River Phoenix: River of Dreams
River Phoenix would be an anomaly anywhere, let alone show business. The Oregon-born actor was named after the river of life in Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, and spent his childhood wandering Central America with his parents, then missionaries for an organization called The Children of God. They raised an incurable idealist.
"One thing I'd like to do when I have the money," says the 19-year-old, "is to buy thousands of acres of Brazilian rain forest and make a national park, so no one can bulldoze it to put a McDonald's on them. I guess people find security in a Big Mac, but that's our oxygen!"
The star of Stand By Me, The Mosquito Coast, Running on Empty and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is cast in I Love You to Death as a pizza maker who joins fellow cooks William Hurt and Keanu Reeves in staging attempts on the life of pizzeria owner Kevin Kline, on behalf of Kline's jealous wife Tracey Ullman. While the picture sounds like a bizarre black comedy, Phoenix sees it as having an "emotional, even moral" resonance.
Phoenix's strong moral point of view can be explained by his "early childhood, growing up around people that were really humble, with a lifestyle that called for a lot of faith, without money...You couldn't be an asshole."
"At one point," he adds, "I might decide to give up all material possessions...Just move out to the jungle someplace and live like an ape-man for a while."