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Further Phoenix
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Rain Phoenix

Summer Phoenix

A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon

Running on Empty

Viper Room

William Richert

Nick Richert


Aleka's Attic

Eddie Birdlace

Martha Plimpton

Arthur Rimbaud

Volker Schlondorff

Lorna Phillips

Animal Rights

Environment, Environmental Concerns, Green, Green Issues

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Romeo and Julliet

Running on Empty (Biography)

John Barker

Linda McCartney

Leonardo DiCaprio

The Man in the Iron Mask

Timothy Bottoms

Agnieszka Holland

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

"River Phoenix was a generous, compassionate young man who would do anything at any time for anybody."

- John L. Barker

Running on Empty

by John L. Barker.
First published in 1998.

ISBN 0-9665612-0-1 (Paperback, 288 Pages)

Hollywood has produced countless stars over the years, familiar faces etched first onto the silver screen and then into the hearts of fans the world over. Both the media and Hollywood's very own publicity machines will strive to supply the demand for information about these stars - their work, their history, their personal details and their outlook on life for example. Yet, not many Hollywood celebrities have fans who care so deeply for them that they themselves will invest considerable amounts of their own time and money writing and then publishing a book about their idol. River Phoenix has inspired one such individual to do exactly that, and his name is John Barker.

You will no doubt find instances where I will editorialize, possibly even "pontificate" and at times appear to put River Phoenix on a pedestal. Quite simply, that is exactly what I am doing. For this I apologize in advance. It is simply my way of restoring his tarnished image by giving him the caring recognition that he deserves, as I am admittedly one of his most devoted fans.

Most knowledgeable about his subject, Barker begins his book by comparing and contrasting some of the more interesting parallels of River's career, successfully identifying a number fascinating links between what initially appear to be quite separate movies. The author continues by examining the recurring themes of River's career such as "the elder son" and "the strong father-figure." Also, quite rightly pointed out is the always subtle indication of his character's sensitivity that River was able to make apparent simply by the use of outstanding acting rather than relying on the script itself.

The book includes a biographical profile of River's life away from the camera as well as a section containing the story-lines and plot details for each of River's films. Also present is a collection of poetry and stories.

Now Eddie absolutely oozes charm in his efforts to secure the date. He makes up a singer's name, Jim Swain, and compliments the folksinging that is not that great. He cusses and immediately apologizes. "I'm not used to being around ladies." No kidding, Eddie. He continues to lay it on with a trowel, but for naught, he thinks.

The author successfully takes his readers on an enjoyable tour of River's short life and career. So enjoyable is this journey in fact that it is quite someway into it before one realizes that there is regrettably something not quite right with this book.

Throughout the book, one subject is repeatedly returned to time and time again. The reader might assume that it is a subject that must be very important given that it is mentioned, by our count, an extraordinary total of sixty-five times. Yet, it is not River's concerns for animals or the environment that is written about so often. It is not the magical performances he gave in front of a camera or the infinite amounts of love and generosity that River gave to his family and friends.

On October 31, 1993, a young actor and singer, River Phoenix, collapsed outside Hollywood nightclub the Viper Room - the result of a drug overdose taken inside the club. On January 16, 1995, a young actor and singer, Jason Donovan, collapsed outside Hollywood nightclub the Viper Room - the result of a drug overdose taken inside the club. Both were rushed to the local Cedars-Sinai hospital.

An identical set of circumstances up until that point, but it is there that the similarities end, because one of them lived and one of them died.

Today, when the media talks of these actors, their introductions are always the same. They will always begin by describing one of them as an "actor and singer" and yet describe the other as a "drug addict". Given that one of these actor-singer's arguably betters the other on both counts, we believe this to be something of an injustice.

Maybe promises of "restoring River's tarnished image" raised our hopes too highly but we were nevertheless left somewhat puzzled on several occasions. The subject of narcotics should be addressed in a biography such as this, but to do so on almost every other page is, at best, out of proportion with the unique person that is being discussed. Linda McCartney is not remembered for breast cancer, but rather her wholehearted promotion of the vegetarian lifestyle as well as her selfless support for the welfare of animals. So should it be with the Prince of the silver-screen.

Nevertheless, putting this one (and only) gripe to one side, it was something of a relief to see that the author's description of River's attitude to others is quite simply, spot-on....

When a friend of his in Gainesville could not afford to pay a debt after an accident with her vehicle, River had Aleka's Attic play a benefit to raise money for her. Even though he could have easily afforded to just give her the money, he thought first of her self-esteem and took the other route. This shows a generosity and compassion so typical of the millionaire teen actor.

The book goes some way to demonstrate incidents such as this and gives an accurate impression of just how River treated his friends and those around him. It also shows, equally accurately, just how River was himself treated by others.

The incident in the funeral home the day before his cremation tells as much as anything about the corruption running rampant in show business. A low-life photographer sneaked into the place, rearranged River's body in the casket and photographed it, selling the photo to the tabloid National Enquirer, who splashed it across their center spread. This act of desecration clearly illustrates the fact that there are still monsters roaming the Earth.

Monsters still roam the earth, and they take on many varied forms and disguises. So called fans for example, who selfishly attempt to get unfinished movies released and songs published, desperate to get hold of every last piece of River with little if any consideration given to either River or his family. In life, River Phoenix spent a tormented existence having the very life sucked right out of him. It appears that even in death, River was not, and is still not, allowed to find the peace and privacy he so longed for.

That there are other human beings at the opposite end of this ethical spectrum selflessly prepared to create works such as this does wonders for restoring ones' opinion of the human race.

River also solidified his off-screen romance with Martha Plimpton by romancing her on-screen as well. She had a meatier role in Running on Empty as the daughter of the music teacher. The chemistry between the two young stars is much like a Romeo-and-Juliet scenario, except it was genuine. In the long run, however, their relationship, even though it was the longest of the three River would have, did not last more than a couple of more years. Friends have indicated that with Martha Plimpton's strong anti-drug personality, she might have helped him avoid the substance abuse that claimed the last two years of his life. As the story goes about the best-laid plans, they broke up and River did not have the safety net he needed to keep him focused in the right direction. The result is tragically obvious.

Blunder List

Page 33
Keen to make her appearance River's sister Rain was born six days earlier than planned on March 31, 1973 not February 25. A similar error occurs on page 37 with Summer's stated date of birth being a week out.


Page 101

Leonardo DiCaprio has effectively become River's heir apparent, doing two films, Total Eclipse and The Man in the Iron Mask that River had been signed to do, plus The Basketball Diaries that he wanted to do.

The idea of Leonardo DiCapRio "taking over" from River so to speak is a popular theory but one that doesn't stand up to much investigation. The movie The Man in the Iron Mask that DiCaprio starred in has absolutely nothing to do with William Richert's version, starring Timothy Bottoms and Richert's son/River's friend Nick Richert, which River had agreed to appear in as a favor to his director and close friend. Likewise, whether or not Volker Schlondorff's Rimbaud biography project that River was interested in ultimately became Agnieszka Holland's Total Eclipse, is also unclear.

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