river viper


River was relieved to return to Florida, and Aleka’s Attic; the band got a regular gig at a small punk club called the Hardback. But his Gainesville anonymity was slipping away, due to the Oscars and a article in the local paper. Another Gainesville band, called the Smegmas, decided to torment River by posting copies of one of his early pinups all over town. River was wounded and confused, but instinctively tried to play peacemaker: Aleka’s Attic opened a gig for the Smegmas, and although the show was attended by hundreds of teen fans of River, he made sure the Smegmas got all the money. 

He tried to brush off people who spotted him, insisting that his name was actually Rio. That wasn’t sufficient at one party, when a gang of racist skinheads tried to pick a fight with him. 

River smiled sweetly at his tormentors and told them, “If you want to kick my ass, go ahed. Just explain to me why you’re doing it.” 

After a confused pause, one of the skinheads said, “Ah, you wouldn’t be worth it.”

“We are all worth it, man,” River said with a beatific smile. “We are all worth millions of planets and stars and galaxies and universes.”

from Last Night at the Viper Room by Gavin Edwards.

“At first, Wheaton was intimidated by River, who was fourteen to his twelve. He explained, “He was so professional and so intense, he just seemed a lot older than he was. He seemed to have this wisdom around him that was really difficult to quantify at that age.” He was smart, he was musically talented, and he was one of the kindest people Wheaton had ever met. In other word: “He just seemed cool.”

— Excerpt from Last Night at the Viper Room by Gavin Edwards.


“Over a thousand miles on a motorcycle. Just before Christmas 1989, that was how Keanu Reeves went to see his friend River Phoenix, riding his motorcycle from Canada all the way down the eastern United States, until he reached Gainesville, Florida. His cargo: the treatment for a movie called My Own Private Idaho, by director Gus Van Sant. The project upped the perspiration rates of both actors’ agents, managers, and other handlers — Iris Burton [Phoenix’s agent] had refused to pass it on to the Phoenix family. The lead characters were street hustlers who sexually service male customers — subject matter that was not just outré, but taboo in mainstream moviemaking." 

- Last Night At The Viper Room, Gavin Edwards

6 p.m, October 30, 1993: Sluizer wrapped the Dark Blood shoot for the day. River lingered for about half an hour, hanging out and helping the crew take down the lights. Lachman had grown accustomed to River volunteering: a week before, in New Mexico, the cinematographer had been schlepping a large nun of equipment cases out of his hotel room. He came out into the hallway and shouted, “Can anyone help me with my gear?”
A minute later, River knocked on his door.
“River, what are you doing here?” Lachman asked.
“I came to help you.” River said simply, proposing to violate both union rules and the star-power hierarchy of a movie shoot.
“I didn’t mean you!” Lachman said.
“Why can’t I help ya?” River asked.
—  Excerpt from ‘Last Night At The Viper Room’ by Gavin Edwards
Joaquin Phoenix's 9-1-1 call
  • Caller: It's my brother! He's having seizures at Sunset and Larrabee, please come here!
  • Dispatcher: Ok, calm down a little bit. What's the address where you need it?
  • Caller: It's Sunset and Larrabee, the Viper Room.
  • Dispatcher: Ok, what's the address there, you know?
  • Caller: (yelling) What's the address of the ... club?
  • Dispatcher: Sir, sir, calm down a little bit, OK?
  • Caller: I'm sorry. It's my brother, please come, he's (inaudible).
  • Dispatcher: I understand, OK, calm down.
  • Caller: He's on the corner of Sunset and Larrabee, you can't miss it!
  • Dispatcher: OK, is this your brother's having a seizure?
  • Caller: Yes.
  • Dispatcher: How old is he?
  • Caller: He's 23.
  • Dispatcher: Twenty-three? OK, you know what the telephone number is?
  • Caller: You must get here! It's the Viper Room.
  • Dispatcher: OK. Viper Room?
  • Caller: 8852, 8852 Sunset and Larrabee. Please come!
  • Dispatcher: OK, I have paramedics on the way. OK? Sir? Stay on the line with me and calm down a little bit, all right?
  • Caller: I'm calm, but please get here.
  • Dispatcher: Calm down! OK, if you can't calm down give the phone to somebody else.
  • Caller: No, there's no one else around.
  • Dispatcher: OK.
  • Caller: I'm fine. I'm fine.
  • Dispatcher: Pay attention to me, OK?
  • Caller: Yeah?
  • Dispatcher I show your address as 8860 Sunset Boulevard.
  • Caller: 8852
  • Dispatcher: OK, this is the Viper Room?
  • Caller: Yes.
  • Dispatcher: You're calling from a pay phone.
  • Caller: Yes.
  • Dispatcher: You know the number on that pay phone?
  • Caller: 855-9910.
  • Dispatcher: OK, take it easy, OK?
  • Caller: Now I'm thinking he had Valium or something, I don't know. You must get over here please!
  • Dispatcher: Slow down a little, OK?
  • Caller: Where is the guy? Where the ... are they, you know? Please, 'cuz he's dying, please!
  • Dispatcher: Slow down, OK?
  • Caller: OK what? (crying) What? What? Just get the ambulance over here. There's nothing I can do on the ... phone!
  • Dispatcher: OK, we have help on the way, all right?
  • Caller: I know. I thank you guys.
  • Dispatcher: Where's your brother right now?
  • Caller: He's laying on the cement.
  • Dispatcher: Is he breathing?
  • Caller: I don't know. The last I checked they said he was breathing. (yelling) Is he ... breathing (back to dispatcher) I don't know if he's breathing. Please you got to get over here! Where's the ambulance?
  • Dispatcher: Who's with him right now?
  • Caller: Um, my sister and some people.
  • Dispatcher: Pardon me?
  • Caller: My sister and some people.
  • Dispatcher: Your sister?
  • Caller: Yeah.
  • Dispatcher: OK, how old is your sister?
  • Caller: She's 19, she's 20.
  • Dispatcher: OK, can you talk to her from where you are?
  • Caller: She's trying to give him mouth-to-mouth. Please get to him. Please! Please!
  • Dispatcher: Sir, calm down. Tell her not to give mouth-to-mouth now.
  • Caller: (yelling to sister) Don't give him mouth-to-mouth!
  • Dispatcher: You only give him mouth-to-mouth if he's not breathing, OK? Is he not breathing? Answer my question, is he breathing?
  • Caller: I checked and honestly I'm 20 (unintelligible). I can't tell.
  • Dispatcher: Call over to your sister and ask her to check and see if he's breathing.
  • Caller: Hey John, is he breathing? (pause) OK, he's breathing.
  • Dispatcher: Then tell her not to give mouth-to-mouth, all right?
  • Caller: OK, she's not giving mouth-to-mouth.
  • Dispatcher: Is he still shaking? Is he still having a seizure?
  • Caller: He's not having the seizures anymore. He's just passed out.
  • Dispatcher: What's he doing? Just seems like he's sleeping right now?
  • Caller: Yeah. He just looks like he's sleeping. Is that OK?
  • Dispatcher: That's very normal, OK?
  • Caller: Yeah?
  • Dispatcher: That's very normal. Sometimes they do actually go to sleep. If he goes into another seizure, OK, and sometimes they do that, just let him have the seizure. Don't try and restrain him, all right?
  • Caller: What about putting my finger behind his mouth.
  • Dispatcher: Do not put nothing in his mouth.
  • Caller: OK.
  • Dispatcher: OK. He will not swallow his tongue, believe me. Just let him go ahead and have his seizure. Paramedics are on the way. They should be there shortly. OK?
  • Caller: Thank you so much. You've been very helpful. I'm sorry about being a ....
  • Dispatcher: OK. No problem.
  • Caller: Do I get off now or what?
  • Dispatcher: Yeah. You can go ahead and hang up. Call us back if you need us before the paramedics get there, OK?
  • Caller: They're coming. Bye.