The Truth About River Phoenix's Tragic Death

River Phoenix was Hollywood's "It Boy" when tragically, he died at the age of 23. His unexpected death left his fans in mourning, but it was an unfortunate accident that could have ultimately been prevented, according to The Guardian.

Phoenix grew up in the limelight. He appeared in his first film, "Explorers," at age 13. He would go on to star in movies such as "My Own Private Idaho," "Stand by Me," and "Running on Empty," which earned him an Oscar nomination. He was also known for his music and had his own alternative folk/rock band, called Aleka's Attic, which included his little sister, Rain.

Growing up in the spotlight, Phoenix was outspoken about disliking the idea of being famous, and as his acting career took off, so did his abuse of alcohol and other drugs. While his fans and the general public did not know about his behind-the-scenes drug use, his family and friends recall his frequent binges, according to the book "Running with Monsters," written by Phoenix's good friend, Bob Forrest.

River Phoenix's early life

River Phoenix was born in Madras, Oregon, in 1970. His real name was River Jude Bottom, and his parents were working on a farm when he was born, but they favored a bohemian lifestyle so they frequently moved, per Biography. Eventually, the family moved to South America, where his parents then served as missionaries for Children of God, a religious organization that People later referred to as a cult. The family sometimes played music on the street to earn some extra money, and that's where River developed the ability to play guitar and sing.

By the late 1970s, the family left the Children of God and settled in Florida. There, Phoenix and his siblings started competing in talent shows, which led to them gaining some attention from talent scouts. Soon, they were on their way to California, where River first appeared in commercials before nabbing a role on the short-lived 1982 series "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." Phoenix eventually made his film debut in 1985's "Explorers," but it was his role in "Stand By Me" the next year that made him one of the most sought-after young stars in Hollywood.

Phoenix became a massive star and staunch activist

Phoenix continued getting cast in high-profile films, including 1989's "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," in which he played a young version of Harrison Ford's iconic character, per Biography. According to People, Phoenix appeared in 24 films between his first in 1985 and his tragic death in 1993, an indication of how in-demand he had become. Phoenix often used his high profile to champion causes he cared about, perhaps most notably animal rights.

”When I was old enough to realize all meat was killed, I saw it as an irrational way of using our power, to take a weaker thing and mutilate it,” Phoenix told The New York Times in 1989. ”It was like the way bullies would take control of younger kids in the schoolyard.” Phoenix was a vegan, and in the same interview, he revealed that when he was only 8 years old, he persuaded his parents to stop eating dairy products and eggs. He also was known to support several environmental groups.

A change of plans that led to tragedy

On Halloween night in 1993, Phoenix went with some family and friends to the famed Viper Room music club in West Hollywood, a venue which was owned by one of Phoenix's contemporaries, Johnny Depp. Phoenix's girlfriend at the time, actor Samantha Mathis, told The Guardian in an interview that the night he died, the two were only supposed to be dropping off Phoenix's little brother, Joaquin Phoenix, and sister Rain before returning to Mathis' house. Instead, they stayed at the club because Phoenix wanted to play music with the club's band. In the end, Phoenix took too many drugs — a lethal combination of cocaine and heroin.

"I knew something was wrong that night, something I didn't understand. I didn't see anyone doing drugs, but he was high in a way that made me feel uncomfortable," Mathis told The Guardian.

Phoenix was pushed out of the club for getting into a fight, and then he dropped to the ground. By the time help arrived he had virtually no vital signs. He was officially pronounced dead at the hospital. Given his meteoric rise to stardom, had the two returned to Mathis' house as planned instead of staying at the Viper Room, Phoenix may still be here today, possibly regarded as one of the finest leading men of our time.