He was a huge talent and seemingly a great human being. The contradiction between his extreme anti-drug stance and his overdose was absolutely baffling to me. Later, stories began to seep out about his life: Rob Reiner, for example, recalls that River Phoenix went missing from the set of Stand by Me. When he found him, he was surprised to discover that the youngster had sneaked off-set to eat...a Mars Bar. Apparently, due to his parents paradoxically free-spirited yet strict lifestyle (most of the family were raised in communes: one of which was the notorious Children of God), candy - particularly that which contained gelatin, which is a by-product of animal skin - and soda were forbidden and the young River had to tattletale away to consume a bar of chocolate.
I think you can gauge the potential of his acting by his brother Joaquin. Joaquin is one of Hollywood's deluxe actors, and River was alleged to be the more gifted of the two.
I could picture River being one of these generations leading actors along with a pack that would include Johnny Depp and Leonardo Dicaprio. In fact, you can assume some of their eminent roles would have been occupied by River.
But that is just his acting potential and his star superiority. Where would his occupation with drugs have taken him? Would he have the expertise of a Dicaprio but the history of a Robert Downey Jr or - the ultimate specimen - Charlie Sheen?
Sheen may be an extreme example, but on the other hand, what is more thrilling than dying of a drug overdose?
And that is the paradox of River Phoenix. A huge talent Looks of a movie star. An activist who sincerely cared about the state of the world.....And self-destructive – It’s all coated in a snow globe paradox.
I would love to see a movie made about his life.