River Phoenix

  1. Jeremy Miller, Growing Pains, TV, 1985-1992.    Phoenix was 15 when he auditioned for Ben Seaver – one of the four kids (*more like, four problems, of a Long Island family headed by a psychoiogist father and journaiist mother. Ben had four middle names of Hubert Horatio Humphrey… in honor of the 38th (and LBJ’s) US vice-president.

  2. Corey Feldman, Stand By Me, 1985.  “It felt like the audition process went on forever,” Wil Wheaton told Brent Lang’s 2016 oral history for Variety. “They settled on a dozen potential actors and were mixing and matching us together.” Hardest role to cast, said producer Bruce A Evans, was Feldman’s Teddy Duchamp. “We couldn’t find anybody that could be that angry. River [Phoenix] was so good that we thought about switching him to that part.” (He played Chris Chambers). Added Wheaton: “Feldman was unbelievably angry… in an incredible amount of pain [with] an absolutely terrible relationship with his parents.” At age seven, Feldman said he’d be coming from, school thinking: “Am I going to get abused today? Am I going to get beaten today? Most kids don’t have to think about this kind of stuff.”   

  3. Alex Winter, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, 1988.  Producer Scott Kroopf ran into an Italian brick wall when trying to interest iconic producer Dino DeLaurentiis in the project. “He didn’t understand what dudes were until someone said: guys who had big dicks. ‘Oh, great, now I get it.'” director Stephen Herek whittled down 200-300 actors to 24 for the time-travellers meeting Beethoven, Billy The Kid, Freud, Lincoln, Napoleon, Socrates.  “Everyone was auditioning for both roles,” Reeves told Hollywood Reporter 30 years later.  At one time it looked as if the guys would be Brendan Fraser and Pauly Shore (future Encino Manco-stars in 1991). Except thescript’s skinny teenagers became more cool when Winter, 21, and Reeves, 22, blew away all other hopefuls – when testing for each other’s role. Also up for Bill S. Preston, Esq, were Sean Penn and River Phoenix…  who twice co-starred with Reeves in I Love You to Death, 1989, and My Own Private Idaho, 1990.

  4. Patrick Dempsey, Coupe de Ville, 1989.  Phoenix wisely passed  on  the routine, painting-by-numbers  road movie of the youngest of  three brothers (therefore, the rewbel) driving the 1954 car cross country as a gift for their Ma’s birthday. Dempsey took over Bobby, with Arye Gross as Buddy, Daniel Stern as Marvin. Best if the  ditector remained anonymous.  

  5. Devin Ratray, Home Alone, 1990.  Co-stars in I Love You to  Death, 1990-, and My Own Private Idaho, 1991, Phoenix and Keanu Reeves were the (pricey) favourites for Macauley Culkin’s bullying older brother, Buzz. Enter: actor-singer-songwriter Ratray.
  6. Beryl Reid, Doctor Who #121: Earthshock, 1982.    One of Doc5 Peter Davison’s three favourite shows – despite an unacceptable turn from veteran actress Reid as Captain Briggs. Then again, Phoenix would have been no better. Critics complained that the style of 80s’ producer, the infamous John Nathan-Taylor,  was either Play For Today or Play Away!  He loved taking chances. Some even worked

  7. Brad Pitt, A River Runs Through It, 1992.     Disappointed, naturally,  when director Robert Redford – who talked about the project during their Sneakers shoot  – gave the role to Brad.   

  8. Sean Patrick Flanary, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, TV, 1992-1993.   Obviously,  George Lucas wanted Phoenix to continue being the young Indy he had been in a flashback during Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1988. But River would not flow back to TV- particularly for 152 weeks in 23 countries, amid 1,500 speaking roles. Alas! Being under Lucas’ watchful eye might have helped steer him off the drugs that killed him at 23. 
  9. Brandon Lee, The Crow, 1993.     Also listed for the titular Eric Draven: Johnny Depp, Michael Jackson, Christian Slater. Lee won – and died in a terrible accident with a gun shooting blanks during the filming of the hero’s murder on March 31, 1993.  Exactly five months later, Phoenix, himself, was dead, from a drug overose resulting in heart attack outside Johnny Depp’s Viper Room nighclub on LA’s Sunset Strip on October 31. He was 23.
  10.  Sean Astin, Safe Passage, 1994.     Following  River’s shock death, Astin inherited the  role of Izzy Singer, one of Susan Sarandon and Sam Shepard’s dysfunctional family of seven sons. As one of his producers  said: “River  always cared about everything around him and was extremely considerate of others – very cautious and concerned about everybody’s safety. He seemed much wiser than his 23 years.”

  11. Christian Slater, Interview With The Vampire, 1994.
  12. Leonardo DiCaprio, Total Eclipse, France-UK-Belgium, 1995.     Rimbaud!  Christopher Hampton’s scenario went from German director Volker Schlondorff and Phoenix-Malkovich as Rimbaud and Verlaine  to Poland’s Agnieszka Holland with  DiCaprio-David Thewlis.
  13. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Basketball Diaries, 1994.    When asked what he wanted to do next after his 1989 Best Actor Oscar nomination for Running On Empty, Phoenix pulled out his battered copy of the 1978 cult novel. “I want to play Jim Carroll.”  However, it  took so long to be  made.  Once he reached 22, he announced he was too old for the 15-year-old hero… leading to the (rare) miscasting of Leo.   One year later Phoenix was dead, ODed, on the LA sidewalk outside Johnny Depp’s Viper Room club.
  14. Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic, 1996.
  15. Emile Hirsch, Milk, 2007.      More than a decade earlier, director Guys Van Sant first tried to set up the story of Harvey Milk, San Francisco’s first openly gay public official – assassinated in 1978.  With  his My Own Private Idaho star as the AIDS and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and  transgender) rights activist Cleve Jones.
  16. Callum Turner, Queen & Country, 2013.   The 25 year gap between John Boorman’s autobiographical Hope and Glory, 1987, and this sequel was caused by the shock 1993 death of Phoenix, Boorman’s original choice to play the National Service army days of his alter-ego, Bill Rohan. Even when Landry Jones signed on, the delay continued… when the UK director found him better suited to the hellraiser Percy and Turner took over the more shy, well, discreet, Rohan.

 Birth year: 1970Death year: 1993Other name: Casting Calls:  16