Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A New Phoenix Rises Joaquin Phoenix, Still Dealing with His Brother's Death, Expands His Acting Career

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A New Phoenix Rises Joaquin Phoenix, Still Dealing with His Brother's Death, Expands His Acting Career

Article excerpt

Even through the fog of a nasty flu, Joaquin Phoenix remains achingly polite.

"Thanks," he says softly when offered a ragged, perforated sheet of Bounty from the kitchen.

The 22-year-old actor, who is unavoidably known as the younger brother of the late actor River Phoenix, blows his streaming nose. "Sorry," he apologizes. For a performer who has carved out an offbeat movie career playing angry, alienated teens, his off-screen persona is marked more by floor-gazing and foot-shuffling. "I'm just a private person," he admits exhaling a haze of chain-smoked Marlboros. "Sorry." Joaquin was a TV adolescent-for-hire before bursting onto Hollywood screens in 1989 as Dianne Wiest's sullen teen-age son with a penchant for porno in "Parenthood." His next big role came in the form of the memorably menacing Jimmy -- the socially inept slacker with a dangerous crush on Nicole Kidman -- in Gus Van Sant's 1995 black comedy "To Die For." But between those roles, tragedy brought his private world crashing down on Oct. 31, 1993. As his famous brother, River, lay convulsing from a drug overdose outside a hot Los Angeles club on Sunset Strip called the Viper Room, Joaquin was several yards away pleading for help on a pay telephone. "You must get here, please, you must get here," his anguished brother said, somehow remembering to say "please" and "thank you" to the 911 emergency dispatcher. "I'm thinking he had Valium, or something." River was pronounced dead Halloween morning at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. His surviving brother's private grief is still raw. "It's a slow process. I remember thinking as a kid, `God, what would I do if I lost my dad or mom?' I figured I'd go insane or kill myself," he says. "But somehow, for years, you're so damn out of it. You just sit there." Joaquin took a multiyear hiatus from Hollywood. He admits, somewhat sheepishly, that the script for "To Die For" sat unread for many months. "I just wasn't interested," he says. "I just have this tendency to expect the worst from a story. You know, I always see really bad acting, for some reason." Cajoled, he finally picked it up -- and then couldn't put it down. "It was one of those strange experiences where, as I'm reading it, I know what Jimmy's going to say before I read it. The feelings just sort of pop out at me." No surprises there -- filmmaker Van Sant's exploration of family relationships has been a special beacon to the Phoenix tribe. Joaquin's brother, River, starred in the critically acclaimed "My Own Private Idaho" in 1991 and sister Rain acted in "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" three years later. …

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