"The autopsy report showed that River died of 'acute multiple drug intoxication including marijuana, valium and many times the lethal levels of cocaine and heroin.'
- A simple chemical explanation for the end of a life so complex, so unusual, so promising, and yet, so incomplete."
For one hour, this documentary looks at almost all aspects of River's life, charting his humble rise from rags to riches. Beginning with his birth on a farm in Oregon and going on to trace his family's subsequent journey through Central America, the program then concentrates on the ten years from 1984 to 1993.
An extensive list of people are interviewed for the program who recall their memories of working with River. These include Running on Empty co-star, Christine Lahti, Jimmy Reardon co-star, Louanne Sirota, Dark Blood co-star Jonathan Pryce, Dark Blood director George Sluizer and Explorers director, Eric Luke as well as River's personal friends such as Conrad Montgomery and Sydney Penny.
Christine Lahti on the set
of Chicago Hope.
No member of River's family appears in the program, except for Frances Beck, his great-aunt and also notably missing are River's intimate friends Martha Plimpton, Sue Solgot and Samantha Mathis.
"Yeah, I think there were a few shady characters.
- Louanne Sirota
But River saw the good in everyone."
The documentary's producers make extensive use of a televised interview River gave shortly after his eighteenth birthday and clips from it are used to illustrate the program throughout. River talks about his early years singing, his arrival for the first time in Hollywood, events in his life and his present-day attitudes towards show business. In one such extract, River recalls being involved in a motorcycle accident near his home, resulting in a temporary limp, which could have spelled potential disaster occurring as it did just prior to the auditions for Stand By Me.
The documentary also features a number of rare clips of River in action. There's a chance to catch a few seconds of Aleka's Attic performing at the "Rock Against Fur" benefit concert as well as seeing River appear in a Public Service Announcement for his favorite charity PETA.
Also shown, for the very first time, are a few all-too-brief moments from the abandoned movie Dark Blood.
But for a tasteless re-enactment of his final hour of life, the program succeeds in lovingly documenting River's short career. It highlights the things that were important to River - animal-rights, his concerns and respect for the environment, his band Aleka's Attic, and his desire to maintain as much distance between himself and Hollywood as possible.
Watching the program though, we are reminded of how this distance was, ultimately, not far enough.
"When he died that Halloween morning, at aged twenty-three, River left behind not just an adoring world of fans, friends and family but also a world of unfulfilled promise. He'll be remembered in as many ways as there are people whose lives he touched."