Joaquín Rafael Phoenix (/ˌhwɑːˈkiːn/; born Joaquín Rafael Bottom, October 28, 1974), known formerly as Leaf Phoenix, is an American actor, producer, music video director, musician and activist. For his work as an artist, Phoenix has received a Grammy Award, a Golden Globe Award and three Academy Award nominations.
Phoenix started his career by appearing in episodes on television shows with his brother River Phoenix and sister Summer Phoenix. His first major film release was in the comedy-drama film Parenthood (1989). During his period as a child actor he was credited as Leaf Phoenix, his self-given name. He later went back to his birth name, Joaquin, and received positive reviews for his supporting work in a wide range of films, most notably in the film adaptation of the novel To Die For (1995) and the period film Quills (2000). He received international attention for his portrayal of Commodus in the 2000 historical epic film Gladiator, which earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He has subsequently earned Best Actor nominations for portraying musician Johnny Cash in the biopic Walk the Line (2005) and for his role as Freddie Quell, a sex-obsessed alcoholic World War II veteran in the drama film The Master (2012). To this date, he and River Phoenix hold the distinction of being the first and only brothers to get nominated for acting Academy Awards. Some of his other notable films include the satire film Buffalo Soldiers (2001), the science fiction thriller Signs (2002), the animated film Brother Bear (2003), the historical drama film Hotel Rwanda (2004), the psychological thriller The Village (2004), the documentary Earthlings (2005), the romantic drama Two Lovers (2008), the drama The Immigrant (2013), the romantic science fiction drama Her (2013) and the crime comedy-drama film Inherent Vice (2014).
Aside from his acting career, he has also ventured into directing music videos, as well as producing films and television shows. He has recorded an album, the soundtrack to Walk The Line, for which he won the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media. Phoenix is a social activist, lending his support to a number of charities and humanitarian organizations. He is also widely known for his animal rights advocacy. He has been a vegan since the age of three, and actively campaigns for PETA and In Defense of Animals.
Phoenix was born Joaquín Rafael Bottom in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico to parents from the U.S. mainland. He is the third of five children, including River (1970–1993), Rain (b. 1972), Liberty (b. 1976) and Summer (b. 1978). He also has a half-sister named Jodean (b. 1964) from a previous relationship of his father’s.
Phoenix’s father, John Lee Bottom, originally from Fontana, California, was a lapsed Catholic of English, as well as German and French, ancestry. Phoenix’s mother, Arlyn(née Dunetz), was born in the Bronx, New York, to Jewish parents whose families emigrated from Russia and Hungary. Arlyn left her family in 1968 and moved to California, later meeting Phoenix’s father while hitchhiking. They married in 1969, then later joined a religious group, the Children of God, and began traveling throughout South America. His parents eventually became disenchanted with the Children of God; they made the decision to leave the group and returned to the U.S. in 1978. They changed their last name to Phoenix, after the mythical bird that rises from its own ashes, symbolizing a new beginning. Around this time, Phoenix began calling himself Leaf, desiring to have a nature-related name like his siblings, and inspired by spending time outdoors raking leaves with his father. Leaf became the name he used as a child actor, until at age 15, when he changed it back to Joaquin.
In order to provide food and financial support for the family, the children performed on the streets and at various talent contests, singing and playing instruments. In Los Angeles, his mother started working as a secretary for NBC, and his father worked as a landscaper. Phoenix and his siblings were eventually discovered by one of Hollywood’s leading children’s agents, Iris Burton, who got the five children acting work, mainly doing commercials and television show appearances. He went on to establish himself as a child actor before deciding to withdraw from acting for a while and travel to Mexico and South America with his father.
Three days after his 19th birthday, Joaquín’s older brother River suffered a fatal drug overdose on October 31, 1993. Joaquín’s call to 911 seeking help for his brother was repeatedly played on radio and television. In response, he retreated from the public eye for about a year.
1982–1989: Breaking Into Film
Phoenix’s first acting jobs were guest appearances on two television shows with his brother River in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1982), and Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia (1984) as well as an episode, “We’re Off to Kill the Wizard” in Murder, She Wrote with his sister Summer. In 1985, he appeared with in the CBS television movie Kids Don’t Tell. He made his film debut in SpaceCamp (1986) as Max and starred in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “A Very Happy Ending” the same year, Phoenix first starring role was in Russkies (1987) and he later co-starred in Ron Howard’s Parenthood (1989), in which he was credited as Leaf Phoenix. The film was well received by critics and grossed $126 million worldwide. For his performance in the film, Phoenix was nominated for the Young Artist Award for Best Leading Young Actor in a Feature Film. Joaquin went on to establish himself as a child actor before deciding to withdraw from acting for a while and travel to Mexico and South America with his father. Following the death of his brother River in 1993, Phoenix retreated from the public eye for about a year.
During the comeback portion of his career, Phoenix went back to his given name Joaquin and was often cast in supporting roles as conflicted, insecure characters with a dark side. In 1995, he co-starred in To Die For, as the disturbed young man Jimmy who gets seduced by Nicole Kidman’s character Suzanne to commit a murder. Directed by Gus Van Sant, the film was screened out of competition at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival and became a financial and critical success, resulting in a domestic box office total of $21 million. New York Times critic Janet Maslin praised Phoenix’s performance, writing “So pity poor Jimmy. Rivetingly played by Mr. Phoenix with a raw, anguished expressiveness that makes him an actor to watch for, Jimmy is both tempted and terrified by Suzanne’s slick amorality. In that, he speaks for us all.”
In 1997, Phoenix played a small-town troublemaker in Oliver Stone’s U Turn and poor man in love with a rich girl in Inventing the Abbotts. The films were received with mostly mixed and negative reviews respectively and both failed to perform at the box office.
The following year, Phoenix starred in Clay Pigeons (1998) as a young man in a small town who befriends a serial killer. Budgeted at $8 million, the film became a box office flop, grossing only $1 million and was like Phoenix’s previous projects, not well received by critics.
In his next film, 8mm (1999), Phoenix co-starred as an adult video store employee who helps Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage) penetrate the underworld of illegal pornography. The film turned out be a box office success, grossing $96 million worldwide, but found few admirers among critics.
2000–2005: Critical Acclaim and Commercial Success
In 2000, Phoenix co-starred in three films. He made his first collaboration with director James Gray in The Yards. The film follows the corruption in the rail yards of Queens. Although it failed to perform at the box office, The Yards was received with positive reviews. In his next film, Phoenix played emperor Commodus who killed his father and seized the throne in the historical epic film Gladiator. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film stars Russell Crowe as the Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius who is reduced to slavery by Commodus and rises through the ranks of the gladiatorial arena to avenge the murders of his family and his emperor. The film was a massive financial and critical success, becoming one of the highest earning films of 2000, with a worldwide box office gross of $457 million and received universal critical praise. The film won theAcademy Award for Best Picture. For his performance, that critic Lisa Schwarzbaum described as “deliciously creepy perversity”, Phoenix was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role and received his first nomination for the Academy Award in the category of Best Supporting Actor. He and late brother River Phoenix became the first brothers to get nominated for acting Academy Awards. To this date, they are alone in holding this distinction. Later, he portrayed the conflicted priest Abbé de Coulmier in Quills. Inspired by the life and work of the Marquis de Sade, the film premiered in the United States at the Telluride Film Festival on September 2, 2000 and was a modest art house success grossing a total of $17 million at the box office, but it was received with critical praise, eventually receiving three Academy Award nominations at the 73rd Annual Academy Awards and The National Board of Review selected the film as its Best Film of 2000. For his combined roles, Phoenix won the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor and the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor.The following year, Phoenix starred in the satire film Buffalo Soldiers (2001) as a U.S. Army soldier. The world premiere was held at the 2001 Toronto International Film Festivalin early September. However, being a satire of the US military, the film’s wider theatrical run was delayed by approximately two years because of the September 11 attacks until it was released on July 25, 2003. Although the film was a box office flop, it was received with mostly positive reviews. Famed critic Roger Ebert praised Phoenix for his “spot-on performance”. Phoenix was nominated for the British Independent Film Award for Best Actor.Phoenix also starred in M. Night Shyamalan’s science fiction thriller Signs (2002). The story focuses on a former Episcopal priest named Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) who discovers a series of crop circles in his cornfield. Hess slowly becomes convinced that the phenomena are a result of extraterrestrial life. The film was a massive financial success, grossing $408 million on its $72 million budget, and was received with positive reviews. Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers praised Phoenix’s performance, writing “Phoenix registers impressively, finding the humor and the pain in this lost boy”.In 2003, Phoenix played the irresolute husband of a superstar-skater in It’s All About Love, and lent his voice to the leading role of Kenai in the Disney animated film, Brother Bear. The film grossed $250 million worldwide and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.For his first film of 2004, Phoenix paired with Shyamalan again, playing a love struck farmer in The Village. It received mixed reviews but was a financial success, grossing $256 million worldwide on its $60 million budget. For his second film that year, Phoenix starred in the drama film Ladder 49 as a Baltimore firefighter. The film earned $102 million at the box office despite receiving generally mixed reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, praising the performances in the film. Phoenix’s final film of 2004 was Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda, playing photographer Jack Daglish. The film was a moderate financial success but was a critical success, receiving almost exclusively positive reviews from critics. For his performance in the film, Phoenix was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture along with the cast.In 2005, Phoenix starred in the James Mangold directed film Walk the Line, a Johnny Cash biopic, after Cash himself approved of Phoenix. All of Cash’s vocal tracks in the film and on the accompanying soundtrack are played and sung by Phoenix. The film was released on November 18, 2005, eventually grossing $186 million. Phoenix’s performance received rave reviews from critics and it inspired film critic Roger Ebert to write, “Knowing Johnny Cash’s albums more or less by heart, I closed my eyes to focus on the soundtrack and decided that, yes, that was the voice of Johnny Cash I was listening to. The closing credits make it clear it’s Joaquin Phoenix doing the singing, and I was gob-smacked”. For his portrayal of Johnny Cash, Phoenix was nominated for his second Academy Award, in the category of Best Actor as well as the BAFTA Award for Best Actor, Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role. He won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media for the film’s soundtrack. Earlier that year, he narrated Earthlings (2005), a documentary about the investigation of animal abuse in factory farms, pet mills and for scientific research. He was awarded the Humanitarian Award at the San Diego Film Festival in 2005, for his work and contribution to Earthlings.
2006–2010: Producing and Self-Imposed Break
In 2006, Phoenix was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.In 2007, Phoenix reunited with director James Gray for the film We Own the Night, which he also produced. In the film, Phoenix played a New York nightclub manager who tries to save his brother and father from Russian mafia hit men. The film premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, receiving mixed reviews from critics and grossed a total of $54.5 million worldwide. Critic Peter Travers described Phoenix as “electrifying and then some”, and he was awarded the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Leading Man for the performance. For his second film of 2007, Phoenix also reunited with director Terry George for the film Reservation Road. In it, Phoenix played a father obsessed with finding out who killed his son in a hit-and-run accident. The film failed at the box office and received negative reviews from critics, with film critic Peter Travers writing “Even the best actors — and I’d rank Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo among their generation’s finest — can’t save a movie that aims for tragedy but stalls at soap opera.”Phoenix made his third collaboration with director James Gray in the film Two Lovers (2008), where he played a bachelor torn between the family friend his parents wish he would marry and his beautiful but volatile new neighbor. Two Lovers premiered in competition at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival in May, receiving largely positive reviews, especially Phoenix who was praised by film critics David Edelstein who wrote “He [Phoenix] is, once again, stupendous, and stupendous in a way he has never been before” and Roger Ebert describing his performance as “perfect pitch”. Two Lovers grossed $16 million worldwide.Phoenix’s mockumentary film I’m Still Here (2010) premiered at the 67th Venice International Film Festival on September 6, 2010. The film was directed by Phoenix’s brother-in-law Casey Affleck and was also written by Affleck and Phoenix himself. The film purports to follow the life of Phoenix, from the announcement of his retirement from acting, through his transition into a career as a hip hop artist. Filming officially began on January 16, 2009 at a Las Vegas nightclub. Throughout the filming period, Phoenix remained in character for public appearances, giving many the impression that he was genuinely pursuing a new career. Although widely suspected to be a “mockumentary”, the fact that the events of the film had been deliberately staged was not disclosed until after the film had been released. The film received mixed reviews and failed at the box office. After the releasing of the film, Phoenix took a self-imposed break from acting.
2012–Present: Comeback and Critical Acclaim
In 2011, it was announced that Phoenix would return to acting in Paul Thomas Anderson’s drama film The Master (2012). Phoenix played Freddie Quell, a sex-obsessed alcoholic World War II veteran from Lynn, Massachusetts struggling to adjust to a post-war society. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival where Phoenix won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor. The art house film only grossed $28 million but was received with universal critical acclaim, with the acting performances receiving high praise, especially Phoenix’s. Peter Travers of the Rolling Stone gave Phoenix high praise stating “Joaquin Phoenix in the performance of his career. Phoenix wears the role like a second skin; he’s a volcano in full eruption. You can’t take your eyes off him.” His performance was publicly lauded by fellow actors Daniel Day-Lewis, Jessica Chastain and Robert Duvall. Phoenix received his third Academy Award nomination, his second for Best Actor, as well as nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama and BAFTA Award for Best Actor.In 2013, Phoenix starred in romantic science fiction comedy-drama film Her directed by Spike Jonze. In it, Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a man who develops a relationship with Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), an intelligent computer operating system personified through a female voice. It had its premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 12, 2013. Her had a worldwide gross of $47 million and received widespread critical acclaim, along with Phoenix’s performance. Film critics Manohla Dargis and David Edelstein agreed that no other actor could’ve done the role but Phoenix, stating “Her” is even harder to imagine without Mr. Phoenix, an actor who excels at exquisite isolation” and “It’s hard to imagine someone more affecting than Phoenix in the role” respectively, and Phoenix received his fourth nomination for the Golden Globe Award. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Also in 2013, Phoenix collaborated with director James Gray for the fourth time in the drama film The Immigrant. He starred as Bruno Weiss, a pimp who prostitutes Polish immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and ends up falling for her. It was screened at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival as well as at the 2013 New York Film Festival. The film was released in the United States on May 16, 2014. The Immigrant was not successful at the box office but received positive reviews from critics.In 2014, Phoenix reunited with director Paul Thomas Anderson for the crime comedy-drama film Inherent Vice, the first adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon book. Phoenix played the role of Doc, a private investigator and hippie/dope head trying to help his ex-girlfriend solve a crime. Inherent Vice premiered as the centerpiece at the New York Film Festival on October 4, 2014 and went nationwide on January 9, 2015. It was met with mostly positive reviews with many critics praising the film for its acting performances, while some were frustrated by its complicated plot, however it only grossed $11.1 million at the box office. Phoenix was nominated for his fifth Golden Globe Award for his performance.Phoenix stars in the 2015 mystery comedy-drama Irrational Man. Directed by Woody Allen, the film was screened out of competition at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and received mixed to positive reviews. The film had a theatrical release on July 24, 2015. Phoenix narrated his second documentary for Nation Earth about animal rights called Unity (2015). It was released on August 12, 2015.
On March 25, 2015, it was reported that Phoenix is in talks to join Tom Ford’s upcoming film Nocturnal Animals, with Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
He directed some music videos, including Ringside, She Wants Revenge, People in Planes, Arckid, Albert Hammond Jr. and Silversun Pickups.
Phoenix served as one of the executive producers of a television show called 4Real, a half-hour series which showcase celebrity guests on global adventures “in order to connect with young leaders who are creating social and economic change.” He is also listed as a producer on the movie We Own the Night. In music, he was said to have produced the opening track for Pusha T’s My Name Is My Name album alongside Kanye West. The track is called “King Push”. Phoenix then denied in a statement to XXL having produced the record, saying “While it was widely reported that Pusha T used my beat and that I produced his song, I can’t take any credit. A friend’s son played me his music, and all I did was make an introduction to Kanye [West]’s camp.”. He is set to produce a documentary about LGBT teenagers on summer camp.
Phoenix does not believe in a God.Phoenix began dating his Inventing the Abbotts co-star Liv Tyler in 1995 and separated in 1998. In 2001, Phoenix started dating South-African model Topaz Page-Green. They ended their relationship in 2005. He is currently on the board of directors for The Lunchbox Fund, a non-profit organization, which was founded by Page-Green. He had a year-long relationship with model Heather Christie, in 2012. He was in a relationship with DJ Allie Teilz from late 2013 to early 2015. Since 2006, he has been living on top of the Hollywood Hills.In early April 2005, Phoenix checked into rehab to be treated for alcoholism. On January 26, 2006, while driving down a winding canyon road in Hollywood, Phoenix ran off the road and rolled his car. The crash was reportedly caused by brake failure. Shaken and confused, Phoenix heard a tapping on his window and a voice say, “Just relax.” Unable to see the man, Phoenix replied, “I’m fine. I am relaxed.” The man replied, “No, you’re not,” and stopped Phoenix from lighting a cigarette while gasoline was leaking into the car cabin. Phoenix then realized that the man was famed German film director Werner Herzog. While Herzog helped Phoenix out of the wreckage by breaking the back window of the car, bystanders phoned for an ambulance. Phoenix approached Herzog to express gratitude, but Herzog downplayed his heroism and returned to his home nearby.Phoenix unexpectedly announced in late 2008 that he had retired from acting to pursue a rapping career, and that the forthcoming Two Lovers would be his last film. On February 11, 2009, Phoenix appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman to promote Two Lovers. He seemed incoherent and was largely unresponsive towards David Letterman’s questions about the film and his career plans. Phoenix appeared on Late Show again on September 22, 2010, and revealed that his “retirement” and eccentric behavior were for a mockumentary, I’m Still Here (2010), that he and Casey Affleck were filming.In October 2012, Phoenix proclaimed the Academy Awards to be “bullshit”. He later gave an interview amending his earlier comments and acknowledging that the Oscars provide an important platform for many deserving filmmakers. He added more to the topic while on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2015, saying that he is uncomfortable receiving accolades for his work in films when he considers the film making process to be a collaborative one.Phoenix is close friends with brother-in-law Casey Affleck, Balthazar Getty, Robert Patrick and Amy Adams. He was also close friends with late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Josh Brolin is his favorite actor.
Phoenix has long been a social activist, lending his support to a number of charities and humanitarian organizations, notably Amnesty International, The Art of Elysium, HEART, and the Peace Alliance (which campaigns for a United States Department of Peace). Phoenix is also on the board of directors for The Lunchbox Fund, a non-profit organization which provides daily meals to students of township schools in Soweto of South Africa.
Animal Rights Activism
Phoenix is widely known for his animal rights advocacy. He became a vegan when he, at the age of 3, joined his siblings on a boat to catch fish. He saw how a fish was caught and tossed aside, writhing in pain. Phoenix is a member of In Defense of Animals and PETA and has actively campaigned for both. For Nation Earth he narrated Earthlings(2005), a documentary about the investigation of animal abuse in factory farms, pet mills and for scientific research. He was awarded the Humanitarian Award at the San Diego Film Festival in 2005, for his work and contribution to Earthlings. He will narrate his second documentary for Nation Earth called Unity (2015), along with other famous celebrity vegans such as actress Jessica Chastain and comedian Ellen DeGeneres. Throughout the years, he has collaborated with animal rights organizations to spread awareness about animal abuse and to promote vegan-ism. On behalf of such organizations as PETA and Mercy for Animals, he has helped spread awareness about retail corporation Walmart and their support of pig cruelty and China’s brutal dog-leather industry. In 2013, he starred in a PETA short film that promoted vegan-ism, showing Phoenix “drowning” as he narrates, “In water, humans drown just as fish suffocate on land. Put yourself in their place. Try to relate.” ABC refused to air the film during the Academy Awards broadcast, citing the ad’s controversial nature.