Born: August 23, 1970
Died: Halloween, October 31, 1993
Phoenix was a dedicated animal-rights activist, an environmentalist and a die-hard vegan—he wore no leather and cared so much about the diminishing rain forest that he bought acres and acres of it in Costa Rica to save it from development.
But by the time Phoenix had co-starred in hits such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
, he was changed. Moody and restless, he had all but abandoned acting, moved back to Florida to be near his family and, with his sister Rain, formed the rock band Aleka’s Attic. But through it all, he always insisted that he believed in clean living: “I don’t see any point or any good in drugs that are as disruptive as cocaine. I never tried heroin. I tried alcohol and most of the others when I was 15, and got it out of the way—finished with the stuff.”
Yeah right. And Marilyn was a real blonde.
Come 1993, Phoenix was back in Los Angeles, working on the film Dark Blood
and set to begin filming the long-awaited big-screen version of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire
. On the evening of October 30, Phoenix went to The Viper Room, a nightclub on Sunset Blvd. owned by Johnny Depp. A few minutes before 1 a.m., River had been in the bathroom doing drugs.
Someone offered him a snort of high-grade Persian Brown; the actor immediately began trembling and shaking. He screamed and vomited. Someone gave him a Valium. The actor staggered over to his girlfriend, actress Samantha Mathis, and his sister Rain, complaining that he couldn’t breathe before briefly passing out. Going outside for air, he collapsed on the sidewalk and began having seizures. A paparazzo called 911; so did River’s brother Joaquin. Rain emerged from the club and threw herself on her brother in an attempt to stop the seizures. His last words? “No paparazzi. I want anonymity.”
Paramedics rushed Phoenix to Cedars Sinai Medical Center. His skin was dark blue, but he was still alive. Emergency Room doctors tried to revive him—they even inserted a pacemaker—but it was too late. It was Halloween but this was no trick. River Phoenix was pronounced dead at 1:51 a.m. He was 23 years old.
The autopsy showed that River was riddled with drugs—lethal levels of cocaine and heroin, Valium, marijuana and crystal meth. The official cause of death: “acute multiple drug ingestion.”
Only 60 mourners showed up at the funeral home for the viewing. At his mother’s request, the actor’s shoulder-length hair was cut and placed beside him in his casket. (His blonde tresses had been dyed black for the film on which he was working.) He was dressed in a black T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of his band. His mother also placed a single carnation in the coffin; as the mourners passed his coffin, many placed notes and necklaces in the casket. A reporter broke into the funeral home and took a picture of Phoenix in his coffin, which was sold to The National Enquirer
He was cremated; his ashes were scattered at his family’s ranch in Florida Dark Blood
was never released (it was a mere 11 days short of completion when Phoenix died) but die-hard Phoenix fans can find snatches of it on YouTube. Christian Slater took over Phoenix’s role in Interview With the Vampire
, then kindly donated his $250,000 salary to two of his friend’s favorite charities.
Still, if reincarnation does exist, will he rise out of the ashes like a Phoenix?
Want more? Buy the book.
Morbid Curiosity, By Alan W. Petrucelli