Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind
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In Last Night at the Viper Room, acclaimed author and journalist Gavin Edwards vividly recounts the life and tragic death of acclaimed actor River Phoenix—a teen idol on the fast track to Hollywood royalty who died of a drug overdose in front of West Hollywood’s storied club, the Viper Room, at the age of 23.
Last Night at the Viper Room explores the young star’s life, including his childhood in Venezuela growing up under the aegis of the cultish Children of God. Putting him at the center of a new generation of leading men emerging in the early 1990s— including Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves, Brad Pitt, Nicolas Cage, and Leonardo DiCaprio—Gavin Edwards traces the Academy Award nominee’s meteoric rise, couches him in an examination of the 1990s, and illuminates his lasting legacy on Hollywood and popular culture itself.
“I saw him practicing his character’s walk in the parking lot,” Hawke said. “Uncommon behavior for a thirteen-year-old.” Over the previous couple of years, River had phased out his bowl haircut, but for Wolfgang, it was back in all its symmetrical glory. Plus, he had to wear a particularly bookish pair of glasses—which he removed as soon as he got off camera, or if a pretty girl walked by. River had been many things in his life, but never a dork. “River had to do the most acting of all the kids,
travelers. They continued to get high with pot and various hallucinogens, but eventually two stoned visions, separated by one year, sent them looking for actual religion. Arlyn’s: She was in the void, until a golden hand seemed to rip away the darkness. John’s: Lying in a field, he was surprised by a disembodied voice asking, “Why don’t you receive me?” When he asked for proof that the voice was real, a “tall fellow” materialized, holding two Bibles and proclaiming, “I’m a Christian.” One of
Prohibition times, when it was a speakeasy partially owned by “Lucky” Luciano. (Since Luciano was the supreme boss of organized crime in the United States, the same could likely be said of many drinking establishments.) In the 1940s, it was called the Melody Room, and was controlled by “Bugsy” Siegel, a childhood friend of Al Capone who became a bootlegger and hit man; he had come to Los Angeles to develop gambling syndicates, and palled around with movie stars and studio heads. He poured an
difficult, but I loved it,” he said. “There’s something that attracts me to extreme circumstances, the opposite of the Hollywood people who are used to a swimming pool and a shower.” So Sluizer scoffed at the relatively mild deprivations of Dark Blood; the production booked a local motel and rented some nearby houses. Hollywood people being unable to cope with the real world is a major theme of Dark Blood: a Hollywood couple drive their Bentley into the desert on a second honeymoon, and get into
OF THEM ARE BONY All quotations from author interview with Ione Skye (2012). 47. OUR BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE “I thought they were a little amateurish”: Glatt. “Three years ago”: Froom. “Oh, my baby,” “Holy shit”: Glatt. 48. ROLLING ON THE RIVER “It’s an official bonus”: from the press conference at the 1989 Oscar nominees’ lunch (as found on YouTube). Wanting to hug Kline: Glatt. 49. WE ARE ALL MADE OF STARS “If you really want to kick my ass”: Glatt, quoting tutor Dirk Drake. 50. ALONE