children of God. The magazine quotes him as saying "But I've blocked it out... I was completely celibate from 10 to 14". His representatives reportedly pressured him to later recant the comment, claiming it was "a joke". In March 1994, Esquire magazine quoted River as speaking angrily of the cult: "They're disgusting... they're ruining people's lives". After the family left the group and returned to the United States in 1977, they adopted the surname "Phoenix" to reflect their rebirth to a new life.
Phoenix once said in an interview, "I wish sometimes that I wasn't as conscious as I am". Prone to spells of worsening depression and compulsivity, River hinted in interviews at having been abused by the members of the oft-investigated cult to which he had belonged as a small child. Although the details of the alleged mistreatment remain unclear, it has been strongly suggested that the experience played a key role in his descent into substance abuse towards the end of his life (statistically, a common problem among those who have undergone certain forms of childhood abuse trauma).
Because of his untimely death, River Phoenix has been the subject of numerous tributes in song and other media. The band R.E.M. dedicated their album Monster to Phoenix, as did musician Sam Phillips for her album Martinis & Bikinis, which is dedicated with "FOR RIVER." Another band that he was close with during his lifetime, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, wrote the song "Transcending" about him and the last verse in "Give it Away" is also dedicated to him. John Frusciante wrote and dedicated the song "Smile from the streets you hold" to River Phoenix. The second part of the song was added after River's tragic death. Other songs inspired by Phoenix include Grant Lee Buffalo's "Halloween," Natalie Merchant's "River" for her 1995 album Tigerlily, Ellis Paul's song "River," found on his 1994 release Stories, and Rufus Wainwright's "Matinee Idol." Gus Van Sant, with whom Phoenix worked in the film My Own Private Idaho, dedicated his 1998 novel Pink to him. Experimental Santa Cruz filmmaker Cam Archer also produced a documentary/tribute called "Drowning River Phoenix" as part of his USA Fame series. Australian band TISM wrote a song about him, called (He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River. The lyrics I'm on the drug that killed River Phoenix caused controversy and have angered many fans of Phoenix.
Phoenix has also served as the inspiration for several fictional characters. Final Fantasy VIII character designer Tetsuya Nomura has stated that River Phoenix was the influence for Squall Leonhart; both share the same birthday and physical appearance. Akimi Yoshida, the author of Banana Fish, modeled the manga's protagonist (Ash Lynx) after him, as well.