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Compared to other premature deaths in Hollywood—a list including Jean Harlow, Dean, and Ledger—when he died, River hadn’t yet shown us much beyond the act that got him noticed. That good-hearted, fucked-up boy has now been dead as long as he was alive; 23 years is both too long and too short.
When River Phoenix fatally collapsed from a drug overdose on the sidewalk outside the notorious Viper Room on Halloween 1993, he was a 22-year-old Oscar-nominated star of the classic “Stand by Me” with a brilliant future in the making. As Gavin Edwards reveals in his new book, “Last Night at The Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind,” the actor was planning to quit moviemaking. That night he headed out into the Hollywood scene with his younger brother, Joaquin, and sister, Rain.
I have never felt as ugly as when looking at River. Like James Dean, he died within the dew of post-adolescence—a favored era for mythmakers—but this is where the comparisons end.
Dean shrugged and squinted as though trying to slough his skin; River faced us with squared shoulders and wide eyes.
Unlike Brando, River never prowled onscreen—that longshoreman swagger would have looked ridiculous on such a young kid—but there was something about him that made his co-stars uncertain. He acted in 13 films, most of them frivolous, more than a few unwatchable. Getting older creates its own variations; given a modicum of talent, an actor gains gravitas as they age. The of River Phoenix’s death was best answered a long time ago by Martha Plimpton, his ex-girlfriend: “He was just a boy,” she said.
Some nights, Depp would host late-night parties for his friends.
“Kate Moss might get behind the bar; Naomi Campbell might dance with security; Depp might have a longer conversation with Chrissie Hynde about religion.
So he headed back to the table to share the evening with girlfriend Samantha Mathis and his brother and sister.
There he took a drink from a friend, someone he had twice taken to rehab, and gulped it down without asking what was in it.