Few actors through the years have proved more resilient than Joaquin Phoenix. At just 40 years old, Phoenix has established himself as a Hollywood heavyweight. With three Academy Award nominations under his belt, Phoenix has shone in roles that have run the gamut of diversity — from an authentic portrayal of folk singer Johnny Cash in WALK THE LINE to the lonely hearted Theodore in Spike Jonze’s futuristic love story HER — but such a summary simply skims the surface.
Phoenix was born Joaquín Rafael Bottom to missionary parents Arlyn and John. His early childhood was spent traveling around South America, following his parents as they advocated for religious group Children of God. When Phoenix was just four years old, his parents severed ties with the cult, rewriting their familial history. They changed their last name from Bottom to Phoenix, symbolic of the new beginning they’d made for themselves. The family’s zealous religious focus then shifted to the theatrical.
Inspired by his siblings’ earthy names (Summer, River, Rain, Liberty), Joaquin Phoenix (formerly Bottom) changed his own first name to Leaf. Phoenix’s older brother River was the first to pursue acting professionally and helped Joaquin secure small roles in several of his projects. Chief among the Phoenix’s early pursuits of fame were River’s role in classic coming of age film STAND BY ME (1986) and “Leaf’s” role in Ron Howard’s PARENTHOOD (1989). River enjoyed the wealth of the Phoenix family’s fame, accelerating his young career with successes like Gus Van Sant’s MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991). At this point, Phoenix had ceded the limelight to his older brother, opting instead to travel through South America with his father.
Phoenix had been partying with his older brother in 1993 when River died of a drug overdose at the age of 23. After this sudden tragedy, Phoenix retreated yet again, returning to the screen two years later in Gus Van Sant’s TO DIE FOR. Following his return to film, Phoenix reclaimed his given name, Joaquin. Phoenix remained active through the next two decades, earning critical acclaim through his supporting role in GLADIATOR (2000) and consecutive star turns in LADDER 49 (2004) and WALK THE LINE (2005).
In 2009, the notoriously quirky actor stunned audiences with his strange behaviour on David Letterman’s Late Show. Phoenix’s mental health was immediately called into question, aggravated by his claim that he was retiring as an actor in the pursuit of a professional rap career. Eventually, Phoenix revealed that his stunt was performance art to promote his new film I’M STILL HERE.
While the public recovered from his hijinks, Phoenix set off on a new chapter of his career. A rapid-fire series of critically acclaimed performances began with release of THE IMMIGRANT (2012), THE MASTER (2012), and HER (2013).
Most recently, Phoenix starred in Woody Allen’s IRRATIONAL MAN, currently playing in select theatres.