Noted for the depth, sensitivity, and intelligence that he brought to his roles during his teens, River Phoenix was on the cusp of becoming a successful adult actor when he overdosed on drugs and died on Halloween night, 1993.
The son of Arlyn Dunetz and John Bottom, Phoenix was born River Jude Bottom on August 23, 1970, in a log cabin on a mint farm in Madras, OR. His parents named him after the "river of life" that flowed through Hermann Hesse's novel Siddhartha and for the Beatles' song "Hey Jude." From the time Phoenix was born, his parents lived the hippie life, moving to several communes until they joined the controversial Children of God cult. They became missionaries for their new church and spent a couple of years wandering Latin America before landing in Venezuela. Along the way, three more children were born: Rain, Joaquin Rafael (who grew up to be actor Joaquin Phoenix), and Libertad Mariposa. Though John Bottom had been designated the "Archbishop of Venezuela and the Caribbean," he and his family received no missionary funds from their church and lived in poverty; Phoenix and his siblings often sang and performed on street corners for food. His family hit their lowest point when Phoenix was seven and the penniless brood was forced to move into a beach hut until a local priest showed mercy and arranged for them to be stowed away on a Florida-bound freighter. The crew discovered the family during the voyage but treated them kindly. Shortly after their arrival in Florida in 1978, the family legally changed its name to Phoenix to commemorate their new lives. While the family was in Florida, another child, Summer Joy Phoenix, was born.