River Phoenix, 1970-1993

River Phoenix died thirty years ago today, on a Hollywood sidewalk outside the Viper Room, in the early hours of Halloween. Costumed partygoers stepped around his body as he thrashed on the concrete and his younger siblings tried to keep him alive.

If River were alive today, he would be 53 years old. I still see shadows of him everywhere, especially in the careers of Leonardo diCaprio and Joaquin Phoenix. Even now, it’s impossible for me not to wonder about a world in which he’s walking red carpets (reluctantly) and appearing in A24 films and advocating for veganism.

Ten years ago, my book about Phoenix, Last Night at the Viper Room, was published. When I wrote it, I hoped that it would spark a rediscovery of Phoenix and a reassessment of his too-brief career. I don’t think that happened, for a variety of reasons (five years ago, I wrote about some of them for Vanity Fair). There’s an economy of celebrity in death, just as there is in life.

That makes it even more precious to me when people who weren’t alive during River’s lifetime connect with him and his beautiful work. Tonight watch Dogfight or My Own Private Idaho or Stand by Me and take a moment to reflect on what might have been, and who he might have been.

posted 31 October 2023 in Articles and tagged , . no comments yet

Leave a Reply

Keep up to date with new comments on this post via RSS.