Remembering River Phoenix

When actor River Phoenix passed away it hit me surprisingly hard.  Maybe because he was my age and it shocked me to think of death at 23.  Maybe it was because of the circumstances -- an apparent drug overdose while partying with family and friends at the Viper Room, even though he had put forth an image of clean living, going so far as to participate in anti-drug campaigns.  Maybe it was just seeing a great talent disappear too soon.  The memory of being stunned when I had heard the news came flooding back when I learned today from the Huffington Post that his last film, Dark Blood, which he had been working on at the time of his untimely demise, is finally being released all these years later.

Phoenix was one of those rare actors, displaying so much talent at a young age.  He reminded me a lot of James Dean, so it was the height of morbid irony that he would die young as Jimmy did. 

His movie roles were impressive -- Chris in Stand By Me and Charlie in The Mosquito Coast.  His short appearance as a young Indy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade made me believe that he could take over the franchise from Harrison Ford someday.  He could play quirky in I Love You to Death, he could play dark in My Own Private Idaho, and he could play mainstream in Sneakers.

How will the release of Dark Blood, in which Phoenix played a disturbed hermit living on a nuclear test site, impact his legacy?  Should it even be released at all?  River's brother, Joaquin Phoenix, apparently might fill in for some of the incomplete voice work.  I can't help but recall hearing the sound of Joaquin's voice in the 911 call, desperate for an ambulance to arrive.  (I still can't watch anything with actress Christina Applegate, who was also there, without thinking of reports that she started laughing when River collapsed, not knowing that he was in real trouble.)

All these years later, his loss is still felt by his many fans.