"Did you ever know that you're my hero?
You were the wind beneath my wings...."
With a shaved head, River traveled up to Seattle to film Dogfight in May 1990 before beginning another role which he hoped would also help to rid him of his teen-idol image once and for all. Playing the character of Mike Waters in My Own Private Idaho required extensive research on River's part. Spending nights on the streets of Portland, both he and Keanu Reeves observed street hustling at first hand. "It was very sensational for us," River said later. "It was all in character. We were just hanging. If anything, they thought 'this is another cat who's trying to take my spot on the street'. It's a brotherhood on the street. You all watch for each other's backs because no one wants to see anyone get stabbed." River would leave set of My Own Private Idaho for a few days so he could be presented with the Humanitarian Award by PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, as a reward for his extensive efforts raising funds for the charity. River and the rest of the Idaho crew would then fly to Rome to shoot the movie's Italian based scenes.
On River's return to Florida, Aleka's Attic would commence what would be their biggest tour, playing gigs in locations such as New York, Chicago and Miami. Sue Solgot remained behind in Gainesville. "It sucks and it doesn't suck because it gives us space," she said at the time.
By his twenty-first birthday, River was one of Hollywood's leading young men commanding several million dollars a movie and was now wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. "I get offered a lot of stuff," said River in an interview at the time. "And sure, you pause when they say on the phone, 'You won't do this for two, well, how about three?' But after the movie comes out I think, 'Man, I'm glad I didn't do that.' It's just not worth it. It's all in the script and whether I believe in it."
For his next assignment, River's agent negotiated a lucrative contract for him to appear in the big-budget thriller Sneakers. Shortly afterwards, he purchased 800 acres of rainforest, just to protect it from deforestation.
By the middle of 1992 River's relationship with Sue Solgot had hit the rocks and whilst on the Los Angeles and Nashville based sets of The Thing Called Love River fell in love with his co-star Samantha Mathis. This relationship would last for the rest of his life.
After completing The Thing Called Love, River regrouped Aleka's Attic for what would turn out to be the last time. Using his own money, he rented Gainesville's Pro Media Recording Studio and the band set about recording a large number of songs. However, many of these tracks would be left in a rough and unfinished state.
River's next project was due to be Interview With The Vampire but when Tom Cruise was given the part that writer Anne Rice had wanted River to play, her public criticism of the studio caused the whole project to be put on hold for several months. This turn of events allowed River, who had just celebrated his twenty-third birthday, to join the rest of the Phoenix children as they traveled to Costa Rica to visit their father. John Phoenix was about to open a vegan restaurant and this visit would become his last attempt to persuade not only River, but all of his children to quit the movie business. "I realized things were going wrong," said John of his eldest son. "I could see Hollywood was eating him up, bleeding him dry."
River was attracted by the idea of working on an organic farm and writing music, far away from the pressures of modern life, but he realized he had commitments back home. It was eventually decided that he would rejoin his father once work on Interview With The Vampire and his new movie Dark Blood was completed.
Now with short black hair, River traveled to the Utah desert to start work on Dark Blood. Of all the movie projects he was involved in throughout his career, River showed by far the most interest in this one and was extremely keen to do it since meeting the director and reading the script a few months earlier.
With the desert scenes completed, River flew back to Los Angeles on Tuesday, October 26, 1993. "I'm going back to the bad, bad town," said River.