Saturday, October 25, 2003

Cry Me A River

In the week of Elliott Smith's untimely demise, The Guardian chooses to remind us that it's the tenth anniversary of River Phoenix's death by drug overdose. Well, actually, they were a week early, but I suppose we should applaud them for stealing a march on their competitors. The article gets a little maudlin about the lack of recent appreciation of River's career and wonders aloud what would have become of him had he lived.

Well, if I can be cynical for a moment (like you're gonna stop me, aside from hitting the back button) if young River had been lucky enough to survive the speedball he took that night the chances are that his fortunes would run dry the next night, or the night after, or at some point in the very near future. And even if he were lucky enough to survive indefinitely, given the movie projects he had in the pipeline his career was going nowhere, ever destined to play second fiddle to Brad Pitt - a similarly pretty acting middleweight who had the advantage of being just as attractive to women as he was to gays.

If very few people seem to remember much about Phoenix, let alone still mourn him, the article is right in identifying the main reason: the kid didn't make many good films, and those that were (Stand By Me, the under-regarded Running On Empty) were ensemble pieces. Gus Van Sant's My Private Idaho, in which he cosied up to Keanu Reeves, won him a new demographic of fans, but it was hardly a typical choice of role or material.

Of course, I blame the hippy parents myself, if for no other real reason than it amuses me greatly to do so. If you call your kid River, tell him he can be whatever he wants to be, raise him to be a free spirit and then drop him amidst the pills and thrills of Hollywood what the hell were they expecting? Touted as the vegan poster-boy in a cynical, cocaine-ridden age, Phoenix's ultimate humiliation was not his convulsive death but the lie that was his life.

And anyway, perhaps more to the point, whatever happened to Samantha Mathis, Christian Slater's co-star in Pump Up The Volume, who was Phoenix's consort on the infamous evening at The Viper Room in question? For a couple of years she was the casting choice for those who couldn't afford Winona Ryder or couldn't prise her away from her underwear - but apart from popping up in Mary Harron's American Psycho a few years back, she seems to have disappeared into oblivion. Methinks if I was her agent I'd be trumping up a much-publicised court case for ringing cars, or at least a Playboy centerfold, but that's just me I guess.


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