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  • 18 Jan 2020
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Joaquin Phoenix and family on River Phoenix's legacy and influence - 60 Minutes - CBS News

In 1993, River Phoenix was a young actor with a bright future. He worked with celebrated directors like Steven Spielberg, Gus Van Sant, and Sidney Lumet, and earned an Oscar nomination when he was 18-years-old. But his life was cut short one night while out with his younger brother Joaquin and their sister Rain Phoenix. River died of a drug overdose at just 23.

Today, Joaquin Phoenix has become one of Hollywood's most recognizable actors. He's built a career, in part, on playing dark, complicated characters and he received a Golden Globe Award for his portrayal of a homicidal clown in Todd Phillips' "Joker." Despite a reluctance to talk about River publicly in the past, Joaquin Phoenix and his family spoke candidly about his death, legacy, and influence with 60 Minutes correspondent Anderson Cooper.

River Phoenix
River Phoenix Getty Images

"Back when I was growing up, back in the 1980s, 1990s, River Phoenix was the person who was a household name," Anderson Cooper tells 60 Minutes Overtime. "One of the things I learned in doing this is just how big an influence River Phoenix was on Joaquin. River Phoenix comes back after shooting [a] film and sits him down and is like, 'You're going to be a more successful actor than I am. You're going to be better known than I am.'"

Joaquin Phoenix says his brother River showed him a film that changed his perspective on acting: "Raging Bull."

"I think it just… awakened something in me. And I could suddenly see it through his eyes," Joaquin says. "There's a part in Raging Bull where DeNiro meets a girl in between a chain-link fence. And he, you know, shakes her pinky and it's like this just beautiful little detail, it's this wonderful moment. And I think that in some ways is what I'm always looking for."

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The Phoenix family

Joaquin's family has also found inspiration from River in the work they do today. Heart Phoenix, Joaquin's mother, and Jeffrey, his stepfather, run a non-profit in River's name called The River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, which works on social justice issues and conflict resolution. Sister Rain Phoenix, a musician, has released an album dedicated to her brother called "River."

"I feel like in virtually every movie that I made, there was a connection to River in some way," Joaquin says. "And I think that we've all felt his presence and guidance in our lives in numerous ways."

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