Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
March 31
October 31, 1993
River Phoenix dies

During his successful and all-too-short career, actor River Phoenix was the James Dean of his generation. The striking young actor gave soulful performances in films ranging from Rob Reiner's coming-of-age hit Stand by Me to Sidney Lumet's drama about '60s radicals, Running on Empty, to Gus Van Sant's experimental Shakespeare homage, My Own Private Idaho, before dying of a drug overdose at West Hollywood's Viper Room on October 31, 1993. Intelligent, gentle, intense, and projecting a maturity beyond his years, Phoenix was a soft-spoken heartthrob who used his celebrity to promote causes like animal rights as well as to stretch the boundaries of the kinds of parts young movie stars were supposed to accept. In 2003, on the ten-year anniversary of his death, there were a rush of articles speculating on the actor's legacy, some of which wondered why his star did not seem to burn even brighter, as Dean's did. Some noted that the times had changed, and that boomers and Gen X'ers didn't endorse the mythmaking of earlier generations. Others, like producer Stephen Woolley, quoted in The Guardian, speculated that Phoenix would not have followed the path of his colleague Brad Pitt but instead would have been an idiosyncratic screen rebel with a perpetually ambivalent relationship to stardom. "I suspect he would have gone on to play harder, more interesting characters," Woolley said. "Robert Downey Jr is exactly the kind of guy that River would have become had he lived."


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