Another Halloween has passed. A night like this in the entertainment capital that is Los Angeles, is an excuse for the young and beautiful set to escape further into illusion. A day dedicated to transformation and disguise. A city of ghosts that never grow old.

Believers say the veil between the living and the dead, thins, and becomes transparent.

Thin enough for River Phoenix to slip through in 1993. We know the club, the 911 call. The headlines, that lurid, awful photo.

River Phoenix source unknown

His death has never been adequately folded away into the drawer of explanations. It’s taken 25 years for the media to report the method of drug ingestion accurately, yet they continue with falsehoods. Reports vary on his drinking, use of speed, and hiding a heroin habit for example. An enigma remains because his death was never properly investigated. People close to the incident refused to speak, which produced a vague police report. The media took the usual liberties of using sensationalism to sell their stories and certain rumors have never rested. How could River who always radiated a pure nature and innocence, so full of genuine spirit, unbefitting of Hollywood die of a drug overdose in an unlikely self-destructive fashion?

Young Hollywood in the 90s was a landscape of excess. Dynamic shifts in relevant music brought a whole new level of wealth and influence to a different generation. The underground was yanked from your friend’s mom’s basement and given multi-million dollar deals. Rockstars were on top of the pile in Hollywood’s glamour machine, with Movies Stars and Super Models on their arms, and stepping out with the wealthy children of the old school Hollywood elites, friends, and hangers-on.

The last era of privacy before cell phones and social media changed our lives forever. The last era where re-creating the truth to fit a constructed narrative was still possible in a time when electric typewriters, landlines, copy machines, 35mm film, and paper files were standard.

Conflicting stories abound of the night in question. Fact and fiction have merged. Records of that night, don’t match the stories. River Phoenix died of an acute overdose for about an hour while in the presence of a crowd of people, including his family, his girlfriend, and his friends. By the time an ambulance arrived, his soul no longer rested on the gum encrusted sidewalk. His celebrity was partly to blame. A barrier that enables a person to stay unaccountable, and difficult to confront. A double standard exists with the intention to keep public reputations intact. Famous people die when people around them are hesitant to call for help, especially when drugs are involved. They do not want an investigation reflecting back upon their own activities.

He had two camps: River was squeaky clean and did not do drugs. That was his image. Vegan, environmentalist, innocence, a Golden Boy with natural talent. Or he was as an addict who was hiding his habit from everyone and struggling to get clean and keep the image above.

Autopsy: The Last Hours Of…S03E04

Most accounts claim he his drug use became more than recreational after his role in My Own Private Idaho. Even by his own account, the role took a toll on him. The Final 24 hours describes it well.

Friend Matt Ebert explains their method of research for the film. They interviewed prostitutes and experimented with drugs. Street scenes and interviews shot inside the diner look realistic because they merged real interviews with footage shot with local street hustlers. River, in particular, immersed himself in the role. Most of the hard drug use and hustling scenes were cut from the original movie. You can see the “lost” scenes in “My Own Private River” when actor-director James Franco took the cut footage and remade it into a tribute film for the beloved actor. While Van Sant’s movie works within a combination of stilted Shakespearean dialogue and scenes with a merry band of ruffians, Franco’s version cuts these story-lines away. A different movie emerges. The end result is a moving film which portrays the vulnerability that was River. A tale of loss, abandonment, and the tenuous balance that comes with walking a hard life on the line between life and death. River is the height of vulnerability and never is that more palpable. His portrayal is riveting, and it’s difficult to tell if he is acting. His pain feels genuine. Watch it here:

My Own Private Idaho was a pivotal role in his career. An award-winning role. And a role where he developed a tight friendship with Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. A band of brothers. He and Flea would spend countless hours during filming, playing music together in their downtime.

Unlike the tragedy that seems to plague child stars, River had a supportive family, but it must have been a double-edged blade. Who parents a child, when that child is the sole bread-winner, in an enormous family and household? After his brilliant role in Stand By Me, he bought a ranch in Costa Rica and a large family home in Micanopy, Florida. Discipline and authority are ultimately inverted in a family dynamic like this one. His girlfriends Martha Plimpton and Susan Salgot describe as much.

“River also had problems with his father, John Phoenix.” Though River hugely admired John, wrote songs with him, and before his death was planning to direct a movie about John’s abuse-punctuated boyhood, called By Way of Fontana, with Joaquin playing John, however, John had problems with alcohol. Indeed, drinking ran in John’s family.

“River would drink with his dad, so they could relate,” says Suzanne Solgot. “But he worried the disease was in his bloodline.” Says Martha Plimpton: “We had five million talks about his compulsive personality and his guilt and fear over not being able to save his father.

“His parents saw him as their savior,” Plimpton says, and treated him as the father.” Eventually, because the family was so generous about sheltering lost souls, up to a dozen people lived near or on the Micanopy property, in a motor home, two travel trailers, and in Phoenix’s apartment above his recording studio; River supported them all.

Known to River’s self-sufficient friends as “the Klingons” or “the tofu mafia,” they worked as gardeners, security guards, secretaries, or simply grocery-unloaders. Many of them were gentle spirits whom Phoenix loved being around. “But in River’s mind he was their father,” Bobby Bukowski says. “And he had some anger about that.”

“River and his father were always having breakthrough conversations where River would tell his father his feelings about alcohol, about their roles,” Plimpton says. “But the next day nothing would change. River would then say to me, ~Well, it’s not that serious, it’s not that bad.’”

The family also had an unusual early life in the Children of God cult, now known as the Family International. Founding member David Berg, used a practice he called “Flirty Fishing”, sending women out to have sex with men to lure them into the cult with a message of “free sex” and “free love” to encourage enrollment and continued participation. “Prostitution for God” worked well enough until it came for the children. The cult also promoted children as being sexual beings and encouraged them to perpetuate sexual acts upon each other, and other adult members of the cult. The Phoenix family claims to have left the cult before any of this could affect their children, but the truth is, they left when the time came for Arlyn Phoenix to prostitute herself for God. It seems the children and certainly not River escaped with the same fate. Suffer the little children, hey mother?

In 1991, River gave an interview to Details magazine, in which he reported his experiences.

Details Magazine November 1991

Details: Is there anything you did at an early age that you wish you had waited for? “Yes — -make love.” How old were you? “Four.”

“I’m glad I did it when I was young,” he said. Perhaps trying to justify the unjustifiable. “You’re just born into that reality, and you accept it.”

Drawn by David Berg Wikipedia

Despite his cavalier statements in the interview, psychological studies on children in similar circumstances show that they do not fair well. The lives of children who did not make it out of this cult when they were young are filled with tragedy and suicide. Sensitive people with an atypical upbringing, who have moved around often as children, and have suffered sexual molestation, are prone to drug use and addiction due to trauma and emotional scars. They often feel isolated and misunderstood; carrying an intense inner turmoil of never feeling: “good enough”. The Children of God cult has a well-documented history of the sexual abuse of children. The cult indoctrinates them with the fear of the apocalypse, they often move to avoid persecution, and they receive little to no schooling. Sexual interactions between adults and children were expected, and commanded according to a manual called the “The Book of Davidito.” The manual was a compilation of letters and drawings circulated by David Berg, which was essentially their manual on child rearing. The manual heavily advocated pedophilia and was circulated in the cult from 1975 to 1981.

As River’s star began to rise, his family (who were his management) told a different story of River’s loss of virginity. They said he had asked for their permission, and they created a new age “hippie” sounding story of a celebratory consensual act in white tents in the grass on the family farm with a friend. The story changed his age to a more reasonable sounding age of 15. His reputation was at stake, and as his star rose, he also had the family name to think about. What would it have felt like for him to have to lie about his past? Addiction and drug use often stem from having to sustain a lie about past trauma. It outlines a familiar pattern of the pressure and struggles with his unique position in his family. Being a child, who is considered a missionary and savior, yet having to unify with your families wishes, in order to protect them, as the provider and head of the household.

— -

It rings true, that he used drugs recreationally, and possible that it could grow to be a problem given his history. Off and on drug use does not qualify a person as an addict, however, and his autopsy report proves without a doubt, River was no drug addict.

Autopsy Report:

Here is where it gets interesting. Popular rumor has always been that he went into the bathroom of The Viper Room, and snorted some high quality “Persian Brown” heroin, and then began snorting mountains of cocaine after Flea told him he would not be able to get onstage and jam that night. Whoever said Persian Brown sure had the rags and gossips swirling with tales more fantastical than the next, such as “Persian Brown is heroin laced with crystal meth.” These rumors can easily be refuted. When heroin is “high-quality”, the color is lighter, with white powder being the purest. Brown or black heroin is more prone to being cut with something and is in tar form. Tar can’t be dissolved in liquid, it has to be smoked or prepared to be taken intravenously.

The “Persian Brown” story is dubious. Sources have him either snorting or swallowing the drug, in which case, it would have been in powder form. H mixed with crystal meth is not called “Persian Brown”, and not a speck of meth in any form was in his blood during the autopsy. More on that later.

(Note: Today’s white power may be laced with Fentantyl due to the opioid epidemic, but this was not so 25 years ago. White powder would have been a pure higher grade heroin.)

Autopsy Report:

“Acute Multiple Drug Intoxication”. Listed in his system: 1) Benzodiazepine (Valium), 2) Cannabinoids (which can stay in your system for up to a month after discontinued use.), 3) Cocaine metabolite, 4) Propoxyphene (Darvon), and 5) Opiates (specifically, morphine. Which is what heroin turns into, once it metabolizes in the blood.).

There was NO alcohol and NO form of “speed” in his system. No meth, no ephedrine (the stuff that used to come in diet pills), nothing. He died from a massive lethal combination of heroin and cocaine, called a “speedball”. It has nothing to do with “speed” other than the name. Toxicologist Dan Anderson explained that River’s blood contained a staggering 8 times a LETHAL overdose.

Also reflected in the autopsy report: he didn’t overdose via snorting the drugs as maintained in popular media rumor. The ONLY way for him to have taken a lethal speedball and remain active for up to an hour until his death, would be if he were to drink the concoction. Drinking a drug allows for a long and slow absorption of the drug into the bloodstream. It can take up to 30 minutes for a drug to hit the body’s bloodstream as it makes its way through the intestinal tract, and also much more lethal because he would have felt it build and becoming stronger, believed he could handle it, and by the time he was dying, it would have been too late — — most of it having already been absorbed into his bloodstream.

1. Skin: There is no abnormal skin coloring or pigmentation.

2. Heart: The report shows a healthy heart, with “fluid in the pericardial sac”. Which is in keeping with the manner of his death. The body’s response to a speedball overdose is essentially cardiac arrest, and the lungs filling up with fluid, making it difficult to breathe.

3. Respiratory: “The oronasal passages are unobstructed. The nasal septum is intact and without inflammation. Scant (hardly any) mucoid fluid is found in the upper respiratory system. Lungs are subcrepitant and there is dependent mucus.” Which means the lungs had fluid in them, and they could hear it via “crackling” sounds. “No foreign material is present in the mouth or upper airway. The pleural cavities contain small quantities of straw-colored fluid.” (Fluid in the lungs).

There was no Persian Brown, unless that was the name of a type of heroin going around in the 90's that was similar to China White, which I have recently learned was the term for a grade of heroin in the 90's that was cut with medical grade Fentanyl — the only source of Fentanyl in those days. If that is true, it makes it more likely that this was a deadlier concoction than originally reported. If it was brown as the name suggests, it would have been tar and it would have had to have been smoked or shot up. Witnesses claim they saw him either snort or drink something, but much of it is speculative when compared to the facts in the autopsy report. He did not snort it, “no material found in his nasal passages or upper airway”. “There are no needle tracks”, or shoot it. The damage showed only fluid in his heart and his lungs synonymous with opiate OD. He had to have swallowed it.

4. Gastrointestinal System: “The stomach is moderately distended by gas. It contains approximately 200cc. of dark fluid. The mucosa is intact without hemorrhage or ulceration. No medication or capsular material is identified.” Which basically means: they cannot see physical remnants of any pills, which they wouldn’t if the drug were dissolved in a poisonous drink, with much of it is already absorbed into his bloodstream. They sent his stomach contents to a lab, but there is no report of what they found in that dark fluid. Any further investigation into the matter however, was dropped by River’s mother, Arlyn Phoenix.

River Phoenix 1991 Getty Images


Here is a link to two similar deaths due to speedball overdose. Neither subject had track marks. These subjects both died due to speedball inhalation method:

These other reports help put River’s autopsy report into perspective with regard to the inhalation method of the drugs, and the differences in the organs and tissues of an addict vs. someone who has used recreationally.

Both subjects in this report are young men, described as having muscular stature. Both men have inflammation of the nasal passages and “visible brownish mucus around the mouth and nostrils”. River had none. The organs of these two men show an addict’s repeated use of hard drugs. Compare this to River’s autopsy, where his organs show a healthy heart, lungs, stomach, liver; in other words, if he were an addict, his organs would have shown it. One of these men is only 21 years old, two years younger than River at the time of his death.

The difference is shocking. “In both cases, the cause of death was combined intoxication, with the probable inhalation administration of drugs, which led to quickly occurring death due to acute cardiac failure and severe cell ischemia.” (restricted blood supply to tissues restricts oxygen supply and causes visible discolorations of the skin). River’s autopsy had no such skin discolorations as shown above. “In both of the cases [in the study], there were arterial hypertonic disease and ischemic heart disease, which is probably an effect of drug abuse, especially of the 21-years old man. This can be explained by the increased production of vasoconstrictor factors such as endothelin, and the decreased production of vasodilators such as NO, which is one of the main cocaine effects (repeated narrowing and contraction of blood vessels). The result of these effects is multiple increases in blood pressure, coronary spasms, and myocardial ischemia — early developing severe hypertonic and ischemic diseases (the heart doesn’t get enough blood). The presence of hemosiderin-laden macrophages (hemorrhaging blood): [all of these symptoms] show previous hemorrhages in the lungs, connected with the inhalation drug administration and local irritation of the administered substances. The abrasions and erosions of teeth is a result of pathologically increased muscle tonus of the masticatory muscles during heroin withdrawal and as a direct effect of cocaine.” (The subject grinds his teeth.)

If River were a severe addict, it would have shown in his tissues, his organs, and even his teeth. Instead, the autopsy shows a healthy man who succumbed to a massive overdose. If the speedball had been inhaled, there would have been evidence of repeated hard drug use in his upper respiratory system. He too would have had mucus and foam at his mouth and nose. Comedian Chris Farley overdosed via speedball inhalation. I did not care to insert the death photo.

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River Phoenix and Samantha Mathis in The Thing Called Love

Yet, another account of that night that came directly from River’s girlfriend Samantha Mathis who witnessed “a guitarist friend” giving him a small Dixie cup of liquid, saying “Drink this Riv, it will make you feel fabulous.” This small cup was laced with a staggering 8x a lethal speedball, dissolved in the drink. Perhaps it was a cup that was meant to be passed around amongst a circle of friends and each takes a sip. Who knows? But the giver didn’t say “take a sip of this”, he told him to drink it. River took the cup and downed the poisoned drink.

A cruel society that says: “he did it to himself when he chose to take drugs”. River Phoenix did not go into the bathroom and start snorting as much heroin and cocaine as possible until he died of an 8x LETHAL speedball overdose, because Flea had told him he wasn’t able to get onstage and play his guitar. He took his guitar back to his table and took a cup, from a trusted friend, a person that he had done drugs with previously, and drank the contents without knowing what it contained. There is a difference between a purposeful act of self-destruction and an innocent trust. He made the stupid, but innocent, mistake of trusting a friend.

Let’s examine that night’s timeline and a few accounts from people who were there:

Bob Forrest’s account: The night he died, “River and John Frusciante stumbled into the Viper Room”, Forrest writes.

“Also, there were Phoenix’s brother, Joaquin, and sister Rain; his girlfriend Samantha Mathis; Red Hot Chili Pepper Flea, also a close friend; and Johnny Depp. Somebody broke out the coke and passed it around. River was obviously wasted and was as unsteady as a boxer who had taken one too many head shots during a 15-round bout,” Forrest recalls in his book. “His complete lack of motor skills made me think he was drunk. Heroin will make users lean when they stand still, but you almost never see them stumble and fall.”

Notice he never says that he saw him doing coke. The other quotes about drug use are ALL about himself and his own circle: “The drug routine stayed pretty consistent for all of us. First, smoke crack or shoot coke directly into a vein for that ninety-second, electric brain-bell jangle. Then shoot heroin to get a grip and come down enough to be able to carry on a conversation for a few minutes before you start the cycle again.” He implies River was in this circle. So, where were the tracks on River’s arms eh Bob?

No track marks of any kind are found in his autopsy.

Then Forrest writes that River tapped him on the shoulder looking pale and telling him: “Bob, I don’t feel so good, I think I’m OD’ing.”

Forrest was doubtful that Phoenix was overdosing — “Usually you just OD and that’s it,” — but offered to get Phoenix home. The actor declined, saying he felt better.

“I tried to reassure him. ‘I don’t think it’s an OD. You can stand and you can talk,” Forrest writes in his book. “I still have guilt that I dismissed his worries so casually.”

What you should have, Bob, is a little guilt in exploiting this bullshit to sell your book.

He says that he saw him looking fucked up. Several people in attendance said the same. Whether he told him he thought he may be dying is anyone’s guess, but his account supports the theory that the drugs River had ingested were swallowed, not snorted. This encounter is describing a person who is slowly succumbing to an overdose. He rallied, thinking he would be fine, until more and more of the drug metabolized through his digestive tract, and into his blood.

Gavin Edwards’ account coming down from Samantha Mathis sounds more credible. From: “Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind”, he didn’t take that speedball knowingly. “A guitarist friend” handed him a cup and told him, “Hey, Riv, drink this — it’ll make you feel fabulous.” River didn’t know what was in it, but since he had taken this friend to rehab twice, he could guess it wasn’t ginger ale… In the drink was a dissolved speedball: a mixture of cocaine and heroin. River at once felt unwell, “What did you give me? What the fuck is in it?” he shouted. To calm himself down, River took some Valium, which didn’t seem to do the job. Soon he had vomited on himself and the table. He then slumped in his chair, unconscious.” People recall then seeing him bumping into tables and being wasted in the club; and when it became increasingly harder to breathe, he was taken outside, and was soon convulsing on the sidewalk. Apparently, it took almost 30 minutes for Joaquin (then Leaf) to finally call the ambulance at the suggestion of a bouncer who came back outside to see them still sitting there. Apparently Johnny Depp had no telephone in his office. Or isn’t it more likely that everyone at the club wanted to immediately distance themselves? Had someone told the ambulance driver about the lethal overdose handed to River in a cup, he could have possibly received a life-saving shot of Narcan. It wouldn’t have helped for an overdose of cocaine however. In any case, he was ushered out of the club and left to deal with it. His sister sat on his chest and legs to “stop his seizures”.

How long was he inside The Viper Room overdosing before he was taken outside? Was he kicked out, or did they take him outside willingly? Reports vary on this. Why did Joaquin, Rain, and Samantha mention the Valium but say nothing about the poisoned drink? Why, with so many supposed friends, and over an extended period, did they do nothing?

— —

During an interview with Gavin Edwards, director William Richert (who directed River in ‘Jimmy Reardon’, and acted alongside him in ‘My Own Private Idaho’ as the loquacious “Bob Pigeon”.) maintained “The Studio butchered my movie”. He spent years fighting to get the rights back to release his director’s cut, and upon viewing it’s a wonder as to why he fought so hard and seemingly destroyed his career over it. His original cut is long-winded and difficult to follow. He believes it more interesting that he narrate the voiceover when River’s narration was obviously the better choice.

They also cut a long strange montage that doesn’t follow the story line; out of nowhere Jimmy falls with in a shady bunch of characters in seedy bars. Just when you begin to wonder if you’ve fallen into a different movie, his best girl friend — arguably the most interesting character in the film — returns with the car and pulls him from the clutches of these nefarious characters and back into the storyline of Jimmy and his friends.

If “butchered” means cutting this nonsensical scene then so be it, but the movie is no great, long-lost masterpiece and it is unfortunate that Richert is so unable to bend from his narrow field of vision.

The problem is, once they removed the scene, there was no reference for Jimmy Reardon’s change of heart. No viable segue as to why he would want to return to the party. When he gets on the microphone and describes what he had seen, it no longer makes sense because what he described is no longer there. They salvaged what was usable.

The only thing that can be agreed upon is they should have kept River’s original song for the ending.

Nevertheless, Richert learned first hand what going up against the powers that be in Hollywood is like. But most importantly to this story, he learned what it was like to go up against Arlyn, now “Heart” Phoenix, who was extremely aware of the value of River’s image to the point that she was able to have a short line removed: “Jimmy, I want to fuck you.” An integral line which linked Jimmy and his father more than he knew.

Arlyn’s dogged approach to River’s image allowed her to ignore what should have hit closer to home: how much River sacrificed himself for the enrichment of the Phoenix family, and at great personal cost.

Richert gave his account of what Samantha Mathis had told him back in 1993. Mathis, like Joaquin, said:

“River didn’t want to go that night. She offered to take Joaquin (going by Leaf back then) and Rain for him since Joaquin was still underage. River changed his mind at the last minute and ran to meet them at the elevator. River arrived with Samantha, Joaquin, and Rain, they got a booth in the back and he waited to be invited up to play. He stayed sober because he was planning on getting onstage with Flea. After he found out that there is not enough room onstage for him, he was going to take his guitar back to his table and play.” According to Richert, after reaching the club, Mathis said John Frusciante approached their table, offered River a little plastic blue cup and said, “drink this, Riv, it’ll make you feel fabulous.” River drank it down and suffered an immediate reaction. His neck bulged, his back twitched, and he complained, “something’s wrong.” He then vomited at the table. Richert goes on to say that Mathis later changed her story. Video link here:

William Richert and River Phoenix-William Richert’s Facebook

Along with his personal page, Richert runs the Jimmy Reardon fan page on Facebook and has interesting observations, that are not readily reported in the media. More video links on the subject:

One of the most William Richert’s riveting Facebook posts upon remembering a gathering in the days after River’s Death:


THIS IS A RIVER MYSTERY CLUE OF THE FIRST ORDER — IT reminded me of the day I first heard the name of John Frusciante, though I did not recognize it at the time.


My face was streamed and red from impossible-to-quit tears for several days after I got a late night call saying River was on the news, he’d just died of an overdose on Sunset Boulevard outside some nightclub. It seemed unbearably impossible and sad. We’d just spent months together on my screenplay THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK. He was to act in it. We’d only talked 3 days ago on the phone. I was to see him tomorrow or Sunday. We’d spent 8 years together sometimes talking non-stop for hours whenever we saw each other. We’d opened a store to sell the soy coffee I’d invented –a little-known business partnership, I promised River I’d never use his name to promote it, and I didn’t.

Now suddenly he was dead? Of drugs? Impossible! Was God messin’ with my mind? Etc.

— A day or so later I got a call about a “memorial” at Ione Sky’s house and I was barely able to drive to Ione’s place where River and I had been many times before, along with a lot of other cast members from JIMMY REARDON. We all hung out together after the filming, had great times — before Island biggie, Russell Schwartz sold our movie out to Fox. I got along great with Ione’s mom and her boyfriend and the other young stars etc. but now we were standing in her neighbor’s yard, a whole bunch of us in a circle, I was holding hands with two people I didn’t know, though I recognized famous faces of others, and while my head was bowed, truly at that moment I couldn’t hold it up, wanting to hide my face, I kept looking at the ground — but there was no place to hide, nothing made sense — and here — today goes Bingo in a whole new “window” y’might say, though it’s been there all along:

One of the gathering — mostly much younger, they seemed like kids to me — I only knew any of them anyhow because the star-kids from my movie were all growing up in front of me — I gotta say I mostly hung with folks my own age, and always felt a little taller or something around these young movie stars, like a giraffe wandering among the thicker-skinned but still adorable teenage rhinos — but here on this most dreadful day, I found myself holding hands with a girl on either side who talked across me one to the other, one saying:

“ I heard Johnny Depp just called and says he can’t make it — .

“Why not?”

“He went over to John *****(a name unknown to me, sounded like an Italian wine.) ’cause he’s locked up at the mansion.”

“Johnny Depp? He’s not coming?”

“He said he’s sorry. He went over to tell ********* that he isn’t going to be arrested, and not to worry, and he can come out now. He’s been there three days. He says he hasn’t eaten anything. Johnny Depp’s taking care of it.”

I looked up and remember saying “Arrested? Who’s arrested?”

And one of them said: “Nobody. John ********* gave River the stuff that killed him, and he’s afraid he’s going to be arrested, but he’s not.”

“He gave River what? Something that killed him?”

The other girl said: “No no, he didn’t kill him. River asked for it. They’re friends, it’s okay, John ******** won’t go to jail, he’s real upset, and he hasn’t come out for 3 days. So Johnny Depp went to talk to him and tell him it’s okay.”

Then the ceremony began, whatever it was, and in the fog of grief somehow it seemed that whatever happened was being dealt with by the Johnny Depp insider group.

I was a complete outsider to the club scene — so was Ione and her family, I think — and so was River Phoenix — thus what they’d said wasn’t a red flag. Besides, it was “being dealt with” and anyhow, I wasn’t the police, and I wouldn’t “tell” on River even if I knew something. We protect our friends. — Tho it’s important to know what’s protecting a friend and what’s a concealment of a crime.

Then we were all inside the house at Ione’s neighbor, and I was led to a little corner pale blue Formica breakfast table with a small open spiral diary on it — it may have been the house next to Ione’s house on the same street, which had a bigger yard –in the days after River died I didn’t know where I was, really…

But now it’s clear to me — it was, of course, John Frusciante who was in the “mansion” threatening to kill himself, over the hill at the Chili Pepper’s Rehearsal House which was that day’s destination of Johnny Depp, and thus when you wrote “mansion” I remembered — the first time in many years — the whole thing. The faded pink Houdini mansion slicing up the hill over Laurel Canyon where I’d gone with River once to hear River play electric guitar with Flea, and once again with River to meet Anthony there where they were rehearsing with Flea. Anthony was going to play a role in my screenplay NOAH II, with River both acting and producing, and Samantha playing the girl.

(I used to live not far away up a different hill, and remember that very loud musician Frank Zappa actually called the cops on me and my collaborator for making mid-day noise while we were loudly improvising scenes from NOAH II, which years later Anthony might have acted in. Small alternate universe.)

So, you have awakened a slumbering collection of memories in me. For years, I tried to ignore each and every memory of River that made me sad. Although I wrote a foreword to Barry’s book, because I saw how hard he worked with research and interviews, I never read the book. Reading anything about River back then or hearing his name or seeing his picture made me very upset. True even today. I often just skim stuff. But lately I’ve forced myself to look closer at lots of new information, suddenly even my own remembrances look new.”

If Frusciante was holed up in the Peppers Mansion after the night in question, threatening to kill himself because he thought the police were looking for the person who supplied the drugs to River, as that person would be responsible for at least 2nd-degree murder, clearly he was the one who gave River the poisoned drink. That fear subsided though when River’s mother publicly announced they would seek no prosecution for the person who had given him the drugs. Strangely, the family and the Peppers shared the same lawyer at the time. There are also some comments in an interview with River’s father: “Tell him if I find him I’m going to kill him,” he told the reporter. “He’s very rich and very young, 23 like River, but he’s a terrible addict who has become a pusher….”

Ultimately, the family pursued no criminal charges and refused to speak about that night any further.

Johnny Depp closed the Viper Room for two weeks and left town for over a year, before selling the club, and relocating to France.

Two extremely interesting links here may warrant further discovery:

— -

In 1994, Peter Bogdanovich also gave an interview stating what Mathis had told him that after they arrived: “River went outside with John Frusciante. Mathis later went outside to check on him, saw they were having a heated discussion, and went back inside. When she saw him again he had a drink in his hand and fell sick shortly after.” It seems with retelling, her story changed. In this version, she did not see who handed River the cup. Bob Forrest had said that River had arrived with Frusciante. Samantha said she saw them outside together — maybe Bob saw them both come back inside, and thought they had arrived together? They had been spending a lot of time together playing music, and John was beginning a long journey with his own addiction.

Why did Samantha Mathis change her story? Why did she say the bare minimum to the police, who wrote in the police report “attendees who refuse to be identified report the decedent [to be] “speedballing”. His girlfriend ID’d as Samantha Mathis told deputies she heard someone had given the decedent “something to calm him down”. She assumed the “something” to be Valium. She denied any knowledge of the decedent’s drug use. (It should be noted, Mathis was contacted twice by phone, however, refused to offer information regarding the incident.)”. Why did she no longer speak about hearing and seeing Frusciante give River a small Dixie cup, and saying “Drink this Riv, it will make you feel fabulous?”

Police Report:

Why did his family and his famous friends all close ranks and let his memory be covered in sordid lies and maintain silence while they know the truth?

— -


River Phoenix playing guitar at a Rock Against Fur rally

River found music to be more rewarding than acting. Not only did he have his own band with his sister Rain called Aleka’s Attic, he wrote the final credit song for Jimmy Reardon which was scrapped by the studio when they “mangled” Richert’s movie, learned the piano for his scene in Running on Empty and also wrote the country songs he performed in The Thing Called Love:

Considering he had been playing guitar since he was a child along with his brothers and sisters who had to busk for food in order to eat when they were children, apparently his parents were so anti-work they should starve if the children did not entertain, his musical talent was highly developed and not yet tapped or recognized by many.

His father was supportive of his quitting the industry and when he urged River to take a break, he had told his father: just one more movie would pay for Liberty’s college tuition. That Dark Blood was going to be his final film. Though he was cast next to play the interviewer in ‘Interview With The Vampire’ which went to Christian Slater after his death, he wanted to quit his contractual obligations, and pursue his real passion for music.

He had developed a friendship with the Peppers through Flea after filming My Own Private Idaho. It was Flea who had told him to go to the Viper Room that night, so he could get onstage and perhaps play with Johnny Depp’s band Pi. When River returned to Hollywood after filming in the desert, he had two weeks off. He spent some of that time with John Frusciante recording music together.

River must have felt a kinship with the RHCP guitarist. Frusciante had quit the Peppers as he did not enjoy the level of fame that came with the success the band had achieved, River also did not enjoy the fame that came along with the Hollywood lifestyle.

Taken from :

“Tell us about your friendship with River Phoenix, the late actor who actually features on ‘Niandra’. “Me and River used to play together. We had a sort of communication that was intense, on just two guitars.”

How many tunes did you cut with him?

“We did two songs,” John expands. “One’s called ‘Bought Her Soul’, and it’s the second song on the album. I recorded the song and I said to River, ‘Make sounds with your voice and I’ll record you backwards over this song but you’re not allowed to hear the song.’

“So he made sounds into the mic while I recorded and listened to it on the headphones. That’s the other voice in the background besides my voice. It went perfectly with the song. We were cosmic together.”

“The other song is ‘Soul Removal’. He sings and wrote the first half, and I wrote the second half, and you can hear the guitars on that. It has the thickness of a bunch of guitars, but the unity of one guitar. We weave in and out of each other in a really cool, natural way.”


River had just returned from the desert where he had been shooting Dark Blood. He looked gaunt and his hair was cropped and dyed black because he was a diligent actor who was playing an acerbic desert loner. He was clean for seven weeks in the desert, so upon his arrival back to Hollywood a few days prior to his death, he would have had no drug tolerance. Frusciante had already quit the Peppers, and he was in LA working on solo projects and was holed up in his destroyed place doing drugs as seen on the documentary “Stuff” done by Johnny Depp and Gibby Haynes in 1993.

His tolerance would have been quite high. His account of the show at The Viper Room that night explains that he was obliterated. He was barely able to play one song before he threw up on Gibby Haynes. Was this because he had taken some of the same concoction he gave to River, only he didn’t die because he didn’t down an entire cup of it and had more tolerance?

Flea Twitter

“The first solo show I did was at the Viper Room, lasted just a minute, was the night River Phoenix died. [It] was the first time I did a show alone, played the song Life Is A Bath and threw up on my friend Gibby Haynes, felt the whole thing up when I was on stage, dropped the guitar and turned to Gibby who was sitting on the stage floor and threw up on him, he laughed a lot.”

It sounds like Frusciante was on the same sauce he gave to River.

His comments and complete decline after River’s death fits the guilt if he felt responsible.

“After his friend, River Phoenix died in October 1993, John became more depressed. He stopped playing guitar, stopped painting and became a full-time drug addict. He went broke after spending all his money on drugs and was expelled from his house because he wasn’t paying the rent for it anymore.”

“Mmm…everybody dies. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. For instance in River’s case, I think it’s more a shame that he was born than he died. Cause he didn’t like this life, he didn’t like this place, and he’s in a better place now. You know, and that’s the way, I don’t think that death is a big deal.”

What did he mean that it was a shame that he was born because he didn’t like his life. It makes a person wonder what family secrets River discussed with John, and how he felt about his obligations. Was this John’s way of saying “I gave him a lethal dose of drugs and he died. It was my fault, therefore if I should die too I am not afraid?” He has never come forward to admit or explain his role in River’s death therefore this can only be speculated.

“Frusciante insists he wants to get on a stage again — the last time he performed was at the Viper Room the night his closest friend and champion and protector, River Phoenix, died outside its doors — and that he wants to assemble a real band to perform his pop songs, the ones that go verse-chorus-verse instead of just verse.”

Then THIS comment:

(Guilt, oh the guilt? Yes, John. I’m also thinking if you had been able to play your guitar that night, River would still be alive.)

Since Phoenix’s death, most of Frusciante’s other close friends have abandoned him, sometimes after trying to intervene and save his life; they’re too tired of watching him decay in front of them, too sick of watching him unapologetically kill himself. He knows they don’t like being around him, but he doesn’t give a fuck. “They’re afraid of death, but I’m not,” he says. “I don’t care whether I live or die.”

The truth behind the official story: River took an 8x lethal overdose spiked in a drink given to him by John Frusciante, who promptly fell further into the depths of depression and drug use, and almost suffered the same fate.

Is there more to it? Perhaps he was just the drug messenger, and whoever gave him the poisoned drink knew he would more likely take it from his friend Frusciante. It seems unlikely that he knew the toxic levels of the drink. Who mixed it? Who was in original possession of this concoction? Where did it originate? Again, we do not know. Those who were there have never come forward and those who have spoken about it publicly seem to change their story.

William Richert spoke about the infamous 911 being edited of Joaquin Phoenix calling the ambulance. It was surprising to find a transcript of the full call. Why would the original call be edited? Why would someone bother to create this transcript if it weren’t?

1- Dispatcher: “Who’s with him right now?”

Caller: “Um, my sister and some people.”

Dispatcher: “Pardon me?”

Caller: “My sister and some people.”

Dispatcher: “Your sister?”

Caller: “Yeah.”

2- Dispatcher: “Call over to your sister and ask her to check and see if he’s breathing.”

Caller: “Hey JOHN, is he breathing? (pause) OK, he’s breathing.”

Dispatcher: “Then tell her not to give mouth-to-mouth, all right?”

Not Johnny. John.

Some forum comments breaking it down even further are here:

One thing is certain. The world lost a beautiful, gifted man. An activist and environmentalist who was speaking out for animal rights, recycling, conservation, and the rainforests well before it was it was en vogue. Imagine what would it had been like to have River Phoenix in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? River Phoenix in The Basketball Diaries. River Phoenix in The Titanic. His light and talent eclipsed Dicaprio’s and Depp’s like the burning of a Supernova. What would Joaquin’s career trajectory look like, had his brother lived? The what-if’s prick an underlying hurt in those of us who loved him, because the pain of some losses may fade over time, but it never goes away.

Film Rises Like a River Phoenix from the Ashes PAPER MAGAZINE

Perhaps one day the truth will be exposed that exists behind the facade that was erected after his life was taken too soon.

(I never expected this to grow the way it has and I thank you. Particularly that River has not been forgotten.)

Notes: I am in the end stage of research for stage of Part II, and well into the mulling. Pieces like this take time. It is important to me that I get this one right. I believe in putting research in the larger “outbox” pile and keeping speculation to the smaller “inbox” folder is the best way to publish and allow the facts to speak for themselves. I’m considering a change in the formula for part II. The more I learn the more questions I have.

Yes, I am aware that they pulled my article from Google search. Odd. It’s still up on my end as you can see. I’m not versed in SEO but I certainly know they are able to hide pages entirely by removing them from search engine results.

It only serves to strengthen the case that this is a story that some people do not want in circulation.

William Richert talks about his videos being pulled several times by the Peppers’ lawyer, but I never thought anyone would remove my page. It only makes me wonder if there is something more. What do they have to hide to the point of deleting my little ole page from direct search? It can now only be accessed through Pinterest and other links. Clearly, something was hitting a little too close to the truth for comfort.

I’ve written Medium and *crickets.* no response. No cease and desist, no warning, simply pulled. Interesting how things “disappear” online. As always, if you have information, links, encounters, observations write to me:

If you are working on a documentary that has a release date, please let me know. I would like to plug your film here.



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