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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

River Song

I know all my fellow Browncoats out there were probably looking for a post about my girl River Tam, but this piece is about my other River, River Phoenix. Halloween 2012 came and went, 19 years now since his tragic death. I could not believe how long it had been since I had last seen that amazing face, those haunting eyes. 19 years and he still inspires me today.

River had that indefinable something that made his star burn brighter, hotter, faster. He was an actor, musician, activist and artist. I remember seeing him for the first time on Michael J. Fox's show Family Ties as a nerd named Eugene who crushed on Jennifer, the youngest sister. From Stand By Me to Jimmy Reardon to Mosquito Coast to Little Nikita to Running On Empty, I followed his career, lemming to his Pied Piper. My favorite performances coming in My Own Private Idaho and Dogfight.And of course who can forget him as young Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade?

He is easily dismissed as an unfortunate Hollywood misadventure, a young man who allowed himself to get taken down by drugs, but he was oh so much more. He was a vegan, an activist for PETA and tried to be a force for good. He aided many environmental organizations and purchased 800 acres of the Costa Rican rainforest so that it could be saved. It is now a wildlife refuge.

River was also an accomplished singer, songwriter and guitar player, forming the band Aleka's Attic in 1987. He wrote and recorded songs for charity albums including Across the Way for  PETA's Tame Yourself. In 1996 his song Note To A Friend was released on the In Defense of Animals Vol II album with Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass. Phoenix was a great friend to the band and in 1997 guitarist John Fresciante recorded his collaborations with River Height Down and Well I've Been on his solo project Smile from the Streets You Hold.

River knew that writing/ acting were about committing to a story, not worrying about whether or not someone thought it was good. It had to be good to only you. I think we writers/artists sometimes get caught up in what our potential audience will think, that we try to write for them. Ultimately, we are the only ones who matter, we are the only one who have to believe. I think that's a valuable lesson we can all learn from River and take with us whatever our projects.

Recently, his final film, Dark Blood, was screened at the Netherlands Film Festival  and there are plans to distribute it world wide. His family is not so enthusiastic, stating that they have moved on and do not want River's name run through the media again. Understandable. River was a huge talent, whose light went out far too quickly, but in such a short period of time, 11 years, he managed to create a volume of work (14 films, 9 television appearances) that have left an indelible impression. 

Were you or are you a River Phoenix fan? Can you believe how time has passed? Do you think his final film should be released?

31 comments:

  1. He was awesome ... such a talented, and troubled, family. Can certainly understand wanting to let him rest in piece.

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    1. He was just brilliant, wasn't he? I can see why the family wants to let him stay at peace. I remember all of the glaring tabloid headlines back then. It was awful.

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  2. Hard to believe it's been that long...

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    1. I couldn't believe how much time had passed. I wrote this because a friend and I were talking about River recently and we both had been huge fans.

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  3. I thought he was fantastic. For me, the hardest celebrity death to really accept was Heath Ledger. His death hit me in the gut...River Phoenix...not so much. I just really liked Heath.

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    1. I had a hard time with Heath as well, but River was my age so it was a lot more difficult for me.

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  4. I remember hearing about his death and going into shock and then the news outlets were playing the recording of Joaquin's 911 call and it damn near broke my heart.

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    1. Oh yeah that phone call just ripped my heart out. I think that's why I still harbor such a soft spot for Joaquin. It's hard to get something like that out of your head.

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  5. strange how he was a vegan but used drugs... those things don't go together :(

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    1. A lot of things don't always go together. Unfortunately people have dark sides to them no matter how much light they exude.

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  6. I was just reading about his death the other day, such a dreadful waste of talent. I remember seeing Stand by Me and being told he was dead, it made the movie that much more poignant for me.

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    1. It really was a tragic waste, but he did leave us with a small, albeit great legacy. He was the first star my own age that I adored.

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  7. I understand the family's feelings about it all. I loved, no, adored River. He was a doll! And I loved that they chose him for the young Indiana Jones. Perfect casting if you ask me. I actually crushed on a guy at my school who looked a lot like River. But yes, his death was tragic. I'd like to see the movie, but not if the family protests it.

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    1. I can understand the family's feelings, too. It took them a long time to come to terms with his loss and all the garbage that swirled around it. He was great as young Indy. I still remember the snake scene. :)

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  8. Wil Wheaton posted about him the other day, too, remembering their time together while filming Stand By Me.
    Sad :-(

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    1. I'll have to check out Wil Wheaton's post. Stand By Me was a favorite movie of mine growing up. I remember the 25th anniversary of SBM last year. All the guys got together and talked about their time with River.

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  9. It's hard to believe that much time has passed. I think they should release his film - it's his legacy, not his family's.

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    1. It is a long time, isn't it? I really would love to see his last film so while I understand the family, I can't help but fall into the Yes camp.

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  10. He accomplished so much! I didn't know as much about his musical ability. I knew he played, but not the connections~
    It is so sad-he was perfect as a young Indy! I loved STM, too.
    I think the film should be released-it will allow this generation to discover him, his talents. I am sorry for his family, though~

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    1. He sure did. I think many people thought his musical pursuits were just a hobby, but I read he'd actually had a development deal with Island Records. I agree with yu on the film. It would be great to see that last performance and spark a new generation's interest.

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  11. I thought the title was a Doctor Who reference rather than a Browncoats one first of all :)

    I think I was too late to appreciate River's movies, I've not really seen him in anything (and yes, that means I've not seen Stand By Me either)

    Jamie

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    1. Oh wow! I forgot all about the Doctor Who. Shame on me. :)

      If you get a chance, do see SBM, it is a terrific film, based on a very good Stephen King story.

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  12. There's a lot I didn't know about him. I had no idea he was a singer and an activist. Tragic lost. BTW there's a character on Doctor Who named River Song. I thought that's where it came from. ;)

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    1. It really is amazing what he managed to accomplish in such a short span of time.

      I lambasted myself for forgetting about Doctor Who and me a fan since Tom Baker. LOL

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  13. Wow - the numbers boggle me! 19 years! That's hard to compute. And only 14 films and 9 TV appearances? That's IT? It seemed he was around for longer and did more. Wow. I would have to say my faves were Dogfight, Running on Empty, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

    And I feel like his last performance should definitely be released and talked about and celebrated. 19 years. Wow.

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    1. It certainly does seem like he was around for so much longer. I loved all those films, too. And Last Crusade is my fave Indy film after Raiders. Loved River as he fell into that snake filled rail car.

      I'd definitely like to see his last performance. Celebrating his work is a terrific idea.

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  14. Big fan, and yes time does fly by way to fast. Another tragic death was John Beluchi....That was 1982, 30 years ago, seems like yesterday to me....sigh!

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    1. I loved John, was only 12 when he died, but his films made a lasting impression on me when I got older. Especially Blues Brothers as it was filmed partially in my neighborhood. I pass by the Pilgrim Baptist church on my way to work. Can't believe how long it's been either. :)

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  15. I'm right there with ya on the idea that we create not for anyone else but ourselves. Right on, Sister!

    Gosh, I really can't believe it's been so long since his death, God rest him. I love, love, love Stand By Me, and MOPI is heartbreaking. Ever see a film he did called I Love You to Death? It's a pretty brilliant black comedy starring a FABULOUS cast, including Tracy Ullman, Kevin Kline, MOPI co-star Keanu Reeves, and William Hurt. Know it? If not, I highly recommend you check it out! :)
    Some Dark Romantic

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    1. High fives! We do create for ourselves and no one else. :)

      I Love You To Death is hilarious!! Shame on me for not putting it up there. I saw it and could not stop laughing. Right there with Fargo.

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  16. Yes, I am! No, I can't believe it has been 19 years. How tragic that he died so young. I was just watching Stand By Me the other day; he was a very talented actor and it is sad that he is gone.

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