How did Joaquin Phoenix's brother River die? A look at their bond as actor names son with Rooney Mara after him

While the couple who mostly keeps their life private, have not officially announced the arrival of the baby, it was reportedly Russian director Viktor Kossakovsky who spilled the beans

                            How did Joaquin Phoenix's brother River die? A look at their bond as actor names son with Rooney Mara after him
Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix (Getty Images)

Actress Rooney Mara and actor Joaquin Phoenix have reportedly welcomed a baby boy. While the couple who mostly keeps their life private, has not officially announced the arrival of the baby, it was reportedly Russian director Viktor Kossakovsky who revealed that the pair recently welcomed a “beautiful son” during an audience Q&A at the 2020 Zurich Film Festival that started from September 24. 

Buzzfeed reported that Kossakovsky explained in the festival that Joaquin, who executive-produced Kossakovsky’s animal documentary ‘Gunda,’ was not available to promote the film because he “just got a baby,” a “beautiful son.” The site further mentioned that Kossakovsky also shared the name Rooney and Joaquin chose for their child which is "River." 

The name is presumably a homage to Joaquin’s brother River Phoenix who starred in films like ‘Stand by Me’ and ‘My Own Private Idaho,’ but died at a young age of 23 in 1993. This makes us wonder about Joaquin's closeness with his brother River and what happened to him?

Who was Joaquin’s brother River Phoenix

River Phoenix was born River Jude Bottom in Madras, Oregon. His last name was changed to "Phoenix" when he grew up to be two years old. River always got the support of his parents to pursue a career in acting and was professionally acting on television by the time he turned 10 years old. 

His film debut was in ‘Explorers’ (1985), followed rapidly by box-office hit with ‘Stand by Me’ (1986) and ‘The Mosquito Coast’ (1986). He got fame for playing young Indiana in ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ (1989). Moreover, his role as Danny Pope in ‘Running on Empty’ (1988) garnered him an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. However, his best role was yet to come that happened with him playing Mike, the hustler in the blockbuster drama film ‘My Own Private Idaho’ (1991).

Actress Rooney Mara and actor Joaquin Phoenix attend the Closing Night Gala Presentation Of "Her" during the 51st New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on October 12, 2013 in New York City. (Getty Images)

Rivers was also a devoted animal-rights activist and environmentalist. He had a multifaceted personality as a gifted musician, actor, and songwriter. Despite the great success he was tasting, Rivers wanted solitude. “I wish I could go someplace where nobody knows me,” he sobbed in his breakout performance in the 1986 movie ‘Stand By Me.’ After he died, his mother Arlyn (known as Heart) told Esquire magazine that her son shared that kind of sentiment that he reflected in the film ‘Stand By Me.’ She said, “As River grew, he did become more and more uncomfortable being the poster boy for all good things. He often said he wished he could just be anonymous. But he never was. When he wasn’t a movie star, he was a missionary. There’s a beauty in that – the man with the cause, the leader – but there’s also deep loneliness.”

How River Phoenix died

The stunning actor, who was nominated for Oscars too, met his tragic end due to a drug overdose in West Hollywood in October 1993. At the time of his death, he was shooting for film ‘Dark Blood,’ which was released 19 years later, in 2012.
Musician Bob Forrest in his memoir ‘Running With Monsters’ (Crown Archetype, available now), recalled the night of River’s death. He wrote that River felt he was suffering from an overdose in the moments before his final collapse. In the book, Forrest recalls being at Johnny Depp’s nightclub The Viper Room which is where River’s collapse happened. Following a performance by the then-budding musician in River and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, Forrest wrote, “Somebody broke out the coke and passed it around. River was obviously wasted and was as unsteady as a boxer who had taken one too many headshots during a 15-round bout.” He further wrote, “His complete lack of motor skills made me think he was drunk. Heroin will make users lean when they stand still, but you almost never see them stumble and fall.”

Joaquin Phoenix (L) and Rooney Mara applaud during the Closing Ceremony of the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 28, 2017 in Cannes, France. (Getty Images)

Forrest recalled how River approached him that night admitting he might have been undergoing a drug overdose. “It was great fun until I felt a hand tap my shoulder and turned to see River. He was a whiter shade of pale,” Forrest wrote. Forrest was doubtful that River was overdosing but offered to take him home. However, River declined it saying he felt better. Moments later, a commotion erupted in the club and Forrest rushed to the door to find Phoenix’s girlfriend, actress Samantha Mathis, screaming as her boyfriend convulsed on the sidewalk. He was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where he breathed his last and bid a farewell to the world. 

The bond between the brothers

Joaquin has time and again referenced his older brother's untimely passing and the impact it left on his life. He said, as reported by the Independent, “ I think that we’ve all felt his presence and guidance in our lives in numerous ways.”Joaquin added that he and his family were unaware of River's fame at the time of his death in 1993 as they “were so removed from the entertainment world” and were not consuming television shows or magazines.

Following River's death, Joaquin went on a two-year hiatus from films amid speculation that the loss had affected the actor greatly. Adding to this was the self-confession that he was prone to constant anxiety attacks while filming and his drinking habits, courtesy his role as a drug and alcohol addicted Johnny Cash in 'Walk The Line', meant that he had to undergo rehab. 


Joaquin Phoenix accepts the Actor In A Leading Role award for 'Joker' onstage during the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 09, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Getty Images)


A notoriously shy person, Joaquin's Oscar win for 'Joker', his acceptance speech and the numerous interviews that followed allowed people to get a tiny glimpse of the bond that the brothers shared. Speaking to CNN's Anderson Cooper after the Oscar win, on an episode of '60 Minutes Overtime' Joaquin spoke about River and how, he (River) had predicted about his (Joaquin) success in his life, by saying, "You will be a more successful actor than I am, you will be better known than I am". 

The actor also spoke about always feeling his brother around him in some way or the other. He had said, "Absolutely! Every movie that I have made has had a connection to River in some way. My mom and sisters have kept his memory alive."

Now that he and his wife have reportedly named their newly born after River, this gesture cements how much Joaquin reveres his deceased brother. 

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