Proud2Bme | The Tale of Two Rivers: A Birthday Tribute to Late Actor River Phoenix

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The Tale of Two Rivers: A Birthday Tribute to Late Actor River Phoenix

By River Ceballos--As everyone is gearing up for a brand new school year, we can't help but get consumed by the constant fears of passing classes and being accepted amongst our peers. All of this can be amplified if, like myself, you suffer with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. I've always said that a good friend, a good mentor, and a good mantra can go a LONG way, which is why I'm here to tell you all about a young man who's inspired me in more ways than I can possibly count. Well, in fact, he's inspired many.

River Jude Bottom was born on August 23rd, 1970 in Madras, Oregon. But many of you may know him by his stage name of River Phoenix. Phoenix was a professional actor, passionate young activist, and musician, forming a folk/rock band by the name of Aleka's Attic that hailed from Gainesville, Florida and included his younger sister, Rain. He often said that music was his first love, although acting was his main bread and butter.

As a young kid, I vividly remember watching the film classic, Stand By Me, and being mesmerized by the character of Chris Chambers and how he fearlessly led his group of misfit friends with such confidence and assurance. I honestly thought the character of Chris was a real person until my older brother explained to me what an actor was. That's when something in me clicked. Realizing actors had the ability to bring a character to life in such a way that evoked such a range of emotions in their audience made me want to do exactly that!

I had always had a wild imagination and a thirst for attention. I knew I wanted to entertain. Fast forward a couple years later, I was taking my first acting classes. Since then, I've done film, TV, reality television, and modeling. A couple of years ago, I reached a point in my career where people started to recognize me, and I knew that I was going to use the gift that God blessed me with to talk about my personal hardships in hopes of helping and inspiring others. As long as I had people's attention, I'd continue to shed light on topics that mattered.

With all of the tragedy going on in today's world – all of the prejudice, discrimination and hate – it sometimes feels like love and happiness are qualities going extinct. We turn on our TVs or see media outlets generally focused in on celebrity gossip, scandal, or violence when we should really be focusing on the amazing organizations that provide incredible resources for people of all ages like Proud2Bme, The Jed Foundation, NEDA, Love Is Louder, and one nonprofit in Gainesville, Florida that is dear to my heart.

Recognizing that we should use every day to better the world around us, River’s family picked up where he left off: leaving the world a better place. His activism in animal rights, social justice, environmental issues, and peace pacts went on to inspire what has become the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding (RPCP). The board of directors includes the Phoenix family, including his mother and sisters. I respect RPCP because they don't help or target just ONE cause. They bravely address vandalism, bullying, gang-related issues, domestic violence, and many other things, all while partnering with local schools and businesses. Their goal is to help others heal from violence.

In the early 90s, during the height of River’s career, the internet wasn't what we've grown to know today and social media was nonexistent. Many don't know of River’s dedication to creating peace. “If I have some celebrity,” he wrote, “I hope I can use it to make a difference. The true social reward is that I can speak my mind and share my thoughts about the environment and civilization itself.”

This is exactly what he did. When people see River, they see a handsome face and while they aren't wrong, what don’t meet the eye are a heart so pure and a soul so rare.

River Phoenix was a true artist, in every sense of the word. Maybe his short but amazing career lied in his name. River: a clear body of water that is continually moving forward with its refreshing quality and self-reflective view. It's a rare name, and Mr. Phoenix was a rare character himself. He often said that acting is like a Halloween mask that you put on. Being an entertainer myself, the craft is therapeutic and can be very healing. I can't help but feel this Halloween mask that River described was his escape from the attention of Hollywood that he was never quite fond of. He was never much into the celebrity aspect of it all, but more into the artistry.

One of the major, jaw-dropping films of River's career was My Own Private Idaho in which he played a gay street hustler trying to make a living for himself in the streets of Seattle and surrounding areas. He starred alongside his best friend, actor Keanu Reeves. At this point in cinema, no actor in Hollywood was brave or open-minded enough to take on a role of this caliber. River had the heart to portray such characters because in true River fashion, he was fearless. Many of today's celebrities have credited MIPO for paving the way for controversial yet widely successful films such as Brokeback Mountain. Phoenix did not discriminate and was a voice for the LGBTQ+ community, showing once again his love for people, acceptance, and equality.

"It still strikes me as strange that anyone could have any moral objection to someone else's sexuality. It's like telling someone else how to clean their house." -River Phoenix

His wise outlook on life seems more relevant and helpful today that it was in the early 90s, which is one of the many reasons why Phoenix's legacy continues to live on with a hint of immortality that entertainers can only hope for once they're gone. He's left an imprint on this industry than nobody can erase.

It's safe to say that I owe my entire career to River. Being named after him is one thing that I wear like a badge of honor. River has taught me that with great blessings come great responsibilities. I'm honored to have my platform and be able to use it for good.

Over the years, I've realized that if you can’t get it together enough to accomplish this thing called peace, at least do your part in your life, because that’s where you can truly make an immediate difference. You don't have to have millions of fans to get your voice heard and educate other people. What we need the most right now in this world are more peace builders!

As you navigate your hallways this school year, or pass people in the din of strife, please be kind to everyone you meet despite how different they may be. Practice and spread love and peace, stand up for what you believe in, and never be bullied into silence. Like River, believe that you can change the world...because you can!

River Jude Phoenix lost his life at the age of 23 years old on October 31st, 1993. But to live in the hearts of those you love is to never die. In his short time, he touched more people than I think he ever knew was possible. I'm honored to be named after him and to continue to spread his legacy on to the younger generation. I owe River Phoenix my entire career as well as my confidence. I think of him with every career move I make and thank him in every interview, article, or public appearance I can. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.

"Run to the rescue with love, and peace will follow."

Photo via Brent, Flickr

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