It Happened This Week in L.A. History: The Fall of Phoenix


October 31, 1993

Known for his roles in films including Stand by Me, My Own Private Idaho and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, actor, rocker, and heartthrob River Phoenix was on his way to movie star success when his life was tragically cut short by a drug overdose.

Phoenix was set to perform at West Hollywood night club The Viper Room on the evening of October 30, but collapsed outside the venue while club co-owner Johnny Depp was performing with Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea.

Phoenix was convulsing on the ground when his brother Joaquin called 911, but paramedics were unable to resuscitate him. The 23-year-old was transported to the hospital and prounounced dead at 1:51 a.m. Phoenix’s death was attributed to acute multiple drug ingestion including cocaine and heroin. His body was cremated and his ashes scattered over his family’s home in Florida. The film Dark Blood, which he was working on the day of his death, was released in 2012. Following Phoenix’s death, Johnny Depp closed The Viper Room every October 31st until 2004, when he sold his share of the club.

Photograph courtesy of

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  • Skye

    I remember the day River died so well. I am a year younger than he would be and nearly to the date. We lost a beautiful and talented human being despite his troubles with drugs and alchohol. I hate going to forums that speak of his death and the few that say River was nothing but a junkie. There was MUCH more depth to him than being some junkie. He needed help! It seems there were few brave enough to attempt to help him. As happens with MANY cases of addiction. They are afraid to speak out to the addict for fear they will lose all contact. I read an article many years ago from Peter Bagdonovich talking about his experience of directing River in what would be his final completed movie The Thing Called Love. I wrote a resonse to Mr. Bogdonovich in the letter to to editor section as it semed like everyone on that set turned a blind eye to River Phoenix’s drug and alchohol use. Bogdonovich mentioned how he had the assistant director speak to River about some behaviour on a particular night that had c0-star Samantha Mathis and others seemingly upset. And it was thought by the director ( Bogdonovich) that River appeared to be “on” something. After the assistant director spoke with River Bogdonovich finally said something to River as well. My response in the letter to the editor is the same now as it was then. WHY was River NOT drug tested??? Since it was highly suspected he was using? Blind eyes were turned IMO. And the result was tragic for River, his family, and friends… Yes you have a choice NOT to do drugs. But most people who use and abuse drugs need help getting off of them. Even nearly 20 years later people STILL seem to have no clue that an addiction is an illness! And often ends tragically. I can’t help but think if River had been fired from The Thing Called Love for drug use if he might not still be with us. The fact is addiction is an unpredictable disease and we will never know. And we will never know what could have been accomplished by this young and talented man…. You will always be missed by those who care River!

  • Tamera Oliver

    Still can’t believe you’re gone. Can never enjoy Halloween cos I always think of you x What a brilliant actor he was but most important what an amazing intelligent person he was.
    (First time I hear Johnny Depp was performing that awful night in the Viper Room, didn’t even know Johnny Depp performed music!)