Joaquin Phoenix

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Joaquin Rafael Phoenix (born October 28, 1974 in San Juan, Puerto Rico), also known as Leaf Phoenix, is an actor in the USA.

His Irish-Spanish father, John Bottom, and Bronx-born Jewish mother, Arlyn Dunitz, joined the Children of God cult in 1972, traveling throughout South America. Joaquin, who was born in Puerto Rico, lived in the island until he was six years old. After leaving the cult (upon which his family adopted the surname "Phoenix") and returning to the United States, they encouraged their children (Joaquin was the third of five) to develop their creative instincts. Since his siblings had nature-related names – "River", "Rain" (or "Rainbow"), "Liberty Butterfly", and "Summer" – Joaquin changed his name to "Leaf".

The family moved to Los Angeles from Puerto Rico. His mother started working as a secretary for NBC, and his father became a landscaper. His parents hired an agent, who eventually got the five children acting work. Joaquin's first acting jobs were guest appearances on two television shows with his brother River: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1982) and Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia (1984).

He made his big-screen debut in Space Camp (1986), and his first starring role was in Russkies (1987). He went on to establish himself as a child actor in Parenthood (1989), before deciding to withdraw from acting for a while and move to Mexico with his father.

Joaquin came back into public view under tragic circumstances — he was the person who dialled 9-1-1 when his brother River Phoenix suffered a fatal drug overdose outside Hollywood nightclub The Viper Room. Joaquin was reluctant to re-enter the world of acting, but he did so at the insistence of his friends. He changed his name from "Leaf" back to "Joaquin".

He portrayed a troubled teen in Gus Van Sant's To Die For, and has earned positive reviews for adult roles as Commodus in Gladiator (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), a priest in Quills, the washed-up baseball player Merrill Hess in M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, and stoic Lucius Hunt in Shyamalan's The Village. Phoenix won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for his portrayal of country singer Johnny Cash in the film Walk the Line (2005).

In a March 2001 interview with Uncut Magazine titled Walking With Demons, Phoenix disputed whether his parents were ever cult members:


"It might have become a cult, but when we were there it was a really religious community," he argues. "It was a time when people were questioning the nuclear family of the Fifties, people were saying they weren't satisfied with the upbringing their parents had, is there another way? My parents were just searching for an alternative way of raising their children, they didn't want to raise us in the Bronx. My mom was raised in the Bronx, and she was scared every day coming home from school."

Cult or not, the Phoenix family eventually grew disillusioned with the Children of God and stowed away from Venezuela to Florida in 1978.

"My parents have never been blind followers," says Joaquin. "In fact, they recognised that it was shifting and the ideas behind it wasn't what they wanted, so we left. The awful stuff I've heard about the group in the Eighties, that wasn't our experience. We were trying to figure out how to make alternative societies, and a lot of them fell to the same mistakes that our larger society has made, in which people's egos and greed took over. I think that's what happened to that community. But it wasn't the picture people paint."


Phoenix is a strict vegan, and will not wear costumes made from animal products. He has recently admitted himself into rehab to deal with his increasing alcohol problem. He is also a chain smoker.

[edit] Selected filmography

  • Walk the Line (2005)
  • Hotel Rwanda (2004)
  • The Village (2004)
  • Ladder 49 (2004)
  • Buffalo Soldiers (2003)
  • It's All About Love (2003)
  • Brother Bear (voice) (2003)
  • Signs (2002)
  • Gladiator (2000)
  • Quills (2000)
  • The Yards (2000)
  • Return to Paradise (1998)
  • Clay Pigeons (1998)
  • 8mm (1998)
  • Inventing the Abbotts (1997)
  • U-Turn (1997)
  • To Die For (1995)
  • Parenthood (1989)
  • Russkies (1987)
  • Space Camp (1986)

[edit] References

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