How did River Phoenix die? Tragic overdose in front of shocked brother and girlfriend

How did River Phoenix die? Tragic overdose in front of shocked brother and girlfriend

How did River Phoenix die? Tragic overdose in front of shocked brother and girlfriend

River Phoenix’s life was cut short during one fateful night in 1993. His acting career produced some of the most iconic films of the 1980s as he quickly rose to become a household name

River Phoenix

River Phoenix died in 1993 at the age of 23

Image: Getty Images)


River Phoenix would have been 51 years old today, but his life was tragically cut short in 1993.

The legendary actor was an icon of the 1980s and 1990s, starring in hits such as My Own Private Idaho, Stand By Me and The Mosquito Coast.

When he died, he was still considered a rising star, as he was quickly becoming one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood.

His brother, Joaquin Phoenix, continues to be a major name in the industry and in recent years he has spoken more candidly about River’s life.

He said he felt “a connection to River” in “virtually every movie that I made”.

How did River Phoenix die?

River Phoenix in 1991, two years before his death


( Getty Images)

River Phoenix was just 23 years old when he died on October 31, 1993.

His death was caused by an overdose outside of The Viper Room nightclub in Hollywood after months of using hard drugs.

It had been known by friends that he was taking drugs for months, but his death came as a complete shock as it followed two months of sobriety.

He was filming his last movie at the time, Dark Blood, which didn’t see the light of day until 2012.

Only 80% of the movie was filmed when River died, leaving director George Sluizer to fill in the missing scene by narrating the script himself.

When River returned to Los Angeles after filming in Utah and New Mexico, he went on a huge drug binge which ultimately led to him dying outside of the Viper Room nightclub – owned by Johnny Depp.

He was with his girlfriend Samantha Mathis, and his siblings Joaquin (then known as Leaf) and Rain.

When they arrived, Samantha thought they were only dropping off his younger brother and sister, “but when we arrived he said to me: ‘Oh, there are some people playing music tonight in the club who want me to play with them – that’s OK, right?’” according to the Guardian.

She continued: “I knew something was wrong that night, something I didn’t understand. I didn’t see anyone doing drugs but he was high in a way that made me feel uncomfortable – I was in way over my head.

The exterior of The Viper Room the day after the death of actor River Phoenix



“Forty-five minutes later, he was dead.”

River was taken outside by security, where he immediately collapsed on the floor.

Joaquin, Rain and Samantha watched in horror as he started going into convulsions.

Despite them immediately calling 911, there was nothing they could do to save him.

What has Joaquin Phoenix said about River’s death?

Joaquin Phoenix has rarely commented on River’s passing


( Getty Images)

Joaquin Phoenix, now known for films such as Her, Joker, Gladiator and The Master, has rarely opened up about his brother’s death.

However, in 2020, he gave a candid interview where he spoke more openly about River and his passing.

On 60 Minutes With Anderson Cooper, Joaquin said: “I feel like in virtually every movie that I made, there was a connection to River in some way.

“And I think that we’ve all felt his presence and guidance in our lives in numerous ways.”

River Phoenix starred as Chris Chambers in Stand By Me

Joaquin also explained how his family was surprised by the level of love and support they felt from River’s fans following his death.

However, he also admitted that it took a toll on the family as they struggled with the exposure during such a sensitive time.

He added: “You know, River was a really substantial actor and movie star and we didn’t really know it and having the passing be so public crippled the family in a way they found too challenging.

“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.”

Read More Read More

Most Read

Don’t Miss


Celeb obsessed? Get a daily dose of showbiz gossip direct to your inbox

Sign up

Invalid Email

Something went wrong, please try again later.

Thank you for subscribing

We have more newsletters

Show me

Privacy Notice

See our Privacy Notice