The Fast Times and Short Life of River Phoenix
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 A depressing and annoying account of the troubled life of actor River Phoenix. Phoenix's parents, surnamed Bottom, were the sort of earnest but ludicrous hippies who in 1970 could give their firstborn the name ``River Bottom'' without noticing its inauspiciousness. Within a couple of years the Bottoms had joined a sinister pseudo- Christian cult, the Children of God, under whose edicts River was apparently introduced to sexual relations at age four. Renamed the Phoenixes by the cult, the family wound up in Venezuela as missionaries. By the time they dropped out, six-year-old River had become the indigent family's principal breadwinner, singing in the street for coins. Soon the Phoenixes moved to L.A. to try to capitalize on River's charisma and talent. There followed appearances in TV commercials and series, and eventually success in feature films such as Stand by Me and Running on Empty. In public, Phoenix was a clean-living vegan and environmental activist, but privately he drank, smoked, and at least sporadically used drugs. Given the childhood sexual abuse, the fact that he spent much of his adolescence in front of a camera, and his parents' conviction that he had a mission to reform the world, it's not hard to imagine the pressures and insecurities that ultimately led to Phoenix's death by multiple-drug overdose at age 23. Glatt (Rage & Roll, 1993) gives only an occasional inkling that he recognizes Phoenix's appeal: The actor gave some edgy, brilliant performances, and he wrote his own finest scene, the narcoleptic hustler's campfire soul-baring in My Own Private Idaho. Glatt did not speak to most of Phoenix's intimates and colleagues in any depth, when he spoke to them at all; much of his information is taken from magazine and newspaper articles, with no attempt at a unifying point of view. Puffy amusement for celebrity-trauma fans that lacks any fondness for its subject. (Photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 15th, 1995
ISBN: 1-55611-426-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Donald Fine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995


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