August 23, 1970 – October 31, 1993
“I don’t want to die in a car accident. When I die it’ll be a glorious day. It’ll probably be a waterfall.”
River was in LA, working on a film called, Dark Blood, for Fine Line Features. He was also signed to star in Interview With a Vampire, with Tom Cruise. While in LA, he usually stayed at the St. James’s Club and Hotel, on Sunset.
AUGUST 2001 – Findadeath.com friend Jeroen sends this: This the very last picture of River that was taken only 2 days before his death. There is even a story that he entered a cave that same day with candles and one of the crew members was filming it. That was the last thing to ever to be filmed of River Phoenix.
I’d like to mention an error made pertaining to the last photo taken of River Phoenix while on the set of Dark Blood. The photo was actually taken one month prior to his death, not 2 days. If you ever get a close enough view of the photo (I saw it on the documentary Biography: Eclipsed By Death: The Life Of River Phoenix, the clapboard River was holding shows the date 10/1/93. Sincerely, Cookie.
The destination for the evening of October 30th 1993, was The Viper Room, a club owned by Johnny Depp, at 8852 Sunset Boulevard.
River was wearing striped brown pants and black and white Converse high tops (size 10 1/2) and socks.
September 2000 UPDATE! Findadeath.com friend Erick Reddekopp writes in: A few minutes before 1 AM (Halloween morning), River had been in the bathroom doing drugs with some drug dealer friends and someone offered him a snort of high-grade Persian Brown. He was told it would make him feel fabulous. As soon as he snorted it he started trembling and shaking in front of the sink, screamed at his friend and then vomited. Someone tried to help by splashing cold water on his face and then gave him a Valium. (Nothing helps someone O.D.ing then to give them more drugs.) He staggered back into the bar and over to actress Samantha Mathis and his sister Rain. He complained he could not breathe and briefly passed out. When he came to, he asked Mathis to take him oustside. Mathis first called River’s friend and assistant Abby, then Mathis and River’s brother brother Joaquin took him outside. River then collapsed on the sidewalk.
After that he started having seizures and had three before a photographer, Ron Davis, went to call 911 at a nearby payphone, and so did Joaquin.
“He looked like a fish out of water,” said Ron Davis, who was standing outside the club. He was “thrashing spasmodically, his head flopping from side to side, arms flailing wildy.” Rain had since come out and thrown herself on River to attempt to stop the seizures. It seems after 8 minutes of seizures they stopped and River was still, at which point Joaquin said he was not breathing. At 1:14 a.m. he was in cardiac arrest when the paramedics arrived and Paramedic Ray Ribar of the LA County Fire Department began to administer CPR. They rushed him to Cedar Sinai Medical Center (thank you Terri, for the photo) where they arrived at 1:34.
When they got there, his skin was blue, but his body was still warm. The ER physicians did everything to revive him, even inserting a pacemaker. He was pronounced deat at 1:51 am.
Married With Children star Christina Applegate witnessed the apparent seizure, which she later re-enacted at an anti-drug dance piece.
The autopsy showed lethal levels of cocaine and morphine (heroin shows up as morphine, as the body metabolizes), Valium, marijuana and ephedrine (I thought the ephedrine came from a cold medicine, but now I’m told by a friend of Findadeath (A Disney person, no less) that Ephedrine is the main ingredient found in crystal meth. I didn’t know that. Thanks for the insight, and give my love to Uncle Walt.) , and the kitchen sink. I think its sort of ironic that he collapsed in front of a night-club at 1 in the morning, and didn’t have a drop of alcohol in him. Moral choice?
Official cause of death was acute multiple drug ingestion.
He was 23 years old.
In the autopsy report, there is noted “small abrasions on the knuckles of the right index finger and the right thumb. On his shin there is a red-purple contusion.
River was placed in a blue coffin, and on November 4, sixty mourners showed up at Milam Funeral Home for the viewing. His usual blonde hair was dyed black for the film he was working on. The mortician cut River’s shoulder length hair, and placed the cut hair beside him in the coffin, at his mother’s request.
September 2000 Update: Again from Findadeath.com friend Erick Reddekopp: There is a mistake in the funeral description. You say the “The mortician cut River’s shoulder length hair…..” actually his hair was both dyed black and cut short for the movie Dark Blood he had just wrapped up shooting in Utah. He had come back to LA to finish the rest of the shoot. This info. comes from several books, including Lost In Hollywood by John Glatt. They did have his cut hair from before filming, that was in a ponytail and placed in the coffin. Why they were saving it is beyond me, but they were.
He was dressed in a black t-shirt with the logo of his band, Aleka’s Attic, on it. His mother put a single carnation in the coffin. As mourners passed the coffin, several placed things like notes and necklaces in the casket. This is gross (WARNING – dead pic), but here’s a photograph of River in his coffin. If this sort of thing bugs you, don’t look. It’s not nice.
River was not embalmed. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered over the family ranch, in Florida. Supposedly.
CORRECTION NOVEMBER 2001: According to Jamie the Mortician, he can tell from the picture that River was indeed embalmed. They just did a horrible job of it. Thanks for the top tip Jamie!
There was a memorial service held on the Paramount Lot on November 18th. Sidney Poitier, Rob Reiner, Richard Benjamin, John Boorman, Christine Lahti, Peter Bogdanovich and River’s mother, Heart, attended it.
Tom Cruise, who was on location ruining Interview With a Vampire, issued a statement, “I’ll miss never having the opportunity to work with him.” I bet.
The front sidewalk of The Viper Room has become a shrine to River.
UPDATE May 2001: My friend Lisa Burk (also a very good Findadeath.com friend) took the shot of the sign above,
next to River’s picture, and this wall,
just a day or so after his death. Thanks Lisa, as always.
Fans scribble graffiti on the wall near where he collapsed.
I don’t know if they still do it, but every year on the anniversary, they would close the club. One year there was a “Gone Fishing” sign in front, and other year, “Closed for Remodeling.”
Trivia: In order to visit River in his suite at St. James’s Club and Hotel, you had to know the password. Earl Grey.
This just in from a Findadeath.com friend: I was reading your River Phoenix article (excellent!), but I’d like to add something. I live a block from the fire station that sent the rescue up the street to the Viper room on that fateful eve. (I’m in such a great location for this stuff!!). So one day I stopped in from my morning jog as the guys were cleaning their engine (uh hem). Sure enough, one of them was a paramedic on duty the evening of River’s death. He told me the kid (that’s how he put it) was dead before he hit the pavement. Apparently, he starting seizing and pretty much died INSIDE the club bathroom. His troop got nervous (as did people who worked there) and they dragged him outside, hoping he’d revive. He was way dead by then.
Interesting. Thanks for the tip!
This just in, January 2003, from Findadeath friend Ryan Forney: Hey I just wanted to tell you that there is a pretty decent song about River Phoenix’s death on the Natalie Merchant album “Tigerlily.” I think the song is actually called “River”, but I can’t remember.
Great stuff, Ryan, thanks! S
UPDATE March 2003, from Findadeath friend Sarah B: You might be interested to know that Rufus Wainwright wrote a song called “Matinee Idol” based on the death of River Phoenix. -Sarah B.
Thanks for the info, Sarah!
Also March 2003, from Findadeath friend Rayanne Dawson: Just thought I’d mention, in case you didn’t already know, that Belinda Carlisle recorded a song for River Phoenix called “California”.
Thanks for the info, Rayanne!
A different point of view on the coffin picture, April 2003, from Find a Death friend Helene: Hey Scott, Well, the newspaper that published the picture added some special effects to make him look “scary.” River Phoenix didn’t look like that at all after his death. Also, I have been told that the photographer turned him around in the coffin, and all that sh** to make him look “odd.” You know?
Anyway, I know that the picture will never disappear. Someone took it, it’sthere now. Just I still would like to see it off your site, but if you decide to let it stay… Would you then please tell the true story about the picture?
That it was doctored for example?
And please be sure that people do see the warning. I know you did warn people, but maybe it needs to be more visible. Something like that. I can tell you that I didn’t notice it myself, because someone just said “Go check this out.” I was very shocked. I guess you know what I mean. Helene
This just in, January 2004, from Findadeath friend Erin: Here’s some information about River Phoenix:
– You are correct: He was cremated, and his ashes are with his parents at their ranch in Florida.
– He was close friends with the members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Flea of RHCP was with him in the ambulance the night he died. River was also in one of their videos (he’s shown in a car scene during the “Under the Bridge” video) and recorded and wrote some songs for John when he released a solo CD. River died the day before Anthony’s birthday, which really broke Anthony up. He would go on to say, “I was visiting New York City, and something incredibly sad happened. One of my best friends, River Phoenix died the day before my birthday. I heard that news and fell into a state of shock. I could not talk, I just cried for 24 hours. My friends tried to take me out for my birthday. But I was just sitting there in a club, wondering why it had happened.” They recorded a song called “Transcending” for River, which is on the CD “One Hot Minute” along with the song, “Tearjerker” about Kurt Cobain who died a few months after River.
– River’s father, John, wanted him, and his siblings, to quit the entertainment business and help him with his restaurant. River promised his father he would quit as soon as he wrapped up the movies he promised to do – this promise came too late and he died a short while later. His father said, “Just before he left, I’ll always remember, he told me, ‘I’ll see you right after this movie, Dad.’ Well, he did. Only he was in a box.” ~ Erin
Thanks for the info, Erin!
UPDATE March 2005, from Findadeath friend Scarlett: I don’t know if this is the right Email to write to but oh well! I have heard a lot that River took the drugs, etc in the bathroom and then was taken outside…But recently I read an article the director of “The Thing Called Love” wrote (Peter Bogdanovich) which in one part had this:
After a while, she saw River with a pal of his who he had told her was a junkie, and a bouncer was opening a side door for them. She didn’t know if they were being pushed out or going out of their own accord. Evidently, the junkie had given River some stuff that didn’t mix with what he might have already taken. River complained that he wasn’t feeling well, but his friend told him he was just being paranoid. Worried, Sam followed them out to the sidewalk to keep an eye on them, lit a cigarette, and walked ten feet away to give them privacy. When she turned around, River had started going into convulsions, then he dropped to the sidewalk. His friend said he was fine, to just leave him alone. Knowing that couldn’t be true, Sam said, and that something was terribly wrong, she tried to get River on his feet, but he seemed to have passed out. She ran into the club to get Joaquin and Rain. Joaquin called 911 while Rain and Sam tried to help River. Then Joaquin and Rain both attempted unsuccessfully to revive River. By the time the paramedics got there, he had gone into cardiac arrest. Though they tried repeatedly to revive him, it was too late. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
I don’t know if this is accurate but this is supposedly what Samantha Mathis told him…I have heard all different stories! But here is this one. Scarlett.
Check out this site about River HERE. Thanks to Find a Death friend Jerri for the link.