The shocking death of River Phoenix

The death of River Phoenix
Accident at nightclub The Viper Room
What happened to River Phoenix?
Samantha Mathis remembers that day
Samantha thought she saw a fight
He fell to the ground
River's brother Joaquin Phoenix was by his side
An actor with a more than promising career
The first roles of River Phoenix
With Ethan Hawke on Explorers
'The Mosquito Coast': Harrison Ford and River Phoenix
He was young Indiana Jones
A great success for River Phoenix: 'My Own Private Idaho'.
With Keanu Reeves
River Phoenix: 'The Thing Called Love'
'The Thing Called Love'
'Dark Blood' - his last film
Unfinished movie
Final version in 2013
Projects signed by River Phoenix
Daniel Malloy in 'Interview with the Vampire'.
Jack Dawson in 'Titanic'
Leonardo DiCaprio about River Phoenix
When Leonardo DiCaprio met River Phoenix
River Phoenix's family
Phoenix's siblings: dedicated to entertainment
Joaquin Phoenix: River Phoenix's brother
Joaquin named his firstborn son after River
Joaquin Phoenix remembers his older brother
Joaquin Phoenix about his brother River
The death of River Phoenix

He was such a promising actor. River Phoenix, who passed away in October 1993, would have starred in 'Titanic' and 'Interview with the Vampire'. He was just 23 years old when he died. This is the story of his tragic accident.

Accident at nightclub The Viper Room

"I knew something wasn't right that night, something I couldn't understand. I didn't see anyone getting high, but I remember that [River] was so high that it made me feel uncomfortable." This is how Samantha Mathis recalls the last hours of River Phoenix's life. She talked about the fateful night of his death in The Guardian, 25 years after the fact.

 

What happened to River Phoenix?

What happened in the early hours of October 31, 1993 at The Viper Room nightclub? Why did 23-year-old River Phoenix die that night?

Samantha Mathis remembers that day

According to Samantha Mathis in The Guardian, she and River met that night for a drink. Although it wasn't their plan, they went to The Viper Room, Johnny Depp's nightclub. "He said: 'Oh, there are some people playing music tonight in the club who want me to play with them – that's OK, right?' Samantha recalls.

Samantha thought she saw a fight

They went to the club, stayed for a while, and it seemed to become a night like any other. However, it soon turned into a real tragedy. At some point, Samantha thought she saw River fight with a man, while she returned from the bathroom.

He fell to the ground

"The two were pushed out of the club by the doorman," she recounts in The Guardian. When Samantha followed them out to the streets, she saw River fall to the ground with convulsions. "What have you done?!" she shouted to the other man. He replied: "Leave him alone, you're spoiling the party for him."

River's brother Joaquin Phoenix was by his side

Although Samantha returned to the club to ask for help, it was too late for River. Together with his younger brother Joaquin she tried to bring him back to consciousness, but it was in vain. "They called 911, but the paramedics couldn't do anything," The Guardian recounts. "He had died of an overdose of cocaine and heroin."

An actor with a more than promising career

Hollywood had to say goodbye to one of its most promising young stars. River Jude Phoenix had entered the world of acting in the 1980s, after a childhood with a nomadic family. They had lived in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

The first roles of River Phoenix

River's first television appearance was on the show 'Fantasy.' His mother had gotten an audition for him and his sister Rain because she was a secretary at the NBC television network. His first success came from another NBC series, 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,' where he played the young Guthrie McFadden.

With Ethan Hawke on Explorers

Two years later, in 1985, he starred with other young talents of the time (Ethan Hawke and Jason Presson) in 'Explorers'. This film opened the doors of Hollywood to him.

'The Mosquito Coast': Harrison Ford and River Phoenix

Then came other titles such as 'The Mosquito Coast' and 'Running on Empty', the latter earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

He was young Indiana Jones

In 1989 he gave life to the young Indy in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'. A year later, he went into black comedy with 'I Love You to Death.'

A great success for River Phoenix: 'My Own Private Idaho'.

In 1991 River co-starred with Keanu Reeves in one of his most remembered films: 'My Own Private Idaho'. It's considered by many as a classic in gay cinema. Directed by Gus Van Sant, the movie got River Phoenix an award for Best Actor at the 1991 Venice Film Festival.

With Keanu Reeves

After shooting this film, River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves became inseparable. River's death would be a tragic episode in Reeves's life.

River Phoenix: 'The Thing Called Love'

River Phoenix continued to add success stories to his career. In 1993, he starred in 'The Thing Called Love' with actress Samantha Mathis. She would become his girlfriend.

'The Thing Called Love'

The film also featured Sandra Bullock and Dermot Mulroney. It was completed in February 1993. River Phoenix would die in October of that year.

'Dark Blood' - his last film

The sudden death of River Phoenix coincided with the shooting of his latest film, 'Dark Blood', a film that had only eleven days left to finish filming.

Unfinished movie

Directed by George Sluizer and starring, among others, Judy Davis and Jonathan Pryce, the film was kept unfinished in a drawer for 19 years.

Final version in 2013

In 2013, at the Berlin International Film Festival, 'Dark Blood' saw the light with an unfinished film montage and the voice-over of its director, George Sluizer, to explain to the viewer what River Phoenix could not finish.

Projects signed by River Phoenix

River Phoenix had signed other contracts for which he had to be replaced. He had been selected to play journalist Daniel Malloy in 'Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles,' but eventually the role went to Christian Slater.

Daniel Malloy in 'Interview with the Vampire'.

As Christian Slater himself confirmed in Venice Magazine, he was well aware that the original casting had chosen River Phoenix for his role. He donated the money earned for the film to charities matching River's preferences.

Jack Dawson in 'Titanic'

Jack Dawson's role in 'Titanic' was another blockbuster part that River Phoenix might have played if he hadn't died. Another young actor of the time, Leonardo DiCaprio, got the now-famous role.

Leonardo DiCaprio about River Phoenix

Leonardo DiCaprio was one of the last people to see River Phoenix on the night before he died. "I grew up revering River Phoenix and wanted to shake his hand," DiCaprio said in an interview with Esquire.

When Leonardo DiCaprio met River Phoenix

"At a party at Silver Lake, I saw him walk up a flight of stairs," DiCaprio recalls. "He started walking up to me and I kind of froze. And then the crowd got in my way, and I looked back and he was gone. ... And he was... on his way to the Viper Room." That same night, River Phoenix passed away.

River Phoenix's family

If River Phoenix's legacy is extensive, so is the legacy of his family. River's mother, Arlyn Sharon Phoenix (better known as Heart) is a well-known American social activist, and all River's siblings, here as children in the family photo, have dedicated themselves to the world of show business.

Phoenix's siblings: dedicated to entertainment

Rain Phoenix, on the right of this picture, played in the film 'Hitch' and has collaborated with groups such as Red Hot Chilli Peppers and R.E.M. Liberty and Summer Phoenix, to the left of her brother Joaquin in this photo, have worked in the world of fashion.

Joaquin Phoenix: River Phoenix's brother

The best known of the Phoenix siblings is actor Joaquin Phoenix. One of Hollywood's heavyweights, he has had a long career in film with three Oscar nominations, a Golden Globe win for 'Walk the Line', and an Oscar for 'Joker'.

Joaquin named his firstborn son after River

Joaquin was 19 years old when his brother died. It had a major impact on him. As he welcomed his first child with Mara Rooney in September of 2020, Joaquin decided to name the boy River.

Joaquin Phoenix remembers his older brother

Joaquin rarely speaks about his brother's death, but he did share an anecdote about River at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival. "I remember that when I was 15 or 16, my brother River came home with a copy of 'Raging Bull'. He forced me to see it, and the next day he woke me up and made me see it again."

Joaquin Phoenix about his brother River

He said, "You're going to act, that's what you're going to do," Joaquin Phoenix recounts. "He didn't ask me, he told me. I am indebted to him because acting has given me an incredible life."

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