Born River Jude Bottom, he subsequently became River Jude Phoenix. From the late 1980s to the early 1990s he was considered one of the most promising and fascinating film actors. If a pantheon for actors existed, he would have been amongst the best of his generation. It was not by chance that he was dubbed the James Dean of the modern era and had a leading role in Gus Van Sant’s film “The Beautiful and Damned” He, River Phoenix, really was beautiful and damned… and he paid a high price for his damnation.
It was the night of Halloween in 1993 and River was at the Viper Room, the celebrated nightclub in Los Angeles owned by Johnny Depp, together with his brother Joaquin and his girlfriend Samantha Mathis. An overdose of speedball struck him down, causing him to fall into the arms of his brother, whom he asked to keep the paparazzi away.
With his beauté maudite and wonderful talentRiverPhoenix had delicate features and a tormented gaze. A fire burned within him and the demons battled against his fragile personality. River Jude Phoenix was born into a hippy family and was the oldest of five brothers and sisters in the religious sect, the Children of God, where he appears to have endured traumatic experiences (sexual abuse and alcoholism) that marked him for life. His parents gave him the name River after the river of life from the Hermann Hessee novel Siddhartha. His second name came from the Beatles song, Hey Jude.
Right from the time when he was a blond child, he was taught that he was on a divine mission to save the world; a task so enormous that it crushed him, His looks and goodness had begun to come up against a mal de vivre that even he would never have known how to define. One film after another, money, success, good looks… none of these managed to save him and liberate him from that sense of inadequacy that tormented him.
River Phoenix is the symbol of Generation X, an unforgettable talent, cut off. His smooth, blond hair covered his eyes, those mirrors of the soul that were so often melancholy. His smile, broken by something that was a mix of shyness and disappointment, communicated his state of mind to the world and the desire to slip into a cocoon-like oblivion. But that river in flood, River Phoenix, could never sink into oblivion.