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

Richard Harris

Sex, Death & the Movies

by Michael Feeney Callan
First published in 2003


ISBN 1-86105-766-0 (Paperback, 368 Pages)

River's unconventional approach to the world, if not life itself, may have earned the erstwhile young actor the title of "a rebel", even if such a reference is meant in a positive way. River's Silent Tongue co-star, Ireland-born Richard Harris, was also regarded as a rebel but for much darker and very different reasons.

Described as a hellraiser and womaniser, Harris passed away in London on October 25, 2002 with both his ex-wives and his three sons by his bedside. Again, in what was a complete opposite to his younger Silent Tongue co-star, Harris reached the end of his days an old man. "I don't want immortality," he said once. "I've lived it all. I've done it all."

It appears very much that he had indeed led a very full life and biographer Michael Feeney Callan, who was a friend of Harris since 1975, works hard to document that extensive life that was lived to the full.

After his collapse on Major Dundee Harris made a serious attempt to control his boozing. On doctor's advice he cut out spirits and confined himself to beer and champagne. He was proud of his courage and the ensuing change of temperament, and spoke widely about it. A year before he had been drinking with a lunatic abandon. During the American promotion junket for This Sporting Life he had grown tired of the nonstop kiss-ass interviews and crept away from the five-star New York hotels to drink "awful rot-gut with the winos of the Bowery".

That was all in the past. Now he was reformed, getting fitter, and he could sensibly enjoy the taste of alcohol - which he loved - without pushing himself to the edge. Those who welcomed this declaration as a recipe for an improved, more relaxed marriage ill understood Richard Harris: it wasn't his drinking that fractured the relationship, rather the stress of his chosen career.

The book features a modest collection of photographs taken throughout the actors' life, the last of which is a still from one of the very last pictures he would star in. For the first two films of the Harry Potter series, Richard Harris would play Hogwarts worldly-wise head-master, Albus Dumbledore. While it was fascinating to learn that Harris took the part only after a great deal of persuasion from his own granddaughter, as River Phoenix fans we could hardly fail to notice that in the photograph itself, River's I Love You to Death co-star, Miriam Margolyes, is incorrectly credited as Elizabeth Sprigg.

Most disappointing of all though is the fact that River himself and the whole production of Silent Tongue receives but a fleeting mention - just a miserly half paragraph in fact - which is most inconsistent with the rest of this otherwise lengthy piece of work. To name just one example, the strong bond the two actors forged in the Arizona desert is not mentioned at all.

Two further American productions occupied him in a desultory way through 1993. The first, an ambitious, though missable modernist called Silent Tongue, written and directed by Sam Sheppard with the trademark claustrophobic internalising that made his Fool for Love so special, was memorable mostly for the tragic sudden death of co-star River Phoenix at a Sunset Boulevard nightspot shortly after completion.

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