Picks and Pans Review: Lost in Hollywood: the Fast Times and Short Life of River Phoenix
And now, the inevitable biography of River Phoenix. A virtual poster boy for vegetarianism, environmentalism and other clean-living causes, the actor attracted national attention in October 1993 when he died of a drug overdose outside the Viper Room, a West Hollywood nightclub. Despite Phoenix's highly publicized death, his 23 years on earth lacked much drama or incident. True, he was a sensitive and talented performer, but his personal life after stardom struck was mostly a plunge into drug and alcohol abuse.
The reader comes away from Lost in Hollywood disgusted by the story of a wasted life and angry at the people who knew Phoenix but were unable to save him. The adults who were closest to Phoenix—his parents, agent and coworkers—considered him such a pure spirit that they failed to address his all too typical problems with substance abuse.
As the son of hippie parents, who named him after the river of life in Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, the young star grew up unfettered by much education, discipline or guidance. He became the family's breadwinner while still a teenager—appearing first in television commercials, then TV movies and finally feature films. Phoenix's first girlfriend, his Running on Empty costar Martha Plimpton, said, "His parents saw him as their savior and treated him like the father." It turned out that he was simply the heir to a tragic Hollywood tradition. (Donald I. Fine, $23.95)