After James Dean, before Leonardo DiCaprio, there was River Phoenix. In the pantheon of beautiful young film stars, he is among the greats – matching floppy haired insouciance and undoubted acting talent with an intriguing family history, unconventional moniker and a tragically early demise. This Halloween marked 20 years since his death, and it is a sign of his enduring popularity that this picture, taken on the red carpet at the 1989 Academy Awards, and Loved by Another Man editor Ben Cobb, was the unanimous winner of this week’s Loves Vote.
In his 23 years, Phoenix was part of a controversial cult (The Children of God), achieved TV stardom, was immortalised as the youthful Indiana Jones in the same year he gained an Oscar nomination for Running On Empty, before graduating to cult status in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho. He played lost boys and marines, gay hustlers and security technicians. Outside of film, he was a passionate musician and a dedicated animal rights and environmental activist, famously stating, “I wouldn’t eat a hamburger for $40,000”. But his legend was cemented at Halloween in 1993, by his premature death from a heroin overdose on the pavement outside The Viper Room. Years on, the sense of potential lost still lingers, but who knows what Phoenix would have been doing at this point. As he said himself, "I would rather quit while I was ahead. There's no need in overstaying your welcome".
Here, we ask Cobb to remember where he was when he heard the news of Phoenix's death, and who he'd choose to play him onscreen.
Why did you love this picture?
This year Halloween marked twenty years since River Phoenix's tragic death. Plus he looks amazing in evening wear.
Where would you put this portrait if you owned the original?
Inside my wardrobe.
Which is your favourite River Phoenix performance?
Mike, the narcoleptic hustler in My Own Private Idaho. Followed closely by Mosquito Coast.
Which one of the boys in Stand By Me were you most like as a kid, and why?
I'd love to say Kiefer Sutherland… but probably more Corey Feldman.
Do you remember where you were when River Phoenix died?
I first heard on the Sunday evening news on TV. He had died the night before.
Who would play you in a film of your life?
Keanu Reeves, obviously.
What would be your desert island film?
Silence of the Lambs or Bad Timing… can't decide.
What are you looking forward to about winter?
Going to Goa.
What was the last thing you bought?
A pair of signed Shuji Terayama photographs.
Text by Tish Wrigley