Page last updated at 06:43 GMT, Friday, 31 October 2003

A decade without River Phoenix

River Phoenix
River Phoenix died outside the Viper Rooms in Los Angeles

The death of promising actor River Phoenix 10 years ago today, aged just 23, broke not only the hearts of teenage girls but also shocked the movie world. BBC News Online looks back at his life and early demise.

Phoenix managed to walk the fine line between respected actor and Hollywood heart-throb, ensuring the news of death was met with stunned disbelief by millions.

He died of a drugs overdose outside Johnny Depp's Los Angeles club the Viper Rooms, and the global headlines he hit ensured Phoenix's place in the pantheon of movie legends who died young.

The only indicator of how far his star could have shone comes from his contemporaries such as Keanu Reeves, Christian Slater and Depp, all still A-list movies stars commanding mega bucks.

But there was also a chance he could have packed in the fame game and gone and lived on a commune, going back to the hippie roots ingrained in him by his parents.

Child star

He was quoted as saying: "I would rather quit while I was ahead. There's no need in overstaying your welcome".

He also dedicated time to playing in the band Aleka's Attic with sister Rain, receiving plaudits for his musical ability.

Born to unconventional parents, with siblings Joaquin, Rainbow, Summer and Liberty, the family was brought up as members of the Children of God cult.

All of the Phoenix children were encouraged to go into acting from a young age, and from 10 onwards River was already acting in TV series including the short-lived Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Celebrity.

His first film role was in the largely forgotten Explorers before landing a lead role in Stand By Me, alongside child stars Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman and Jerry O'Connell.

River Phoenix
Phoenix and his siblings were encouraged to go into acting

Next came the gritty Mosquito Coast with Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, with the young actor winning praise for his performance.

He went on to work with Ford, landing a role as the young Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade.

Phoenix said: "I would just look at Harrison: he would do stuff and I would not mimic it, but interpret it younger."


It was his role in Running on Empty, a drama about a boy having to make life-changing choices, that further boosted his credibility during his transition from child star to accomplished actor.

He was nominated for a best supporting Oscar in 1989, missing out to Kevin Kline's performance in a Fish Called Wanda.

Two years later came his career-defining role in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho.

Playing a narcoleptic rent boy, Phoenix and co-star Keanu Reeves showed they had the ability to created a buzz not based around their obvious good looks.

The subject matter was a risky one for the pair, with Phoenix playing a gay hustler, risking their reputations as heart-throbs, but winning a legion of indie film fans.

Later films included A Thing Called Love, with girlfriend Samantha Mathis, and cyber-thriller Sneakers alongside Robert Redford.

Phoenix was lined up to star in a host of big name films, including Interview with a Vampire.

River Phoenix
Phoenix began acting at a young age

At the time of his death he had been working on the film Dark Blood but because it could not be finished producers attempted to sue his mother for $6m (£3.5m) saying he did not declare his drug use. The case later collapsed.

But his early death on that notorious night at celeb hang-out the Viper Rooms in the early hours of 31 October 1993 put an end to a promising career.

Movie folklore

He was there with brother Joaquin and girlfriend Mathis when he took a cocktail of drugs, suffering seizures outside the club.

His death certificate put the cause down to multiple drug intoxication.

His body was cremated and the ashes scattered over the family ranch in Florida.

His young age and the circumstances of his death ensured River Phoenix's last moments went down in movie folklore, often overshadowing his talents and his already accomplished body of work.

REM's album Monster was dedicated to River by lead singer Michael Stipe, while the Red Hot Chili Peppers track One Hot Minute was also dedicated to him.

His drug problems or unwillingness to play the fame game may have seen River Phoenix exit the limelight at the height of his fame.

But in true Hollywood-style he remains as famous in death as he was in life.

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