River Phoenix: His Tragic Death In 1993

River Phoenix: His Tragic Death In 1993
June 21, 2020 - 13:00 / Lucas Anderson

River Phoenix's death in 1993 remains among Hollywood's most tragic losses. The young actor passed away at the age of 23 after an accidental drug overdose in West Hollywood.

River Phoenix's life came to a tragic end when he died in 1993.

At the time, the 23-year-old actor had established himself as a promising young star.

River Phoenix

A child of the Bottom family, River and his four siblings - Rain, Leaf, Liberty and Summer - were all child actors. Their parents later changed the family name to Phoenix.

Today, the most notable of the siblings is Oscar-winner Joaquin Phoenix, who was formerly known as Leaf.

River Phoenix early movie roles

The first movie that put River on the map was 1986's ensemble coming-of-age film Stand By Me. At the time, he was 15 years old.

RELATED: Stand By Me - The Cast Then & Now

He then went on to establish himself as a serious performer to watch for when he collected an Academy Award nomination for playing "Danny Pope" in 1988's Running on Empty.

River Phoenix in Running on Empty (1988).

Celebrated performances in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and My Own Private Idaho further built expectations for River's future.

But he had also got into drugs prior to his death. His friend Bob Forrest and girlfriend Samantha Mathis, who were both with him the night he died, later spoke about his little-known substance abuse problems.

The death of River Phoenix

On the night of Oct. 30, 1993, River attended a party at Johnny Depp's club, the Viper Room, in West Hollywood, California. According to the memoir of Bob Forrest, River was already high when he arrived at the party with friend John Frusciante (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers).

More drugs were consumed at the party, where River had met up with his girlfriend and siblings Joaquin (then known as Leaf) and Rain. Frusciante's bandmate, Flea, Forrest, and Depp were a part of their posse as well. 

Forrest recalled Phoenix worrying that he may have been overdosing, but that he soon said he felt better. But not too long after, Phoenix exited the club, collapsed, and began to convulse. Joaquin, Rain, Depp, Mathis, and Flea were all with him as they awaited the arrival of an ambulance.

River was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Hospital, but, once there, he was pronounced dead at 1:51 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 31. The cause of death was later determined to be "acute multiple drug intoxication" after an overdose of heroine and cocaine.

River's life came to an end at just 23 years of age.

Exterior of the Viper Room on Nov. 1, 1993, the day after River Phoenix's death. 

River Phoenix's friends and family recall fateful night

River's death deeply affected his friends and family. Joaquin later remembered holding his older brother in his arms that night, and continues to reference him and his ideals in awards speeches.

In 2018, Samantha Mathis also opened up about her memories of the night at the Viper Room. 

"I knew something was wrong that night, something I didn't understand," Mathis told The Guardian. "I didn't see anyone doing drugs but [River] was high in a way that made me feel uncomfortable – I was in way over my head."

Today, River is remembered as a rising star whose life was tragically cut short. His stance on animal rights and veganism continues to influence many, and movie fans continue to enjoy his performances to this day.

River Phoenix attends the Academy Awards luncheon in 1989.