Sadder and darker as well...
In an interview with Anderson Cooper for 60 Minutes, Joaquin Phoenix and his family recently opened up about the death of his older brother, River, in the early morning of Halloween, 1993.
Seven years after his iconic role as Chris Chambers in Stand By Me, River was making a name for himself as more than just a talented child actor—starring in a slate of movies in the early '90s, including My Own Private Idaho alongside Keanu Reaves. But as America was getting to know him, he was apparently getting to know the dark depths of Hollywood in his private life. Joaquin and his older sister, Rain—along with Johnny Depp, John Frusciante, and a host of other young celebrities—were there at the infamous Viper Room nightclub when River overdosed at the age of 23. Joaquin was the one who called 911 while his older brother was seizing on the sidewalk outside. Rain sat on River's chest to contain his convulsions.
The NY Post
It was a huge national story at the time. Joaquin Phoenix's frantic voice, pleading with a 911 operator to send help, was played repeatedly on TV news. Today, when he recalls helicopters hovering overhead and paparazzi trying to sneak onto their property in the aftermath, it's hard to imagine his claim that "it impeded on the mourning process" is anything but a vast understatement.
River's rising star in his final years far outshone the rest of his siblings' careers at the time. 19-year-old Joaquin was not nearly as well-known—having had some minor roles in TV shows and some smaller films—but River had taken him under his wing and begun mentoring him. He introduced Joaquin to Robert De Niro's performance as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull and encouraged him to emulate the way subtle details can bring characters to life. According to Anderson Cooper's summary of their conversation, River saw Joaquin's talent before the world did, and he told him, "You're going to be a more successful actor than I am."
"Stand By Me" 1986
With the accolades that Joaquin has accumulated since, including the Golden Globe he won for Joker last week, and the announcement of his fourth Oscar nomination Monday morning, River's prediction could hardly have proven more correct. Yet with all the stories he's helped tell, there may be none as strange and fascinating as the real-life details of his family history.
The drama of River's death is the saddest and most familiar piece of the narrative, but the story really begins in 1968, when his mother, Arlyn Dunetz—who also goes by Heart—left New York for California. Like so many young people of that time, Arlyn was drawn to the counter-culture movement that had found its footing in San Francisco and spread out from there. It was there that she met her future husband, John Lee Bottom, and the two began traveling the coast together, picking fruit and vegetables for a living. River Bottom was born in 1970, and Rain in 1972. Much about this early era sounds idyllic, but it was around this time that the family joined a Christian sex cult.
The Children of God (currently known as the Family International) was founded by David Berg in 1968, and it was already a thriving international movement by 1972. Its foundations were in Christian apocalypticism, but Berg billed himself as the "last end-times prophet" and added more than a few of his own ideas to the belief system. The least upsetting aspect of his additions was the idea that sex is a beautiful and holy act. With that foundation to build on—the blend of Christianity with the free-love movement—Berg unfortunately abused his position to twist the role of sex within the community into something that served his perverse desires.
Perhaps the most famous of the Children of God's sexual practices was the use of "Flirty Fishing," wherein young female members would use sex to draw in new converts. Beyond that, Berg's edicts, distributed in so-called "Mo Letters," declared that incest is okay, that it is a woman's duty to participate in sex whenever a man wants it, and that children should learn about sex from a young age—both through demonstration and participation.
It was in 1974, while they traveled as missionaries for the cult—moving around South America and the Caribbean—that John and Arlyn had their third child, Joaquin Rafael Phoenix. They were living in Puerto Rico at the time, but they never stayed in one place for long. In 1977 the family left the Children of God, citing a disillusionment with many of these sexual practices, and with Berg's greed. They chose a new name for themselves—Phoenix—to mark this new beginning.
If they ever make their family story into a movie, Joaquin could definitely play his father
Sadly, their escape from the Children of God was not too late to save their oldest child from trauma. According to an interview with River before his death, he said that he had "made love" at the age of four. He talks about blocking out a lot of experiences from that time, but when he became interested in sex again at the age of 14, his parents provided a tent where he and his girlfriend could have privacy.
There's no way of knowing how things might have turned out differently for River if his early years had provided more stability and less exposure to the world's darkness. He may have avoided addiction and death, but it's also likely that the world would never have heard of him or any of his siblings. It was while his parents were traveling missionaries, living in a rat-infested shack in Caracas, that he and his siblings learned to perform on the streets, passing out Children of God leaflets and collecting change.
Time is the Killer ft. Michael Stipe (piano version) (Rain Phoenix) [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO] www.youtube.com
With very little provided by Berg's "church," the children fed themselves from what they could earn through busking. When the family eventually landed in Los Angeles and Arlyn got a job working for a casting director, the children's experience performing was directed toward careers in acting and music.
Whatever judgments we might make about the family's history—whatever blame we might want to lay on the parents—the surviving members of the family remain close. They appeared together in the 60 Minutes interview, discussing River's memory.
In 2012, Arlyn Phoenix co-founded the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding to promote peace and sustainability around the world. It was the same year that Joaquin starred as Freddie Quell in The Master—an exploration of cults and addiction, and a thinly veiled critique of Scientology. Last month, Rain Phoenix released an album called River, inspired by the memory of her brother.
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The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.
Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."
This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.
Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality
Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.
But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?
Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?
When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.
After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.
Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.
Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.
Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.
For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.
We're glad they're on our side.
The world is up against a seemingly insurmountable threat, but luckily, we've got a crack team of heroes on the case.
Sure, there's already the girl with super strength, the guy who can fly, and the anthropomorphic, trash-talking animal tailor-made for merchandise. But this is a threat of intergalactic proportions, and we're going to need all the help we can get if we want to survive.
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