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River Phoenix, Star of ‘Stand by Me,’ Dead at 23 With PM-Phoenix-Films List;

November 1, 1993

River Phoenix, Star of ‘Stand by Me,’ Dead at 23 With PM-Phoenix-Films List; PM-Phoenix-Transcript

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ River Phoenix, a rising star who played the scruffy, cigarette smoking youth in ″Stand By Me″ and won an Oscar nomination for ″Running on Empty,″ died after collapsing outside a nightclub. He was 23.

The cause of death was unknown. A coroner’s examination was expected today.

However, drugs might have been a factor, according to a frantic 911 call and a paramedic who spoke to the Daily News of New York.

The actor collapsed about 1 a.m. Sunday outside actor Johnny Depp’s trendy Viper Room club in West Hollywood after acting strangely, companions told sheriff’s deputies.

A 911 caller who said he was Phoenix’s brother said he thought Phoenix had a ″Valium or something, I don’t know,″ according to a tape broadcast Sunday night by KNBC-TV.

The actor was pronounced dead by hospital doctors at 1:51 a.m.

Capt. Ray Ribar, a paramedic with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said he suspected Phoenix’s death was drug-related.

″We were told by the people with him that he had been taking drugs,″ Ribar said, according to today’s Daily News. ″It was the classic cocaine overreaction - it just nails some people and stops the heart.″

Ribar said he worked on Phoenix for 15 minutes, but never raised a pulse.

Phoenix had been at the club with actress Samantha Mathis, 23, and his 19- year-old brother, Joaquin Rafael Phoenix, sheriff’s Sgt. Bob Stoneman said.

Harrison Ford, who played Phoenix’s father in ″The Mosquito Coast″ (1986) and was the adult Indiana Jones to Phoenix’s younger Jones character in ″Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade″ (1989), said he was ″terribly sad.″

″He played my son once and I came to love him like a son, and was proud to watch him grow into a man of such talent and integrity and compassion,″ Ford said. ″We will all miss him.″

Phoenix’s talents included his willingness to take acting risks, said Phil Alden Robinson, who directed him in last year’s ″Sneakers.″

″There are two rivers flowing through him,″ Robinson said. ″One is the adventurous young man and the other is a very old-fashioned, gentlemanly, kind soul.″

Phoenix had been filming the movie ″Dark Blood,″ said his publicist, Sue Patricola. Phoenix, who also sang with the band Aleka’s Attic, was to have appeared in the film version of novelist Anne Rice’s ″Interview With a Vampire.″

He earned his Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for 1988′s ″Running on Empty,″ in which he played the son of one-time radicals on the run from the FBI for 17 years. Kevin Kline won for ″A Fish Called Wanda.″

His other films include ″Little Nikita″ (1988), ″A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon″ (1988), ″I Love You To Death″ (1990), ″Dogfight″ (1991) and the offbeat ″My Own Private Idaho″ (1991), in which he played a male hustler.

He also starred in ″Silent Tongue″ opposite Richard Harris. The Sam Shepard-directed film was shown at the Sundance Festival in January and at the Tokyo Film Festival in August.

Phoenix was known as the model of good health, clean living and professional dedication. He was a vegetarian and animal rights activist who campaigned against wearing animal furs.

A year after his 1985 film debut in ″Explorers,″ Phoenix showed his star potential in director Rob Reiner’s 1986 hit ″Stand by Me.″

Phoenix portrayed Chris Chambers, the tough kid in a group of boyhood friends who learn about themselves on a hike in the woods where they find a corpse.

Phoenix spent much of his childhood on the move, living in Oregon, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South America and Florida.

His parents, John and Arlynn, met while hitchhiking and chose to name their son after the river of life in Herman Hesse’s ″Siddhartha.″

Born in Madras, Ore., Phoenix spent most of his childhood in Venezuela with his siblings, Rain; Joaquin Rafael, also known as Leaf; Liberty and Summer, while his parents became Children of God missionaries.

The family legend has it that Phoenix began his performing career at age 5, singing with 3-year-old Rain on street corners in Caracas. He saw his nonconformist early life as an asset to his acting.

The family moved to Los Angeles when Phoenix was 10 and he appeared in commercials before he was cast in the ″Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,″ which aired on CBS from 1982 to 1983.

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