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Further Phoenix
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Joaquin Phoenix, Leaf Phoenix

TV Commercials

I Love You To Death

My Own Private Idaho

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Viper Room

Gus Van Sant

Keanu Reeves


Martha Plimpton

River Phoenix: The Biography


Johnny Depp

Sheila Johnston



Devil's Advocate

The High School For The Performing Arts

Toronto, Canada

Romeo and Julliet

William Shakespeare

The Tempest


Dangerous Liaisons


Bram Stoker's Dracula

Little Budda

Rio's Attic: Celebrating the Life and Times of a Dearly Missed River Phoenix
American EnglishEn Français


by Sheila Johnston.
First published in 1996.

ISBN 0-330-34382-3 (Paperback, 274 Pages)

Keanu Reeves, a strong but gentle actor with a powerful dislike of guns and a consistent policy of non-aggression, continues to hold Hollywood at his feet. A dedicated pacifist, he almost never kills anyone in his movies or likewise allows his own character to be killed and has turned down a number of movies simply because of their graphic nature. The most significant of those would probably be Platoon despite the fact that the film would certainly have given his early career a major kick-start. This book looks at all of the movies Reeves has appeared in, from his earliest works in which the movie studios chose to credit him as K.C. Reeves to hide his Chinese/Hawaiian origins through to the 1996 movie Devil's Advocate.

Not doing particularly well in school Keanu had narrowed his career choices down to two options - he would become either an ice-hockey player or an actor. After a successful audition in 1980 at the High School For The Performing Arts, his mind was made up. Although six years older than River, it so happens that they both entered show business around the same time. In fact, by 1983, the work pattern of both actors was almost indistinguishable. Both began their careers by appearing in commercials that would soon lead to the odd guest-spot on the various TV shows of the time.

He was always extremely intense - he took his work very seriously. He was already displaying his later obsession with research and preparation. Up for a Coca Cola ad in which he would play a racing cyclist, he bounded into Moore's office proudly to show her his shaven legs: he had discovered that this was what Italian Grand Prix racers did to take a few seconds off their time. "He really got into every role, even for something as simple as a commercial."

Very much alike they may have been, sharing the same ambitions, but there was one aspect of Keanu's career that would set them apart. In the spring of 1985, he was to be found at a Toronto acting school playing Mercutio in a senior student production of Romeo and Juliet. Keanu found acting before a live audience most exhilarating - something that a shy and reserved River could never bring himself to do. Keanu continued to have a strong interest in Shakespeare as can be seen in My Own Private Idaho and he has since returned to the theatre in a production of The Tempest after completing I Love You To Death and also in a Canadian production of Hamlet in 1995.

A biography about Keanu Reeves it may be but nevertheless River is mentioned and his life is referred to repeatedly throughout the book. It was with regret though to learn that the source of this material was in fact River Phoenix: The Biography. As a result, it was a little disheartening to see the sexual-abuse/pushed-into-show-business-by-greedy-parents et al claims once again in print.

The author puts time aside to examine all of Keanu's movies - the early hits and misses of his career such as the Bill and Ted movies, Dangerous Liaisons and Parenthood in which he starred alongside Leaf Phoenix and River's girlfriend at the time, Martha Plimpton. Discussed at some length is his cameo in I Love You To Death as is Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, later on in the book. Not surprisingly though, the author chooses to devote almost an entire chapter to My Own Private Idaho which is particularly well researched.

It was an opportunity to cement the relationship they had begun on I Love You To Death. In later interviews, Keanu described River as his best friend, and the two joked about playing Romeo and Juliet together (with Phoenix as Juliet). "They were pretty close," Van Sant said. "They have a lot of things in common. They made a good twosome, they have a shared background. They were of similar ages and they were both champion young actors."

Both were the children of flower-children, from unconventional, Sixties-style families which had been constantly on the move. But, for all his constant changes of address, school and stepfather, Keanu came from a comfortable background and his childhood and fashionably bohemian series of homes were a model of stability compared to the Phoenixes'. They had moved house forty times, including two years spent as missionaries in Venezuela, by the time Phoenix was seventeen. One reason why he and his sister had been pushed towards Hollywood was that the family was desperately short of money.

Keanu's movie career was well and truly taking off by now. His newfound income allowed him to indulge in his passion for motorbikes but that appears to have been his only indulgence to date. Like River, he places no value in wealth or material possessions. As for Keanu's other interest - rock music - it is mentioned only briefly in the book. Indeed, there's absolutely no reference to his band "Dogstar" until almost the last chapter. Instead, the author continues to concentrate on his film career by looking into the production of six more movies, including Bram Stoker's Dracula and Little Buddha before arriving at what is generally regarded as Keanu's biggest blockbuster to date, Speed.

But as Keanu was about to discover to his horror, it was not only a bus that was heading straight over the edge. Someone else was about to crash in the Hollywood fast lane too. Someone that wasn't going to be as lucky.

It was eight weeks into filming when River Phoenix died from a drugs overdose after collapsing on the pavement in front of the Viper Room, a nightclub in West Hollywood co-owned by Johnny Depp. The coroner's report found in his body a cocktail of morphine (thought to have been heroin when it entered his blood), cocaine, Valium, traces of Marijuana and cold medication. He was twenty-three. Keanu was shocked and stricken. "He became very quiet," said De Bont, "and it took him quite a while to work it out by himself and calm down. It scared the hell out of him." The director did not postpone the shoot - that would be prohibitively expensive and besides it seemed best to keep his star busy - but he did reorganize the schedule around the actor. "He said it was a good idea to keep working but he did need a lot of time to himself. He wandered about a lot."

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