Actor Joaquin Phoenix has been in the entertainment industry for decades. Coming from a family of seven, there were bound to be lots of stories to tell from his life, and this family certainly has overcome a lot of traumatic experiences. While Phoenix claims his real-life experiences play no part in his on-screen roles, he certainly can act as if he has lived through them. Phoenix’s family may have been destined for Hollywood fame, but they are also afflicted with trauma, heartbreak, and addiction. We reveal all about the family that has the most tragic life stories in Hollywood history.
More Dramas Than His Films
While Joaquin Phoenix has made his mark in the acting industry, so have some of his siblings. But what is the story behind the family plagued with trauma?
Joaquin Phoenix, previously known as Leaf, is one of the biggest actors in the world and has been for decades. He was discovered after he and his four siblings were spotted performing on the streets of Westwood, California. However, his private life has seen more dramas than some of his recent films.
The Biggest Actor
Phoenix was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico on October 28, 1974. He started as a child actor with small parts in television shows and commercials. After his breakout performance in the 1989 film Parenthood, he went on to appear in more than a few hits, including Walk the Line and Gladiator, turning him into a star.
Phoenix has received three Academy Award nominations and won a Golden Globe. Despite all his successful roles, his unusually-named family and their tragic background have played a pivotal role in keeping public interest.
Phoenix’s parents, John Lee Bottom and Arlyn Dunetz, met in 1968. Dunetz had previously settled down living in New York working as a secretary and was married to an I.T. professional.
However, the alternative girl began to get restless and did what many twenty-somethings did in the 1960s – left her life behind and moved to California, a place known as the epicenter of the flower power movement. Like many other hippies of the time, she decided to hitchhike across California and that is where she met songwriter, Bottom.
The Beginning Of The Bottom Family
The couple soon got married and welcomed their first son, River, in 1970, followed by daughter Rain in 1972. Shortly after, the hippie couple got caught up in and joined a religious group called The Children of God. Bottom and Dunetz then traveled as religious advocates.
They moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they would beg on the street for change. Whilst living in poverty and preaching the cult’s message, they gave birth to Phoenix in 1974 and his sister, Liberty, two years later.
The Children of God did not pay well and as they followed the cult across the United States and South America, money became extremely tight. As a result, River and Rain were forced to become street performers to make ends meet.
“At an early age, River was busking on street corners, trying to spread the word and proselytize for the cult. But if he didn’t bring home enough loose change that day, the family wasn’t going to eat,” a biographer told NPR. The children were busking on the street at as young as three.
Revelations about the religious cult that the Phoenix family belonged to began to sprawl in the late 1970s regarding abuse of power, misconduct, and improper handling of its finances.
Phoenix’s mom became disillusioned with the Children of God when the cult started preaching that women should use promiscuous activity to recruit male members, a practice known as “Flirty Fishing.” She later revealed, “The guy running it got crazy. He sought to attract rich disciples…No way.” The family needed to find a way out.
Learning The Harsh Truth
Before discovering the harsh truth about the cult, the Phoenix family felt spiritually connected, “My parents had a religious experience and felt strongly about it,” Phoenix told Playboy, “They wanted to share that with other people who wanted to talk about their experience with religion.”
He added, “I think my parents thought they’d found a community that shared their ideals. Cults rarely advertise themselves as such. It’s usually someone saying, ‘We’re like-minded people. This is a community,’ but I think the moment my parents realized there was something more to it, they got out.”
Leaving The Cult
After all the revelations, the family decided it was time to escape. They first moved into a home outside of the Venezuelan commune then were smuggled back to the United States on a toy-filled freighter in 1978 that first dropped them in Englewood, Florida.
Once there, they changed their names from Bottom to Phoenix to symbolize a fresh start. While the Phoenix family have not reported suffering from any physical or emotional abuse as a result of their time, this sadly was not the case for everyone in the cult.
Fortunately for eldest child River, the new name had much better connotations than “River Bottom” had. That same year, the fifth child, Summer, was born.
Trying to be more in line with his siblings, who were named after something found in nature or a word that represents some kind of positive ideal, Phoenix changed his first name to Leaf. However, at age 15, he decided to go back to his Latin-inspired birth name, Joaquin. This was also of serving an end to his period as a child actor.
Before feeling the impact of living in LA, the family was homeless. “Even when we had no money, we still had a car to sleep in and a friend’s driveway we could park in and a dad who said, ‘I’m going to take care of you,'” Phoenix told Details magazine.
The family then found an apartment which disallowed children, less than ideal for one that had 5. Dunetz eventually got a job at N.B.C. and hired an agent for her children. That’s when Phoenix and his siblings first started out in the industry.
The Breakout Star
Of all the talented siblings, it was River that really made a name for himself after appearing in the 1986 film Stand By Me. He then starred in Running On Empty in 1988 and other films such as My Own Private Idaho in 1991.
River seemed to have a bright future ahead of him in the industry and was making the transition from child star to more mature roles. But before he could enter this world and take it by storm, tragedy struck in 1993.
At an early age, after meeting Corey Feldman on the set of Stand By Me, River suffered from substance abuse. Between takes the pair would experiment and things quickly spiraled out of control.
On October 31, River was supposed to perform at Hollywood’s legendary Viper Room, a nightclub that was part-owned by Johnny Depp. Phoenix attended along with his sister Rain and River’s girlfriend Samantha Mathis. But River took a combination of two substances at the same time, known as a speedball, and suddenly felt unwell.
The Tragic Event
River could tell he was overdosing in the club, surrounded by his brother, sister, and friends including the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ guitarist, John Frusciante.
He turned to the guitarist and said, “I don’t feel so good. I think I’m OD’ing.” River became unconscious and Phoenix, only 19 years old at the time, took his brother out of the club when he groggily roused himself. The actor was vomiting and having seizures on the street outside the venue before going into cardiac arrest.
After some hesitation, Phoenix made the chilling 911 call to save his 23-year-old brother’s life, while Rain sat on River’s chest to stop his seizures and River’s girlfriend was frantically banging her head against the wall.
However, they were too late and despite paramedics rushing the star to a hospital, doctors were unable to revive him. They pronounced him dead at 1:51 A.M. on October 31. It was speculated that if an ambulance had been called earlier, River might have been saved. Mourners scrawled memorials on the door outside the club.
The Impact On Rain
After her brother’s death Rain said, “Through my music, I am forever able to stay connected to my brother. We are always infinitely collaborating in spirit.”
As teenagers, they had formed a band called Aleka’s Attic. They even grabbed a record deal with Island in the early ’90s. Rain revealed, “I wanted to put the record out and give the money to charities my brother felt strongly about, but I came up against some of the musicians who also played on it, wanting a lot of money for it, so I shelved it.”
Rain’s Cult-Spoofing Band
In 1997, The Causey Way was created. This idea behind this new wave/punk band was that they were a religious cult who was publically seen as just a band. Summer Phoenix also belonged to the band but they used the surnames ‘Causey’ as a stage name.
They were around for four years going on tours and releasing albums without having to reveal their actual story. When the group disbanded in 2001, they announced that leader Causey had been committed and that another member, The Truth, had joined the Church of Scientology.
One Of His Biggest Mysteries
It’s safe to say that Joaquin Phoenix is one of the most enigmatic stars in Hollywood today, for a variety of reasons.
Any actor who gets the chance to play the Joker in a blockbuster movie has probably earned the right through his own eccentric nature. However, one of the biggest mysteries recently to resurface about Joaquin is the scar he has had on his upper lip for practically his entire life. What was the cause of his scar?
How Did He Get That Scar?
The truth is that Joaquin Phoenix has carried this mysterious scar since birth. Most who noticed the scar jumped to the conclusion that the actor had been born with a mild form of cleft lip.
A human fetus can develop this condition early on in pregnancy. Some believe that Phoenix developed the scar later on in his development. Nevertheless, these were just rumors, until now. After years of silence, he has finally set the record straight…
He Set The Record Straight
After so much speculation surrounding his scar, Joaquin Phoenix recently broke down the truth behind its mystery and warned journalists that it wasn’t the most interesting story.
According to the actor, the scar is not a case of cleft lip, and believes that “birth mark” is more accurate way to describe it. He also claimed in interviews that his mother developed an acute pain during her pregnancy with him, which may have caused the scar.
Unsurprisingly, after the passing of his brother, Phoenix took a two-year hiatus from acting. In 1995 he made a return alongside Nicole Kidman in To Die For. However, the star has remained private.
In 2005 Phoenix was cast for the lead role in Walk the Line, a movie following a troubled musician who battled with substance abuse. Many suspected Phoenix would find this difficult, however, he was tired of the comparisons of his brother’s death to his work. Despite claiming it was all acting, there may have been some truth to the rumors.
It was not until the film wrapped that Phoenix realized he had a problem. “It was then that I became aware of my drinking. I wasn’t an everyday drinker but didn’t have anything else to do, anything to hold me down,” he revealed to Time Out magazine, “I was leaning on alcohol to make me feel OK. That’s what it really was.”
Phoenix checked into a rehabilitation facility in April that year and later attended a supportive network which the star called, “the best thing I ever did.”
In January 2006, Joaquin Phoenix was driving in the Hollywood Hills when he ran off the road. His car rolled off the cliff and Phoenix was injured and disoriented.
Luckily for the star, a well-known director Werner Herzog was in the car behind him and quickly came to his rescue. According to Herzog, he helped pull Phoenix from the wreckage and stopped him from lighting a cigarette near loose gasoline. He recalls saying, “I said to him, ‘Man, relax.'”
River’s trouble with substance abuse may have been a result of his troubled childhood. River had famously confessed that he had been involved with inappropriate activities with other children at only four years old.
While River had opened up about his experiences, Phoenix remained silence about any trauma he may of experienced, possibly making matters worse and leading to a snowball effect. Though the family left the Children of God, the family still didn’t have a healthy view of intimacy and unhealthy ideas continued to fester into the children’s teenage years.
Losing His Second Virginity
River revealed that his first intimate experience within the cult happened at 4-years-old. The problems which manifested into his teenage years were clear after an experience revealed by actor and friend, Corey Feldman.
He explained that River was obsessed with thinking about intimate experiences, it “was all he could think about.” River became celibate between ages 10 and 14 but decided to lose his “second virginity” when he was 15. The Phoenix parents were very encouraging of this and helped pitch a tent in their backyard for this to occur.
Breakdown Or Mockumentary
It seemed Joaquin was still in the middle of a public breakdown when he grew a vast amount of bushy facial hair. He began appearing on talk shows in a strange manner and exposing that he was going to quit acting to become a rapper.
This bizarre announcement turned out to be a stunt for a mockumentary he was creating called I’m Still Here, directed by Casey Affleck (who was married to the youngest Phoenix, Summer). However, the public did not seem to find the show as hysterical as they did.
More Family Drama
Already creating controversy from their Mockumentary (after faking a mental illness), in 2010, Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck found themselves in it deeper. Two women who worked on the film filed sexual harassment charges against Affleck.
One accused him of crawling into her bed without her consent, while the other claimed Affleck violently grabbed her in his hotel room. Casey denied allegations and the case was settled. However, controversy arose again when he received an Oscar nomination. Ten years after their marriage, Summer Phoenix filed for divorce.
The Phoenix Family
Years after the tragic death of the eldest Phoenix child, the family are getting on with their lives. Rain is still involved with music and Summer works as an actress and designer.
Meanwhile, Liberty took a different path. She quickly gave up acting after only two roles as a child and has mostly only had a supporting role in Rain’s music career. She additionally works with their mother for the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding that aims to protect the planet. The Phoenix parents divorced in 1997 but Arlyn later remarried.
The Next Joker
Despite all the family traumas and tragedies, Joaquin Phoenix has finally gotten his feet back on track and his career is continuing to grow. He recently played Jesus in Mary Magdalene, which received mixed reviews in the U.K. In July 2018, Phoenix officially signed on as the Joker, Batman’s villain, in the film Joker.
Aside from acting, he has directed music videos and produced films and television shows. He also recorded the soundtrack to Walk the Line, for which he won the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media.
When one does something often enough it would seem they would get more confident at it. Yet for Phoenix, this is not the case. Despite being an actor for many decades, Phoenix revealed in interviews that he still gets “nauseous” the day before he films.
He also said he suffers from “incredible anxiety” that manifests itself in embarrassing ways. “They have to put f*****g pads in my armpits because I sweat so much that it just drips down my wardrobe. For the first three weeks of shooting, I’m just sweating,” he told the magazine.
Premiere After Death
The iconic River Phoenix was only in the middle of filming one film when he sadly passed away. The film, Dark Blood, was left untouched for almost two decades before director George Sluizer decided he could salvage the film by including some narration to explain missing points.
He reached out to Joaquin to serve as a verbal stand-in for his brother, but he and the entire family refused to take part. Sluizer re-edited and completed Dark Blood, which premiered at several European film festivals in 2012.
Phoenix has chosen to remain close to his sisters, and despite their unconventional childhood and heartache from their brother’s death, the family does their best to try and stay optimistic.
“All I know is that I’ve been fortunate, and my good fortune continues. Other than that, the older I get, the more I know that I don’t f****** know anything at all,” Phoenix told Playboy in 2014. “I’m trying to get better at being open to the mystery of it all.”