River Phoenix would have been, in my opinion, among the best, if not the best, actors of his generation. In fact, I think he already was when he died tragically at the tender age of 23, in 1993. In his short career he impressed with his natural talent and it is hard not to imagine the actor he was becoming. He was nominated to the Academy Awards for his role in Running on Empty (1989) when he was only 19. From Stand by Me and Running on Empty, to I Love You to Death, Dogfight and My Own Private Idaho, he had an arresting presence in every role I’ve seen him in. There was something mysterious about him, something quiet yet powerful that easily caught your attention and often held the screen. His untimely death deprived us not only of a great actor, but of a future style role model too. He came to define the grunge generation, but he knew how to wear a tuxedo as well.
I believe he would have chosen his movies wisely, steering away from what was mainstream. “I’m so glad that it didn’t happen, because I don’t want to make music for the masses. I just want to make it for my friends and the people I play with” is what River was saying about Aleka’s Attic, the band he’d formed with sister, Rain, when it didn’t hit it big. I believe he would have applied the same philosophy to his filmography. Which would only have made us appreciate him more. In a Hollywood that has lost the real meaning of a movie star, he would have been one.
photos: ©Lance Staedler/CORBIS OUTLINE, 1987