Also Credited As:Joaquin Rafael Bottom, Leaf Phoenix, Joaquin Rafael Phoenix
|Actor, Producer, Writer, Music|
|Joaquin Rafael Phoenix on October 28, 1974 in Puerto Rico|
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Joaquin Phoenix was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 28 1974. His parents John and Arlyn Bottom were missionaries with the Children of God, who raised their family on the road throughout Central and South America, with their two eldest, River and Rain, playing music and handing out religious pamphlets on the streets for money. In 1977, after several years in Venezuela, the Bottoms decided to quit the cult and River, Rain, Joaquin, and Liberty hopped a freighter to Florida, changing the family name to Phoenix as a symbol of their new beginning. The bohemian home-schooled, vegan clan initially struggled to make ends meet, especially after the addition of sister Summer and health issues that forced dad John to quit his gardening job. Musical duo River and Rain had gotten good responses at local talent contests and the family assumed that their talent would be welcome and probably lucrative in Hollywood. They packed up the station wagon and moved to Los Angeles - the family's 20th move in 10 years - where they rented an empty school and set up camp. Arlyn got a job as a secretary at NBC and found an agent who agreed that she had a team of unusually creative kids.
Eldest sibling River landed a regular role on "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (CBS, 1982-83), and Joaquin, who had changed his name to Leaf, scored a guest spot by association. He joined his big brother again in "Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia" (1984), with the pair being honored with Young Actor Awards. In 1986, Phoenix struck out on his own and became a regular on "Morningstar/Eveningstar" (CBS, 1986), a short-lived dramatic series in which the residents of a retirement home take in the residents of an orphanage that has burned down. Phoenix entered features inauspiciously as an adorable moppet who befriends an even cuter robot in "Space Camp" (1986). He offered a wooden rendition of a gung-ho kid who comes upon a beached Soviet sailor in the well-meaning "Russkies" (1987), but with Ron Howard's "Parenthood" (1989), something clicked. Phoenix was a standout playing the troubled preteen son of Dianne Wiest. He was again honored by the Young Actor Awards for his supporting character, whose furrowed brow, intense introversion, and seeming discomfort in his own skin demonstrated Phoenix's strength for inhabiting sensitive, conflicted men.
Following that first triumph, Phoenix did not act for several years. At the age of 15, he took an extended solo trek backpacking through Central America. In October 1993, he was involuntarily thrust in the spotlight following the tragic death of his talented brother. Phoenix had been at the Sunset Strip nightclub, the Viper Room, with River the night the 23-year-old actor took a lethal combination of drugs, and it was his voice on the frantic 911 phone call that news shows insisted on playing, despite the private nature of the moment. It was a life-changing moment for Phoenix, who was never the same again after losing his older brother. Several years later, Gus Van Sant, who had directed River in "My Own Private Idaho"(1991), recognized Phoenix's familial intensity and tapped his little brother to co-star in "To Die For" (1995). Phoenix - who, by this time, had changed his name back to Joaquin - was quietly brilliant as a burnout teenager seduced by an ambitious local newswoman (Nicole Kidman) into murdering her career-squelching husband. In 1997, Phoenix co-starred in "Inventing the Abbotts" (1997), a drama about two brothers who discover a secret connection between their family and that of three beautiful sisters. The hot young cast included Liv Tyler, with whom Phoenix began a highly publicized off-screen relationship, though it became clear that he was uncomfortable with publicity, interviews, or any of the peripheral requirements of being a film actor.
Phoenix next played the hot-headed young husband of Claire Danes in Oliver Stone's comic noir failure, "U-Turn," before pairing up twice with Vince Vaughn. In "Return to Paradise" (1998), Phoenix earned critical acclaim for playing an American jailed in Malaysia for possession of drugs, while the black comedy "Clay Pigeons" (1998) saw him as a quiet mechanic duped by Vaughn's smooth-talking, truck-driving serial killer. Continuing his rise, Phoenix played a streetwise punk who helps detective Nicolas Cage in his search for the truth behind what appears to be a snuff film in "8mm" (1999), directed by Joel Schumacher.
The year 2000, however, proved a banner one for the actor, as he finally broke through to the A-list. He garnered attention as the slick aide to a corrupt businessman in John Gray's "The Yards" (2000), before nearly stealing "Gladiator" (2000) from star Russell Crowe with his malevolently operatic take on the young emperor, Commodus. His most high-profile role to date earned him Golden Globe, Oscar, and BAFTA nominations among many others, transforming him into a highly sought-after supporting player. Phoenix, however, was not much interested in Hollywood accolades and glad-handing; instead, continuing to take roles based on their creative challenges. These roles often challenged the cast and crew as well, with Phoenix earning a reputation as an actor who thoroughly became his character over the course of a production. Lastly, Phoenix demonstrated his range by underplaying his next high profile part, the Abbe Coulmier who oversees the Charenton madhouse where the Marquis de Sade has been confined in "Quills" (2000). Skillfully delineating a man of the cloth torn by his duty and his desires, the actor offered a fine performance that was a capper to a prolific year.
In 2002, Phoenix appeared with Mel Gibson in the thriller "Signs." The M. Night Shyamalan film told the story of a family who discovers mysterious crop circles on their farmland, with Phoenix playing Gibson's amusingly wide-eyed and naive younger brother. Phoenix next starred with Claire Danes in the little-seen romantic drama "It's All About Love" (2003), the story of lovers' attempts to save their relationship in a near-future world on the brink of cosmic collapse. The actor also provided the voice of Kenai, an Inuit hunter, in Disney's animated "Brother Bear" (2003).
In 2004, Phoenix graduated to leading man status with headlining roles in three films. First, he reunited with Shyamalan for the tension-filled thriller "The Village," playing a bold young member of an isolated 19th Century village whose desire to see the outside world threatens to break the community's pact with the mysterious creatures who live in the surrounding forest. He also took the lead in the firefighting drama "Ladder 49" (2004), playing a firefighter who reflects on his life, loves and career while awaiting rescue from a blaze. The actor fully immersed himself in the role by training with the Baltimore Fire Department for a month and participating in live rescue missions. Next Phoenix earned high praise for his turn as a cynical journalist witnessing the horrific 1994 genocide in "Hotel Rwanda" (2004), co-starring an excellent Don Cheadle as the manager of a luxury hotel where fleeing Tutsis go to seek refuge.
Proving to be an actor of rare versatility, Phoenix followed up with his biggest and most important role to date - playing country music legend Johnny Cash in James Mangold's biopic "Walk the Line" (2005). The casting choice was blessed by no less than the Man in Black himself, following a meeting in which Cash quoted the actor with verbatim lines from "Gladiator." Phoenix nailed the American music legend with stirring accuracy, chronicling his transformation from a self-conscious young performer to the commanding, nearly riot-inducing presence of the famed concert at Folsom Prison. Intensive vocal training made for surprisingly effective singing and playing of Cash's tunes, earning him not an Oscar nomination nor a Golden Globe win, but a Grammy for the soundtrack.
When Phoenix checked himself into a rehab facility for alcoholism in April of 2005, the film's gripping detox scenes took on a new poignancy - the memory of what demons had driven his brother to an early grave was never far from mind either. He subsequently took a much-needed hiatus from the demands of "Walk the Line" and spent time directing music videos for bands like Silversun Pickups and Albert Hammond Jr., among others. Phoenix also traveled to Brazil to participate in a documentary about the native Yanawana tribe for the socially-conscious production company Direct Current Media, immersing himself in the community and culture.
Phoenix may have evolved into an A-list Hollywood actor, but he never left behind the moral and political beliefs of his idealistic upbringing. He remained a staunch vegan and animal rights activist, appearing in vegetarian and anti-fur advertisements for PETA and participating in fundraising events for In Defense of Animals. Phoenix also garnered some publicity for his insistence on an entirely synthetic, PETA-approved wardrobe for his role as Johnny Cash, including plastic cowboy boots. He acted as a spokesman for The Peace Alliance - an organization seeking the establishment of a governmental Department of Peace - and Amnesty International. Phoenix was also on the board of directors of The Lunchbox Fund, a food relief program for school-age children in South Africa. In 2005, the San Diego Film Festival honored him with a Humanitarian Award for his voiceover contribution to "Earthlings" (2005), a documentary project about animal abuses in manufacturing and industry.
Phoenix returned to the screen in the fall of 2007 in "We Own the Night," his third film for director Michael Gray. He co-starred with the equally intense Mark Wahlberg for a tale of family and professional loyalties in the nightclub and drug-dealing world of 1980s Brooklyn. Despite fine performances from the stars, it failed to make much of a dent in the public or critical consciousness. At the same time, Phoenix rolled out "Reservation Road," a family drama pairing him with Mark Ruffalo with highly-anticipated results. Only a few months before the 2009 release of his Brooklyn-set romantic drama, "Two Lovers," co-starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Phoenix raised eyebrows by announcing his retirement from acting in order to focus on rap music. Following the announcement, Phoenix began appearing in public with a scruffy beard, uncombed hair and dark sunglasses - all meant to publicly display an alleged mental breakdown. A bizarre appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman" (CBS, 1993- ) in early 2009, where he rambled incoherently while avoiding direct answers, became fodder for public ribbing. Just weeks later, even Ben Stiller mocked Phoenix's strange new persona at the Academy Awards by donning similar scruffy garb.
With questions and confusion mounting over Phoenix's apparent descent into madness, it became known that friend and brother-in-law Casey Affleck was following him around with a camera, documenting the fall of a movie star and rise of a rap artist for his so-called documentary, "I'm Still Here: The Lost Year of Joaquin Phoenix" (2010). Just a week after its early September 2010 release, Affleck alluded in The New York Times that Phoenix's alleged meltdown and attempts to become a rap star were indeed a piece of public performance art - something even casual observers of the two-year ruse believed to be true. It was also revealed through other sources - though denied by Affleck - that Letterman was in on the joke for their 2009 interview, something that recalled similar ones the host conducted with unhinged comic Andy Kaufman on his old late night program two decades previous. Despite the public hoopla, and arguments over whether Phoenix was the second coming of Kaufman or a pale imitation, "I'm Still Here" opened in very limited released, earning barely six figures its first weekend. Back to taking acting seriously, Phoenix was cast by Paul Thomas Anderson to co-star in "The Master" (2012), in which he played a World War II veteran struggling to adjust to life after the war who is taken under the wing of a quasi-religious leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) not unlike Scientology's L. Ron Hubbard, to spread his teachings across the country. As the film was hailed by critics, Phoenix was praised for a powerhouse performance that earned him Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best Actor.