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Further Phoenix
at Rio's Attic:

Heart Phoenix


Los Angeles




Music Hobby

Running on Empty


Naomi Foner

New York


Memorial Service

Environment, Environmental Concerns, Green, Green Issues

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

"When the wind blows, I see River. When the sun shines, I see River. When I look in someone's eyes and make a connection, I see River. To have death transformed into another way to look at life is his huge gift."

- Heart Phoenix

One of three sisters, Arlyn Sharon Dunetz was born on New Year's Eve 1944 to a Jewish family from the Bronx. Upon leaving school she married a computer programmer and worked as a secretary in Manhattan. "At eighteen, I was just a clone, totally unconscious," said Arlyn. "I didn't know that the air was polluted and I didn't care. I just went to work and thought that everything the Government told me was right and true. It took some time before I awakened. I became aware. It was difficult because my parents weren't seeing the same things, but I knew I had to change my life." That change came about in the summer of 1968 when she left her family, job and husband and hitchhiked to California.

From the earliest days of working as a secretary at NBC Television to gain inside knowledge of how show business operated, Arlyn would be the driving force behind River's career. "We had a vision that our kids could captivate the world," she said once. Of the children themselves, she said, "We never treated them like children but like extra added friends. And they have always held up their part of the deal. It was never like 'We know better because we are the parents'. It was more like 'This is the first time we've ever done this too. What do you think?' And the children were so wise. If we made a mistake, we made it together. But if you open yourself up, a way presents itself. You find the right path."

A proud mother accompanies her son to the 61st Academy Awards ceremony in 1989.

Screenwriter for Running On Empty, Naomi Foner described Arlyn as "a very warm, bright, outgoing woman." In 1988 Arlyn would choose a new name for herself changing it to Heart.

At the memorial for her son, she said, "We believed we could use the mass media to help change the world and River would be our missionary." She went on to describe River's death as a continuation of that 'mission'. The following letter from Heart Phoenix, was published in the Los Angeles Times following her son's death:-

A Mother's Note
on her Son's Life and Death

by Heart Phoenix

I think people want to know if River ran his course or if he was taken from the world prematurely.

River was my first born. He introduced me to motherhood and has been the strongest influence on my life. I feel blessed to have been the woman who held him deep within my being as he grew from a tiny seed. I birthed him at home, suckled him to a chubby two-year-old and then held him in love and awe until his safe passage on October 31.

It was incredible to watch River grow. From the beginning, he was a soul filled with passion and a sense of service for others. At a young age he took on the responsibility of sharing the wonderful gifts that were given to him. He diligently taught himself guitar at four, sang on the streets from Venezuela to Westwood, California, and wrote music and lyrics seeking to open hearts in a new way.

Many of you have been able to experience his openness, gentleness, beauty and vulnerability on the screen. He chose characters that reached inside the souls of the audience, awakening long-forgotten feelings. With River's passing, people the world over have been touched by the loss and once again their deep feelings have surfaced.

The coroner's report states that drugs were the cause of his death. His friends, co-workers and the rest of our family know that River was not a regular drug user. He lived at home in Florida with us and was almost never a part of the club scene in Los Angeles. He had just arrived in L.A. from the pristine beauty and quietness of Utah, where he was filming for six weeks. We feel that the excitement and energy of the Halloween nightclub and party scene were way beyond his usual experience and control. How many other beautiful young souls, who remain anonymous to us, have died using drugs recreationally? It is my prayer that River's leaving in this way will focus the attention of the world on how painfully the spirits of his generation are being worn down.

They are growing up with polluted air, toxic earth and food, and undrinkable water. We are destroying our forests, the ozone layer is being depleted and AIDS and other diseases are epidemic. The world is a very confusing place for most people and we need to address that. Drug abuse is a symptom of an unfeeling, materialistic, success-oriented world where the feelings and creativity of young people are not seen as important. Drugs, including alcohol, are used to soften the pain of feeling separated from ourselves, each other and love. We can't just say "Just Say No" - it's ridiculous - we need to offer our children something they can say "yes" to.

I have been trying to make sense out of the chaos in relation to the world for many years, and with River's passing I feel more clear than ever before. I feel the answer to our destructive nature, which manifests itself in many forms and our inability to love and care for one another, is based on our disconnection from every natural part of who we are. The universe and the earth is a magnificent system of oceans, tributaries and streams; of electrons, atoms, micro-organisms, plants and animals; of plankton, moss and trees. And we, the humans, believe we can stand apart from this living system and say we are the masters. We act as if all of this was put here for us to use, abuse and profit from. We have separated ourselves from the very essence of life in order to raise ourselves up as the ultimate divine expression on Earth.

River made such a big impression during his life on Earth. He found his voice and found his place. And even River, who had the whole world at his fingertips to listen, felt deep frustration that no one heard. What is it going to take? Chernobyl wasn't enough. Exxon Valdez wasn't enough. A bloody war over oil wasn't enough. If River's passing opens our global heart, then I say, thanks dear, beloved son, for yet another gift to all of us.

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