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Autopsy Reveals Little on Death of River Phoenix

November 02, 1993|SHAWN HUBLER and CARLA HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

One woman, who said she was at the Viper Room on Saturday night, said she saw GHB passed among her friends. But the club's co-owner countered that if such activity had been going on, he would have stopped it immediately.

"If there was anything like that out in the open going on, the guys who work there would not have allowed it," said actor and musician Johnny Depp, a part-owner of the club who was on stage performing Saturday night when Phoenix became ill.

Chuck E. Weiss, another musician and part-owner of the club, said: "We don't condone that kind of behavior at all. You can't control what people do, but we don't permit any overt drug using at all. . . . We keep a watchful eye for that kind of stuff."

Eric Greenspan, Phoenix's longtime attorney, said he is convinced that the young actor did not abuse drugs. "He didn't have a drug problem to my knowledge, and I never knew River to be part of the club scene."

A woman who works in the music business and described herself as a friend of Phoenix said the actor had seemed depressed the night he died. Actress Samantha Mathis, his friend and companion that evening, sent word through her agent that she was too distraught to comment.

A number of people at the club that evening said they noticed a young man obviously ill, but few realized that it was River Phoenix. With his recently darkened hair and casual clothes, Phoenix attracted little attention until about 12:45 a.m., when, according to one patron, he began convulsing in a bathroom.

"My boyfriend went in the bathroom and came out and said: 'Somebody was in there shaking and someone was splashing water on his face," recounted the young woman who asked not to be named.

Depp said that he had noticed Phoenix earlier in the evening, but had no idea that the man he saw chatting with his friend Flea--a member of the rock group the Red Hot Chili Peppers--was a celebrity. Depp, who was interviewed at a West Los Angeles location where the movie "Ed Wood" was shooting, said he had met Phoenix only once before at a party in April.

"I came off the stage and was told a friend of Flea's had some kind of seizure. I walked out the door and saw paramedics working on him," Depp said. It wasn't until 3 a.m., he added, that he learned the victim was Phoenix.

Authorities and witnesses said Phoenix collapsed on the sidewalk outside the Viper Room after being helped out of the club by Mathis and his brother.

Capt. Ray Ribar, a county paramedic who worked on the actor, said he appeared to be dead when the ambulance arrived, and "was just flat-line EKG." He was officially pronounced dead within an hour at Cedars-Sinai.

Times staff writers Claudia Eller, Terry Pristin, Richard Simon and correspondents Steve Hochman and Heidi Siegmund contributed to this article.

* UNWANTED PUBLICITY: Death could attract curiosity-seekers to Viper Room. B1

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