River Phoenix was 18 when his family bought a ranch house on the northern edge of Paynes Prairie in 1988, according to the Gainesville Sun.
From an early age, Phoenix established himself as one of America’s brightest young talents. His breakout role as Chris Chambers in the Stephen King film adaptation of “Stand By Me” earned him critical acclaim that was later enhanced by his Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for “Running on Empty” in 1989.
Aleka’s Attic, a band founded by Phoenix, was made up of Josh Greene, drums; Tim Hankins, viola; Josh McKay, bass; and River and his sister, Rain, on vocals. The band played packed shows in every Gainesville venue they could, according to Alan Bushnell, owner of Hardback Cafe.
Bushnell said he was a personal fan of the band and understood their popularity in the early ‘90s Gainesville music scene.
“I always loved the band,” he said. “It was very melodic and just very beautiful.”
Bushnell recalls River's family coming out to the filled venues and going to many other bars and venues around downtown.
“His sister Rain Phoenix was in the band and little brother Joaquin would come out to see them as well,” he said. “It was a family affair.”
The band even performed at UF during a presidential campaign rally for Bill Clinton and Al Gore in October 1992.
After the band’s potential deal with Island Records in the early ’90s fell through, Aleka’s Attic recorded an album’s worth of material with the intent of putting it out independently, but the material never got an official release, according to Variety.
The band partially recorded the album at Mirror Image Studios, which went on to become the site of Heartwood Soundstage in Gainesville, according to Alligator archives.
In December 2018, Rain announced on Instagram that Aleka's Attic singles would be released. In January 2019 she fulfilled her promise by releasing “In the Corner Dunce,” through LaunchLeft, a podcast and self-described artist alliance featuring Rain Phoenix.
Other singles, “Where I’d Gone,” “Scales and Fishnails,” and “Time is the Killer,” which is performed by R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe and Rain Phoenix, were released through KRO Records on Valentine’s Day as an EP.
Aleka’s Attic’s music was more than garage rock; for a young band, the music was complex.
River was a spokesperson and advocate for veganism and animal rights, and he took on challenging roles. In “My Own Private Idaho,” he plays a male escort alongside Keanu Reeves.
Michael Tighe, a photographer, was fascinated by the young actor and first met him in 1990.
He flew down from New York City to Gainesville to photograph River.
“His family had this beautiful wild piece of land on the edge of a swamp,” He wrote in Eye of Photography Magazine. “I was there for two days. We smoked pot, drank beer, climbed up to his treehouse, swung on a rope, bounced on his trampoline and went on an alligator hunt just to spot one and we did.”
River and his family celebrated his last birthday at Kesl's Coney Island, a vegetarian restaurant he frequented located in the Gainesville City Center, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
On Halloween 1993, River died outside of the Viper Room in West Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard from a combined drug overdose. He was 23.
River was cremated and his ashes were scattered under a scrub oak tree on his family’s property in Micanopy, according to Barry C. Lawrence’s book “In Search of River Phoenix: The Truth Behind the Myth.”
In 2012, the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding was founded by River’s mother, Heart Phoenix, and husband Jeffrey Weisberg. The goal of the alliance is to enrich the lives of individuals, families and communities by providing and promoting the best practices and principles of peacebuilding and global sustainability. RPCP is a mission-driven organization working toward prevention, intervention and healing from violence, according to its mission statement.
When his brother Joaquin collected his Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in “Joker,” he quoted an unreleased song River wrote titled “Halo.”
“Run to the rescue with love, and peace will follow.”
Contact Christopher S. Cann at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @chrstophercann.