Ethan Hawke says death of River Phoenix made him avoid moving to Los Angeles, chasing mainstream stardom

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Ethan Hawke spoke out against what he believes was Hollywood’s mistreatment of his late co-star, River Phoenix. 

The actor, 50, appeared alongside Phoenix in the largely unsuccessful 1985 film “Explorers” when they were both 14. Phoenix would go on to hit major stardom in Rob Reiner’s “Stand By Me” in a role that Hawke had auditioned for himself. 

Speaking in an interview with The Guardian ahead of the release of his latest project, “The Good Lord Bird,” Hawke noted that he remained friends with Phoenix after their time as co-stars right up until the latter’s death in 1993. Phoenix died from a drug overdose outside a Los Angeles nightclub at age 23.

Hawke, who has spent most of his career avoiding the glitz and glamor of Hollywood in favor of more independent projects, explained that his friend’s death played a big part in his decision to avoid the spotlight of mainstream success.

Ethan Hawke explained that the death of his co-star River Phoenix led him to avoid moving to Los Angeles.
(Getty Images)

“You know what you asked me about earlier, why I don’t make easier movies? Well, my first screen partner overdosed on Sunset Boulevard, you know? He was the brightest light and this industry chewed him up, and that was a big lesson to me,” he told the outlet. “If I had to put a single reason on why I never moved to LA, it would be I think it’s too dangerous for an actor like me to be in that kind of climate.”

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The interviewer noted that several former co-stars that Hawke has worked with seemed to meet untimely ends, including Robin Williams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, prompting the actor to reflect further on the environment that stardom can lead to. 

Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix named their first child after his late brother, River. 
(Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

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“Drugs and alcohol and depression are formidable opponents all over the world. People think getting what you want will make you happy, but a sense of self, purpose and love don’t come from the outside. You can’t get distracted by this culture that celebrates things that sometimes aren’t what they seem,” he explained.

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River Phoenix was nominated for an Oscar in 1988 for his work on the film “Running on Empty” and had further breakout roles in “Sneakers,” "My Own Private Idaho” and is perhaps best remembered for playing a young Indiana Jones in “The Last Crusade.”

His younger brother, Joaquin, announced in late September that he named his first son with actress Rooney Mara after his late brother. 

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