Joaquin Phoenix and River Phoenix are the only brother pair to both be nominated for Academy Awards. River was nominated for 1988’s Running on Empty, while Joaquin has been nominated four times and won once. The brothers had an intangible bond, fostered both by their love for their craft and by their shared upbringing.
River and Joaquin were brought into the Children of God religious group, headed by David Berg, when they were young. About that time, Joaquin has said, “My parents had a religious experience and felt strongly about it. They wanted to share that with other people who wanted to talk about their experience with religion. […] I think my parents thought they’d found a community that shared their ideals. Cults rarely advertise themselves as such. It’s usually someone saying, ‘We’re like-minded people. This is a community,’ but I think the moment my parents realized there was something more to it, they got out.”
When they left the church, Joaquin was six years old. The family halted their missionary work in South America and moved to Los Angeles, where Joaquin signed with an agent. Though River found more immediate fame, in films like Stand By Me and Explorers, Joaquin remembers his brother returning from a movie shoot one night to tell him:
“He suggested I change my name [from his previous stage name, “Leaf”, back to his given first name, Joaquin] and then, I don’t know, six months later, whatever it was, we were in Florida, we were in the kitchen, and he said, ‘You’re going to be an actor and you’re going to be more well-known than I am.’ Me and my mom looked at each other like, ‘What the f–k is he talking about?’ I don’t know why he said that or what he knew of me at the time. I hadn’t been acting at all. But he also said it with a certain weight, with a knowing that seemed so absurd to me at the time, but of course now, in hindsight, you’re like, ‘How the f–k did he know?'”
Joaquin would soon find the success River promised, but terrible tragedy struck, when River Phoenix accidentally overdosed at the same nightclub his brother, Joaquin, was attending.
River Phoenix passed at the age of 23. Now, Joaquin has a son named for his late brother.
“We were a team, and whoever was working, well, that was great,” he said. “We’re always supportive of each other. There wasn’t competition. We just didn’t have that competitive streak in us the way we were raised.”