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"We all feel guilt, everyone who knew River. Not a day goes by when I don't think long and hard about River's death and ask myself why."- John Phoenix
After an unhappy childhood, John Lee Bottom, a high school dropout turned gardener from Fontana, California, would become restless in his twenties and would take to the road with a hitch-hiker that he would soon marry. "We were flower children. We were full of faith and we loved everybody," he remembered.
When he and his family returned to America in 1978 he started his own landscape gardening business. "I worked fourteen to fifteen hours a day," he recalled. "And Riv and the kids would help me out." In the spring of the following year however, he aggravated an old spine injury he sustained in a car crash during his youth and was forced to give up work.
As his eldest son's career began to take off in the 1980's, John began to distance himself from his family's affairs as his fears about where the family was heading were largely ignored. He strongly objected to River appearing in A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon for example, but was overruled by his wife. "My father is worried that we could be ruined by this business," said River. "It's got a lot of pitfalls and temptations, and he doesn't want us to become materialistic and lose all the values we were brought up believing in. Yes, he's pleased we're doing well, but in a way he's almost reached the point where he could just drop out again like he did in the sixties and move to a farm and get close to the earth."
By 1993, John Phoenix could remain silent no longer. "I could see Hollywood was eating him up, bleeding him dry," he said. "I told him I wanted him out of movies. I had been urging him to quit for some time. I had seen too many brilliant kids go down and I realized he couldn't buck the system. I thought it was time for him to stop." By now, John in fact had 'dropped out' and had just opened a vegan restaurant in Costa Rica. He tried to persuade River and his other children to help him run it.
"I had opened my place as a vegan restaurant - things were buzzing," said John. "The idea was for them to spend more time here, helping with the cooking, making music, writing, harvesting the organic fruit and living off the land like we used to."
River had actually agreed. He would retire just as soon as he had fulfilled his duties with Dark Blood and Interview With The Vampire. "As it turned out - that was too many," recalled John with irony. "Just before he left, I'll always remember, he told me, 'I'll see you after this movie, Dad'. Well, he did. Only he was in a box."