Joaquin Phoenix Says He ‘Didn’t Really Know’ Brother River Phoenix Was So Famous

by : Cameron Frew on : 14 Jan 2020 14:40
Joaquin Phoenix Says He 'Didn't Really Know' Brother River Phoenix Was So FamousJoaquin Phoenix Says He 'Didn't Really Know' Brother River Phoenix Was So FamousPA Images

Joaquin Phoenix has been dominating the headlines for his award-worthy performance in Joker. But, in a rare interview, he recently took some time to discuss the death of his brother, River. 

River Phoenix – most famous for his roles in Stand By Me and My Own Private Idaho – died in October 1993 from a drug overdose, following a night out at The Viper Room in West Hollywood. Joaquin, who was with his brother that same night, was only 19 at the time.


Joaquin, now 45, and the Phoenix family have long been reluctant to discuss the late actor’s passing. However, in an intimate interview with Anderson Cooper for 60 Minutes, they’ve opened up.

Check out a clip from the 60 Minutes interview below: 

While appearing on the program, which aired on Sunday, January 12, Joaquin spoke of the immediate aftermath of River’s death, when he and his family learned the full extent of the actor’s fame.


Joaquin said: 

We were so removed from the entertainment world. We didn’t watch entertainment shows. We didn’t have the entertainment magazines in our house. You know, River was a really substantial actor and movie star and we didn’t really know it.

The Joker and Walk The Line actor explained that the heightened media attention in the months after River’s death got in the way of being able to mourn his passing.

Joaquin PhoenixJoaquin PhoenixPA Images

Joaquin added: 

During that time in which you’re most vulnerable, there are helicopters flying over, there are people that are trying to sneak onto your land. Certainly, for me it felt like it impeded on the mourning process.

More than 25 years later, the family are still going through the grieving process. Joaquin’s mother Heart explained it ‘happens out of nowhere. Ya know, I’ll be driving and all of a sudden I will feel it. And I’ll just welcome it’.

For Joaquin, he feels there’s a connection to River in ‘virtually every movie’ he’s made. ‘And I think that we’ve all felt his presence and guidance in our lives in numerous ways,’ he said.

River Phoenix My Own Private IdahoRiver Phoenix My Own Private IdahoFine Line Features

Recalling a formative moment of his movie-watching youth, the Oscar-nominated star spoke about a film River had recommended to him: Raging Bull.

Joaquin said: 

I think it just… awakened something in me. And I could suddenly see it through his eyes. There’s a part in Raging Bull where [Robert] De Niro meets a girl in between a chain-link fence. And he, you know, shakes her pinky and it’s like this just beautiful little detail, it’s this wonderful moment. And I think that in some ways is what I’m always looking for.

What are the possibilities? What more can we say? Our experience, the human experience, in this moment.


Even with the likes of Adam Driver and Leonardo DiCaprio vying for the golden gong, Joaquin is the favourite to take home the Oscar for Best Actor at this year’s Academy Awards.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Film and TV, Film, Joaquin Phoenix, Joker, Oscars


60 Minutes/YouTube
  1. 60 Minutes/YouTube

    Joaquin Phoenix and family on River Phoenix’s legacy and influence