25 Years After River Phoenix’s Death: Young Legend Is Remembered
Twenty-five years ago today River Phoenix died on the ground outside of Johnny Depp‘s The Viper Room in West Hollywood.
By 23, he was already a star who made his mark on the world. Films like Stand By Me, Running on Empty, and My Own Private Idaho showcased his talent. But more and more he’s lost to the passing of time.
This will most likely be the last year Phoenix’s death is in the news. After 25 years, it becomes hard to really remember a dead artist. One that’s grieved but rarely celebrated is especially likely to follow that path. With a death that was overshadowed by Kurt Cobain‘s suicide and a number of grunge tragedies, River Phoenix quickly fell off the radar. The other teen heartthrobs of the time, Leonardo DiCaprio, Depp, and Keanu Reeves, have all gone on to have careers that River might’ve had his hopes set on.
Rivers career first took off in 1986 with his breakout role in Stand By Me. The film’s director, Rob Reiner, would gush about his “tremendous warmth” and how talented he was.
Two years after that, Phoenix would get an Oscar nomination for his role in 1988’s Running on Empty. What followed was a string of high-profile roles in films like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and 1992’s Sneakers.
But Phoenix wasn’t just an actor. He was a passionate activist and musician. It only added to the confusion and shock when he died of “acute multiple drug intoxication.” This was a person who got furious with Christine Lahti when she drank a Diet Coke and who once ran out of a restaurant in tears when his girlfriend ordered shellfish.
Despite this, on October 30, Phoenix left to drop off some family members at The Viper Room. He was then asked to perform with Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and wound up staying. In the early hours of October 31, he collapsed on the concrete outside. “He was essentially liquid,” one witness said.
By the time paramedics arrived, they found Phoenix turning dark blue, in full cardiac arrest and in a flatline state. Attempts to restart his heart failed and at 1:51 in the morning, he was pronounced dead.
Tonight, Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re are playing a $10 cover at The Viper Room. There are no plans to commemorate Phoneix. Depp sold his share of the club more than a dozen years ago. But a handful of fans still appear outside the club each Halloween. They leave candles and notes, wine bottles and teddy bears in memory of the star who’s now been dead longer than he was alive.