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.
Phoenix does not believe in 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 filmmaking 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.