Before Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt take over Hollywood, there was an actor who was ready to become the next James Dean of his generation. River Phoenix, older brother of the famous actor Joaquin Phoenix, conquered Hollywood with his mysterious face and overdosed at the age of 23. Last Night at the Viper Room is his most well-known biography.
I’m not a big fan of biographies but when I’ve heard the brief story of River Phoenix, I’ve felt that I wanted to read Last Night at the Viper Room, even if I’ve only watched one of his films – My Own Private Idaho. However, this was one of the best things I did because this book is simply impossible to stop reading. Mixing the life of River Phoenix with the Hollywood scene of the 80’s and 90’s, Gavin Edwards reveals the weird and interesting childhood of Phoenix, who lived in Venezuela until the age of 6, where his parents were hippies who were part of a cult called the Children of God, where they stimulated sexual interaction between kids.
The sexual abuse from his childhood is not only a part of the men Phoenix would become, but also all the culture from his parents would reflect on his personality, which was to become a young vegan boy who wanted to be famous and rich to provide for the family. With that said, Gavin Edwards shows how River Phoenix was an interesting human being through testimonials of family members, actors, producers, friends and among others.
Also, the cool thing about the books is that Gavin doesn’t tell the story like it’s a time line like most biographies do, but actually, he plays with it, forming chapters in the middle of the narrative to show how the Viper Room is related to the Hollywood life at that time and how much is related to River Phoenix’s destiny – a death by overdose in front of The Viper Rom club. With that, I must assume that the author already knew the tittle before writing everything down.
Last Night at the Viper Room revels the story of an almost legend, who didn’t become as famous as it was supposed to be thanks to his death, his not very great amount of good movies and the death of Kurt Cobain who took place a couple of years after River Phoenix’s death. Even so, the story of River’s life is an obscure chapter of the 90’s who is beautifully unfolded by the author of the book, becoming River Phoenix’s most notable legacy.