Oct. 31, 2013 was the 20th anniversary of the death of Oscar-nominated actor River Phoenix, who was 23 when he died in 1993 of a drug overdose in front of the Viper Room nightclub in West Hollywood, Calif. The 20th anniversary of his death sparked a huge increase in Internet searches on Oct. 31, 2013, as Phoenix's name became a Top 10 search topic on Google. Numerous websites also had articles about Phoenix and the 20th anniversary of his death.
Gavin Edwards' biography "Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind" (which was released on Oct. 22, 2103) has also spurred recent interest in Phoenix. The book (which has excerpts on Slate.com) includes details about the troubled production of "Dark Blood," Phoenix's last movie that was unreleased because filming had not been completed at the time of Phoenix's death.
Although "Dark Blood" director George Sluizer has given interviews saying that he wants to the movie to be released, he has faced opposition from the movie's producers. "Dark Blood" was completed and shown to the public at the 2012 Netherlands Film Festival and the 2013 Berlin Film Festival. For legal reasons, the movie is unlikely to have festival screenings in the United States.
Phoenix died two weeks before he was due to start filming "Interview with the Vampire," which was released in 1994. He was replaced in the movie by Christian Slater.
Phoenix's best-known movies are 1986's "Stand by Me," 1986's "The Mosquito Coast," 1988's "Running on Empty" (for which he earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor), 1989's "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," 1991's "My Own Private Idaho" and 1992's "Sneakers."
According to several published reports, Phoenix's heroin use became a serious addiction when he made "My Own Private Idaho," in which he played a hustler with narcolepsy. Although Phoenix and the movie (which was written and directed by Gus Van Sant) received much critical acclaim and many awards, there have also been several reports that heavy drug use on the set of "My Own Private Idaho" was rampant among the cast, which included Keanu Reeves, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rodney Harvey. Flea has gone public about being a recovering heroin addict. Harvey died of a heroin overdose in 1998. An autopsy report concluded that Phoenix had died from an overdose of heroin and cocaine.
Phoenix's "Stand by Me" co-star Corey Feldman (who is also a recovering drug addict) says in his 2013 memoir "Coreyography" that people close to Phoenix reached out to Feldman when Phoenix was filming "My Own Private Idaho" to ask for Feldman's help in getting Phoenix to stop using heroin and other drugs. Feldman says that Phoenix refused to take his advice and the two actors eventually lost touch with each other.
River Phoenix's girlfriend Samantha Mathis and his younger siblings Joaquin and Rain were with River on the night that River died. Joaquin has gone on to also become an Oscar-nominated actor. Joaquin has a reputation for being unpredictable and sometimes hostile with the media, and he understandably does not discuss River in interviews.