River Phoenix and Joaquin Phoenix followed similar paths early on in life, but are they related?
River and Joaquin Phoenix were brothers up until River’s tragic death in 1993. They came as part of a large family, with three other siblings, all of which engaged in acting as a career choice.
Read on to learn more about the relationship between River Phoenix and Joaquin Phoenix.
The Same Path
Before his tragic death in 1993, River Phoenix was the older brother of iconic actor Joaquin Phoenix. There was four years of separation between the two men, and they spent a lot of time together as they grew up.
The family path was somewhat strange in its inceptual years. Shortly after the birth of River Phoenix, the family – whose name was Bottom – joined a religious cult. While in this cult, they travelled around South America, embarking on missionary activity.
However, they became disillusioned and lost their way with the cult, opting to leave in the late seventies. The entire family relocated back to the United States in 1977, when Joaquin Phoenix was a very young child.
Reportedly, the family struggled when the children were young. As they were growing up, they received little-to-no education, River especially. The family was enveloped in poverty after moving to Micanopy, Florida.
In interviews, River Phoenix explained that he and his sister would busk on street corners. He would play guitar while she sang, trying to get money and food. As a result, he simply never attended school. In a 1999 book, a close friend of River’s explained:
“He was totally, totally without education. I mean, he could read and write, and he had an appetite for it, but he had no deep roots into any kind of history or literature.”
However, it was this busking effort that actually got the Phoenix children discovered. The group: Joaquin, River, Summer and Rain, were singing for money in Los Angeles, and a talent agent spotted them.
This was a complete turnaround for the family, and by 1980 all four siblings would be on the big screen. While they primarily acted, they also appeared on talent shows and performed music.
In 1993, brother Joaquin and River were tragically torn from one another, by the death of the latter. The death of the then twenty-three year old River was widely publicized and documented. On the 30th October 1993, at a nightclub partly owned by Johnny Depp, River Phoenix suffered a fatal overdose, on a concoction of different narcotics.
At the time, he was surrounded by friends and family, all on a night out. He’d consumed a wide variety of drugs – at the time, it was well-known that he was addicted to substances. The death of River shocked the world. In a relatively short time, he’d become a breakout star, recognizable and extremely talented.
As River grew up, he reportedly became more and more disconnected and disillusioned with fame. In a 2018 article, it’s stated that, following his death, River’s mother offered up details on her son’s life. She said: “He often said he wished he could just be anonymous. But he never was.”
A haunting echo of this statement comes in the form of a quote from River’s breakout movie, Stand By Me. He was just a young boy when this film was produced, and in it he cries the line, “I just wish I could someplace where nobody knows me.” You can see this clip on YouTube.
After his death, Joaquin Phoenix continued to pursue his acting aspirations, but never forgot his brother. He made many tributes and dedications to him, such as in his 2020 Oscar acceptance speech.