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A Mother's Note on Her Son's Life and Death

November 24, 1993|HEART PHOENIX | River Phoenix, one of Hollywood's rising young stars, died of a drug overdose on Oct. 31. He was 23. His death was particularly shocking because he had been dedicated to causes that espoused healthful living and cleaning up the environment. He was one of five children of parents who had been wanderers in the '60s, who were strict vegetarians and who were, at one time, missionaries in South America for Children of God, a controversial Christian sect that now calls itself the Family. and The late actor's mother, Arlyn, of Gainsville, Fla.--who prefers to be called Heart--sent this article to The Times to explain her feelings about her son's death

I think people want to know if River ran his course or if he was taken from the world prematurely.

River was my first born. He introduced me to motherhood and has been the strongest influence on my life. I feel blessed to have been the woman who held him deep within my being as he grew from a tiny seed. I birthed him at home, suckled him to a chubby 2-year-old and then held him in love and awe until his safe passage on Oct. 31.

It was incredible to watch River grow. From the beginning, he was a soul filled with passion and a sense of service for others. At a young age, he took on the responsibility of sharing the wonderful gifts that were given him. He diligently taught himself guitar at 4, sang on the streets from Venezuela to Westwood, Calif., and wrote music and lyrics, seeking to open hearts in a new way.

Many of you have been able to experience his openness, gentleness, beauty and vulnerability on the screen. He chose characters that reached inside the souls of the audience, awakening long-forgotten feelings. With River's passing, people the world over have been touched by the loss and once again their deep feelings have surfaced.

The coroner's report states that drugs were the cause of death. His friends, co-workers and the rest of our family know that River was not a regular drug user. He lived at home in Florida with us and was almost never a part of the "club scene" in Los Angeles. He had just arrived in L.A. from the pristine beauty and quietness of Utah where he was filming for six weeks. We feel that the excitement and energy of the Halloween nightclub and party scene were way beyond his usual experience and control. How many other beautiful young souls, who remain anonymous to us, have died by using drugs recreationally? It is my prayer that River's leaving in this way will focus the attention of the world on how painfully the spirits of his generation are being worn down.

They are growing up with polluted air, toxic earth and food, and undrinkable water. We are destroying our forests, the ozone layer is being depleted, and AIDS and other diseases are epidemic. The world is a very confusing place for most young people and we need to address that. Drug abuse is a symptom of an unfeeling, materialistic, success-oriented world where the feelings and creativity of young people are not seen as important. Drugs, including alcohol, are used to soften the pain of feeling separated from ourselves, each other and love. We can't just say "Just Say No"--it's ridiculous--we need to offer our children something they can say "Yes" to.

I have been trying to make sense out of chaos in relation to the world situation for many years, and with River's passing I feel more clear than ever before. I feel the answer to our destructive nature, which manifests itself in many forms and our inability to love and care for one another, is based on our disconnection from every natural part of who we are. The universe and Earth is a magnificent system of oceans, rivers, tributaries and streams; of electrons, atoms, microorganisms, plants and animals; of plankton, moss and trees. And we, the humans, believe we can stand apart from this living system and say we are the masters. We act as if all of this was put here for us to use, abuse and profit from. We have separated ourselves from the very essence of life in order to raise ourselves up as the ultimate divine expression on Earth.

River made such a big impression during his life on Earth. He found his voice and found his place. And even River, who had the whole world at his fingertips to listen, felt deep frustration that no one heard. What is it going to take? Chernobyl wasn't enough. Exxon Valdez wasn't enough. A bloody war over oil wasn't enough. If River's passing opens our global heart, then I say, thanks dear, beloved son, for yet another gift to all of us.

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