Here’s Exactly Why Joaquin Phoenix’s Family Have The Most Tragic Life Stories In Hollywood History

Joaquin Phoenix is one of the biggest actors in the world. But believe it or not, all his siblings have also made their mark on the industry. However, behind the glitz and glamor of the family’s Hollywood lifestyles is a shocking history.

Phoenix was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico on October 28, 1974. He started acting as a child with small parts in television shows and commercials. After a breakout role in Parenthood, he became a star thanks to the Russell Crowe vehicle, Gladiator.

To date, Phoenix has received three Academy Award nominations and won a Golden Globe. He is best known for Walk The Line, The Master and Her as well as Gladiator. But it’s Phoenix’s quirky family and their tragic background that has also kept him in the public eye over the years.

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Phoenix’s parents, John Lee Bottom and Arlyn Dunetz, met in 1968. She had previously been married to an I.T. professional and had a job as a secretary in New York. But Dunetz left her life behind and moved to California, where she encountered Bottom while hitchhiking.

The couple soon got married and welcomed their first son, River, in 1970 followed by daughter Rain in 1972. Shortly afterwards, the family joined religious group The Children of God. Bottom and Dunetz then traveled through South America as religious advocates. Phoenix arrived in 1974 and his sister, Liberty, two years later.

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During the late 1970’s the religious cult came under fire for abuse of power, misconduct and improperly handling its finances. It also gained a negative reputation for encouraging female members to use sex to procure new members, a practice known as “Flirty Fishing.” But Phoenix insists his unusual upbringing didn’t have a bad impact on him.

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“When people bring up Children of God, there’s always something vaguely accusatory about it,” Phoenix told Playboy magazine. “It’s guilt by association. I think it was really innocent on my parents’ part. They really believed, but I don’t think most people see it that way. I’ve always thought that was strange and unfair.”

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The actor 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.”

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The Phoenix kids worked from a young age, and when she was three, Rain was sent out by her parents to busk for money with River. “Busking was a great way to rehearse,” she told Britian’s The Guardian newspaper. “At that age we were clearly not going to be booked for shows in clubs, so for us it was the closest we got to finding an audience and getting feedback.”

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After becoming disillusioned with the cult, Phoenix’s parents exited in 1978, the same year they had their fourth child, daughter Summer. They were part of a group of The Children of God members that left once it was disbanded before being reestablished under a new name. The family then moved to the United States, changed their name from Bottom to Phoenix and got a fresh start.

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It was at that time that Phoenix also changed his first name to Leaf. The move came so that his would be more in line with the nature-based monikers of his brothers and sisters. However, he went back to Joaquin when he was 15. His mother got a job at N.B.C. in Los Angeles and hired an agent for her children to get them acting roles. That’s when Phoenix and his brother and sisters first started out in the industry.

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River was the sibling who became the most successful after appearing in the 1986 classic movie Stand By Me. He then starred in Running On Empty in 1988 and played a younger version of the titular character in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade the following year. But with a promising career ahead of him, tragedy struck in 1993.

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On the night of October 30 that year, Phoenix went out with his brother River, sister Rain and River’s girlfriend Samantha Mathis. River was supposed to be performing at The Viper Room, a nightclub that counted Johnny Depp among its owners, alongside Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame. But River took a combination of cocaine and heroin, known as a speedball, and became unconscious.

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The actor was vomiting and having seizures on the street outside the venue as Phoenix called 911. River went into cardiac arrest and despite paramedics rushing the star to hospital, doctors were unable to revive him. They pronounced him dead at 1:51 A.M. on October 31. He was 23 years old.

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“Of course, there is a sadness with not seeing [River] in the physical world but everything I do, he is a part of,” Rain said. “Through my music I am for ever able to stay connected to my brother. We are always infinitely collaborating in spirit.”

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Phoenix, perhaps understandably, took a hiatus from acting after his brother passed away. However, he made a return in 1995 alongside Nicole Kidman in To Die For. Nonetheless, the star has remained fiercely private ever since and has even voiced his dislike of speaking to the media and Hollywood awards ceremonies. And in 2005, he went to rehab for alcohol abuse.

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Rain is still involved with music and Summer, who was married to the actor Casey Affleck, works as an actress and designer. Meanwhile, Liberty works with their mother for the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding that aims to protect the planet. Phoenix’s parents divorced in 1997; Dunetz later married Jeffrey Weinberg.

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Phoenix’s career goes from strength to strength. He recently played Jesus in Mary Magdalene, and will soon star as Batman villain The Joker in a film of the same name. He remains close to his sisters, and despite his unconventional childhood and the weight of his brother’s death, it’s clear that the family does their best to stay optimistic.

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“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.”

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