The Heartbreaking Life of Joaquin Phoenix



The Heartbreaking Life of Joaquin Phoenix

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
Joaquin Phoenix is among the greatest talents of his generation, but that does not mean he has had an easy life. In this video, we will be attempting to better understand the man behind the many roles, as we explore the Heartbreaking Life of Joaquin Phoenix.

The Heartbreaking Life of Joaquin Phoenix

This American actor is arguably among the greatest talents of his generation. But he’s also notoriously private, evasive in interviews, and just generally mysterious. The life of a movie star is enough to make anyone behave oddly or retreat inwards, but based on what we do know about Joaquin Phoenix, it’s safe to say that he’s had it even tougher than most. In fact, considering everything he’s been through, it’s a testament to his willpower and immense talent that he’s managed to achieve the level of success that he has.

Come along as we attempt to better understand the man behind the many roles, by exploring the Heartbreaking Life of Joaquin Phoenix.

A life lived in the spotlight is never an easy one, but the entertainment industry is particularly taxing on children. When you’re going to auditions and working on film sets, it doesn’t leave much time for the simple things. As a kid, Phoenix never achieved the celebrity status akin to the likes of Drew Barrymore or MaCculay Culkin, but between 1982 and 89, he appeared on a number of television series and played a prominent role in films such as “SpaceCamp” and “Parenthood”.

While he may not have ever cracked the child star A-list, he nonetheless arguably had it worse than higher profile young talents. You see … when Joaquin was growing up, his parents, along with he and his siblings, were members of a now infamous cult, the Children of God. At the time, the family name was Bottom, and his parents, Arlyn and John Lee, were actually missionaries charged with spreading the teachings of their alternative faith. Though Joaquin’s parents would leave the movement by the time Joaquin was only three or four, it nonetheless affected his upbringing.

John and Arlyn’s missionary work took them and their children traveling throughout Latin America. Without any real income, the family resorted to having the children beg while the parents preached. According to Joaquin’s older brother River, their home outside Venezuela’s capital Caracas was a “rat-infested” “shack” without no toilet.

Joaquin maintains in interviews that his parents joined the movement with good intentions, believing that they’d found like-minded, spiritual people. And he insists that they left the Children of God as soon as they recognized that all was not right with the organization.

Nonetheless, comments from his family suggest that the cult had a negative impact on their lives. The Children of God have been accused of encouraging child sexuality - both between children and between children and adults. For the record, Joaquin has never suggested that he himself was exposed to such activity, but River once told Details magazine that he lost his virginity at age four to other “kids”. And his mother quoted River saying about the cult: “They’re disgusting, they’re ruining people’s lives.”

In 1978, Joaquin’s family left the Children of God and relocated back to the United States. It was the start of a new chapter for the family, and it was around this time that they changed their name from Bottom to Phoenix, as a symbol of their new beginnings. While very different from their time living in Venezuela, this next chapter was by no means an easy one.

For starters, they had to make their way to the US by stowing away on a freighter ship. And even upon arriving, Phoenix’s childhood in L.A. was characterized, first and foremost, by poverty. The exact details are murky and the timeline unclear, but the family was at one point homeless and living out of their car, and at another sharing a one bedroom apartment between the seven of them. As for the kids, they’d gone from begging in the streets of South America to busking in Los Angeles.

Although their main aim was to put food on the table, the performances put on by the Phoenix children, both on the street and at talent shows, eventually caught the attention of talent agent Iris Burton, who turned both Joaquin and River into bonafide stars.

Of course, with success comes the problems of celebrityhood - a lifetime of public scrutiny and opportunities for self-destruction. Often, the biggest moments in an actor’s career come paired with extreme lows. We’re jumping forward a bit here, but in Joaquin’s case, this is perhaps best illustrated by his struggles with alcohol in the mid-aughts.

A method actor, Phoenix really committed himself to the role of Johnny Cash for the 2005 film, “Walk the Line”. The iconic country singer had a well-documented history drug and alcohol and addiction, however, and it would seem that the latter of the two demons got its claws into Phoenix too. The film took Joaquin’s career to new heights and earned him an Academy Award nomination, but also sent him to rehab.

“Walk the Line” wasn’t the only time that method acting got the actor into trouble. For the 2010 mockumentary “I’m Still Here”, Joaquin quit acting in 2008, began a rap career and seemingly spiraled out of control. People thought that the actor had lost his mind, especially after a bizarre interview on David Letterman. In the end, it turns out that he was just doing his job and acting like a star in crisis.

Here’s the thing though… Phoenix was fully committing to the role whenever in public, and by his own admission, there were times he had misgivings about what the project was demanding of him. For better or worse, he stuck with it, embarrassing himself in the name of the film even when he had doubts. No wonder acting gives him such anxiety!

Joaquin Phoenix’s life has clearly been a difficult one, from his early childhood up to the present day. But if there’s a single event that makes it truly heartbreaking, it’s the tragic death of his brother River Phoenix.

On October 31st, 1993, Joaquin and River went to Los Angeles nightclub The Viper Room with their younger sister Rain, and River’s girlfriend Samantha Mathis. River was supposed to perform with Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist, Flea, that night. Sadly, the young talent’s night ended with a fatal overdose of speedball - a mixture of heroin and cocaine.

It was Joaquin who made the call to 911, a phone call that was leaked to the news and repeatedly played in the days and weeks to follow. Joaquin was just 19 at the time and, understandably overwhelmed by the loss, retreated from acting for about a year before returning to the spotlight.

And that is the heartbreaking life of Joaquin Phoenix. He’s one of the greatest actors of his generation, but his journey is one that few people would envy.