River Phoenix overdose death
In the early morning hours of October 31, 1993, the highly acclaimed 23-year-old actor and musician River Jude Phoenix fell into convulsions outside The Viper Room nightclub on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, CA at around 1:00 am. His then 19-year-old brother, actor Joaquin Phoenix, called 911 and pleaded with the dispatcher to send an ambulance for his brother. Meanwhile River’s younger sister, musician Rain Phoenix, attempted to allay River’s spasmodic convulsions, and then began administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Witnesses claimed that River was experiencing a violent seizure with head spasms and arm flailing. During the 911 call, Joaquin could not confirm whether or not his brother was still breathing; River had actually ceased breathing and became motionless before emergency personnel arrived. Around 1:14 am, River was in full cardiac arrest and on-scene paramedics began performing CPR.
River had attended the popular West Hollywood nightclub that evening to perform with his band Aleka’s Attic, and was accompanied by his two siblings and several friends including rock bassist Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, his girlfriend—actress Samantha Mathis—and co-owner of The Viper Room, actor Johnny Depp. As Joaquin, Rain, and Samantha were already present outside the club with River when he began convulsing, Depp, Flea, ex-Sex Pistols member Steve Jones, and Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes were performing onstage inside the club until the news of River’s collapse trickled through the room. Flea jumped off stage and rushed to his friend’s side as he lay on the sidewalk. Flea would ultimately accompany River and emergency personnel in the ambulance that carried him to the nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Medical personnel attempted to restart River’s heart, including the insertion of a pacemaker. However, River had no pulse or blood pressure; he remained unresponsive and was declared dead at 1:51am.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Coroner’s office both confirmed that the death was accidental and involved no foul play. River’s death was found to be caused by acute multiple drug intoxication involving heroin, cocaine, marijuana, Valium, and methamphetamine. River was reported to have taken a combination of the drugs in the club’s restroom along with others. He had no puncture marks on his body, indicating that the drugs were not injected but rather ingested or inhaled. The fatal combination—although it could not be established how often he had been taking the drugs or in what amounts—was determined to be heroin and cocaine, known as a “speedball.” After the body has absorbed heroin into the blood stream, it becomes metabolized as morphine, which was identified in the autopsy report. River was reported to have instantly become ill after taking the drugs in the restroom, and grew faint and weak while still inside the club. River was subsequently escorted outside the club by his companions to help him get fresh air, yet he immediately collapsed.
Following the incident, the 911 phone call and the story of River’s overdose was replayed over and over throughout the media circuit as fans nationwide were stunned by his sudden death. An outspoken animal rights activist, River was a dedicated vegetarian and monitored his food intake. The extent of his drug habit was mostly unknown to others, especially to the public. The drug abuse was largely unforeseen since River used his celebrity and media publicity to advocate his healthy lifestyle, animal rights, environmental issues, and favorite charities.
Regarded as a natural talent and esteemed model of his young generation, River was predicted to achieve massive success. He had already been nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award and had received a number of awards for previous filmography. River was in the midst of working on a new film called Dark Blood, and was signed for the lead role in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. River’s untimely death tragically ended the life of an extraordinary, influential icon.