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Phoenix, River - Final 24: His Final Hours Cover
Do you think that there is a sign which comes, before death starts knocking at your door? You know – maybe some sort of a twinge – a tick – a tell tale sign of woe? Or maybe I am just mistaken with all of this – and death comes within a thud of a heart-beat, BANG! As depicted in this 60-minute documentary made in 2010.

Phoenix, River - Final 24: His Final Hours

This episode of ‘The Final 24’, chronicles the life and death of actor, River Phoenix. Now to help illustrate this strained journey, there are numerous reconstructions, stock photography, and home movies on display. Moreover, there’s also recorded interviews, involving friends, colleges, and police experts, all associated with this erstwhile performer.

Here is the basic overlay of this program:

  • IN THE BEGINNING: River Jude Bottom (later changed to River Phoenix) was the eldest son of two members of the Church of God, whom brought him up as they saw fit within a time of travel and tribulation. During this period of his life, River also learn how to play the guitar, hone his own music talents, whilst at the same time cementing a bond with his family that would set an unsubstantiated course for his own future.
  • A STAR IS BORN: Once River’s acting career started to take off (most notably in the hit movie ‘Stand by Me’), he had to set aside his own musical aspirations, to provide for his family, whom relied on him as their sole provider. Graciously, this did not seem to bother River amidst this juncture of his life, because instead, he tried his best to compartmentalise his music (within his family band ‘Aleka's Attic’), even though promoters of his musical wares, did try to cash in on his superstar status. Though, on a more positive note, River did find a kindred spirit in the musician ‘Flea’, as well as a close personal aide, in Frank Ebert.
  • DRUGS: Whilst doing some ‘hands on’ research for the film, ‘My Own Private Idaho’, River’s already progressive drug taking habit began to escalate in a downward direction. In fact, over time, this particular ‘peccadillo’ began to show on River quite a lot, affecting both his appearance and his temperament to those who were around him. Thankfully, though, his father, and other close friend, all tried their best to curb River’s intake, going so far as to monitor his routines and curb his craft.
  • THE LAST 24 HOURS: Rivers last day on earth is as follows: (6) After a night of drug taking, River had a bad time on the set of the film ‘Dark Blood’, when he and his co-star, Judy Davis, could not see eye to eye. (5) Next, River went home, and had a drink with his girlfriend, Samantha Mathis, his brother, Joaquin, and his sister, Rain, before they all headed off to a nightclub called ‘The Viper Lounge’, because he was going to perform on stage with ‘Flea’, plus Johnny Depp and a ‘All Star band’. (4) Once in the club, ‘Flea’ told River that he could not perform on stage due to his already sullen disposition. (3) Obviously, feeling rather sad by this news, River took a known drug called ‘a speed-ball’. (2) But alas, this drug affected River very badly, and he started to have the shakes and convulse. (1) River died outside on the pavement of the nightclub, whilst Joaquin called for an ambulance.

‘River Phoenix – the Final 24’ reads like a perverse version of the ‘American Dream’ that suddenly goes horribly-horribly wrong. Well, it is a strange real life parable, huh? Almost as if it was written for stage and screen. Act 1: A young blond-haired blue-eyed boy, with bible-bashing hippy parents, aspires to become a musician. Act 2: The boy does not become musician, he becomes an actor instead – a successful actor. And Act 3: The boy tries to curb the pressures of acting career with the use of drugs – which then leads to his own death outside of a nightclub.

OK, I know that I should not be so ‘pithy’ with my parable – or ‘morality tale’ if truth be told. And do you know what the worst thing about all of this was? It is that River could have been saved if his life were somehow different.

River Phoenix

Well, what if his parents’ had a more conventional lifestyle – would this have tempered River’s creativity in someway? Or, what if he did not become associated with the arts – could River have used his talents is a different field? Also, what if ‘Flee’ allowed him to sing on stage that night in question – would River have taken the drugs that killed him? And finally, what if his family and friends acted sooner to River’s plight at the nightclub – could they have saved him?

Now who can answer any of these questions for me, huh? No one – if truth be told. Still – they did run though my mind all the way though this documentary – as if they were a perpetual metronome of a way to turn back the clock.

River Phoenix

You see, I feel the way that I do, because a couple of friends of mine died to drugs also – one of them an hour or so before I last saw him. Its as though this program has brought it all back to me somehow – the ‘what if’ – ‘what if’ – ‘what if’. OK, I know that this is a silly thing to perambulate over, considering that all of this is in the past. However, tales such as these are well worth the telling – if nothing more than to stop someone doing something that they may later regret. 

River Phoenix
I suppose I should thank ‘River Phoenix – the Final 24’ in someway, huh? As it just showed me that life can be ‘a funny old game’ at times. With hills, valleys, ditches, and pitfalls, all of which keeps us trotting on down the road – as if nothing matters but the dawning of a new tomorrow.

Listen, I’m sorry dear reader if this review is not much of a review – but then again this documentary is not really much of a documentary, either. It is a slice of life presented in a very compelling and pertinent way, which has inadvertently turned my mind to mush.

Though, to counteract this standpoint slightly, there were two question that this documentary did not move me on: (1) How did Rivers parent get back to the States after their time away? And (2) Rivers rise to fame wasn’t really expanded upon.

But I suppose within the context of this show, this is neither here nor there – the dead are still dead – the living still mourn – and the river will always run free.

Nice documentary.


THE FINAL 24 - RIVER PHOENIX THE FINAL 24 - RIVER PHOENIX Reviewed by David Andrews on December 12, 2011 Rating: 5
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