‘Stand By Me’ Star River Phoenix Passed Away 30 Years Ago

RUNNING ON EMPTY, River Phoenix, 1988
Everett Collection

It is hard to believe that it has been 30 years since the heartbreaking death of actor River Phoenix. He passed away on Oct. 31, 1993, at just 23 years old. His death was ruled an accidental overdose with lethal levels of cocaine and morphine in his system at the time of death. Phoenix’s family is remembering him fondly this year with some posts on social media. His mother, Arlyn “Heart” Phoenix, shared a photo of her son along with a sweet note.

She wrote in part, “Today marks 30 years that have come and gone since River passed away at the age of 23. From the first song he ever wrote at five years old seeing a kid being bullied: “Why do people fight, Why do people cheat, Why do people destroy the love in our world? I want to give my life for them, I know it won’t be easy my friend. If I could show them God’s, they will receive joy and peace from above” He was a voice for the voiceless and had the courage to use his celebrity to make a difference. Whether it was for human rights, animal rights, women’s rights, racial justice, environmentalism, or any wrong that needed to be righted, he was there.”


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Phoenix was known for his roles in Stand By Me, Running on Empty and My Own Private Idaho. His first film role was in the 1985 film Explorers with Ethan Hawke and the two became best friends. Soon after, he was cast as a young Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. His siblings soon followed in his footsteps and built an acting career of their own, with the most famous being Joaquin Phoenix. Joaquin has been very private about his relationship with his late brother but shared a rare comment in 2020 when he 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.”

EXPLORERS, from left: Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, 1985,

Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

He added, “River was a really substantial actor and movie star, and we didn’t really know it. So 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, right?” Joaquin named his son River Lee, in his brother’s honor.

I LOVE YOU TO DEATH, River Phoenix, 1990

Everett Collection

His sister Rain has also paid tribute to her late brother. She released an album in 2019 titled River, on the anniversary of his passing. She said that she was only 20 when he passed away and it had taken years to process what happened and move forward. She revealed that she hopes he is always remembered and said, “River was not about telling people how to live their lives, he was about doing his part, and encouraging others through his example, through his art. It’s just who he was as a person, his generosity, his spirit, his compassion. I really want to thank the fans for keeping all those things very much illuminated as part of his legacy.”

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July 2019

Celebrate the biggest summer movies of the ’80s, when moviegoing morphed from mere entertainment to blockbuster events.

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