NOW (UK magazine) - may 00
River died and I changed my life

Joaquin Phoenix has finally broken his silence about the missing years that followed the shock death of his famous brother River in 1993 from a drug overdose.He's told how he lost the will to make movies and instead threw it all in to go traveling with his father. But now he's back with a new name-he was previously called Leaf-and a fresh determination.

Joaquin 24 is about to enjoy huge success playing the eccentric emperor Commodus in Gladiater which is released in the UK next week. But he admits he's still tortured by self-doubt. "I never think I'm any good", he says. "I only choose films that I really want to make. Yet I'm never satisfied with anyting I do."

Joaquin now living alone after his romance with Liv tyler ended, was so tense over his high-profile role in the 60 milion ponds movie that co-star Richard Harris had to constantly get him drunk. "I found the whole thing overwhelming" he says."The project was bigger than anything I've done."

Joaquin pronounced wah-keen has had a bizarre life. He and brother River, plus sisters Summer, Liberty and Rain were schooled at home by their hippy parents who changed his name to Leaf when he was four. His parents John and Arlyn Bottom even joined a sect called Children of God and served as missionaries in South America for five years before moving to Los Angeles and changing their surname to the far more glamorous Phoenix. The children were encouraged to act and Joaquin made numerous TV films and adverts. At 10 he appeared with comedy king Steve Martin in Parenthood. But disaster struck on 31 October 1993 when he was out with 23-years-old brother River in a club called the Viper Room in Los Angeles. River who was Hollywood's hottest young star overdosed on drugs and died.

After the tragedy, Joaquin made a pact with sister Rain and River's girlfriend, actress Samantha Mathis-who were also both at the club-never to talk about it. He keeps that vow still but reflects: "At that time I just wanted a change of direction. I found it very easy, because I'd lost the will to be in movies. "The scripts I was being sent were stupid, so I took off with my father and we travelled around Central and South America. It was a happy period and That's what I wanted to do. "I did'nt want to make film any more. It had nothing to do with what had happened. It was just the way I felt."

He returned at the age of 19, playing one of the misfits seduced by Nicole Kidman into killing her husband in To die for. By now, he had changed his name back to Joaquin to establish a new image and identity. "I felt I'd grown up as an individual and became interested in work again," he says. " I started doing auditions. I was out of touch because I'd left the game, but I'd gone from a kid to a young man. The options wrere different and the acting was much more realistic." He has since co-starred with Anne Heche in Return to paradise, U turn with Sean penn and in 8MM with Nicolas cage. He fell in love with Liv Tyler on the set of inventing the abbotts. Once again, he kept the year-long romance low-key. "I realised a few years ago that being famous is over-rated. It can lead to a lot of problems and you're living your life in front of others when you really don't know what the next move should be. I'm still finding myself, I suppose, which is why I have so little confidence."

Being in Gladiater should boost his confidence and his profile. The film which opens here on 12 May is predicted to be this summer's big blockbuster. Joaquin plays the evil son of a Roman emperor who murders his father(Richard Harris) and condemns his favourite general Maximus(Russell Crowe) to certain death as a gladiater. But Maximus is such a good fighter that he wins respect in the provincial arenas. He's finally brought to Rome to fight in the Coliseum.

After since Joaquin's next film Quills to be released later this year, is another potential box office winner, starring Kate Winslet, Michael Caine and Geoffrey Rush, life may never be quite the same. " I'm nervous about it all," he admits. " I'm currently without a home and without any real order to my life. I was living in New York. then Gladiater came up and I travelled around to the locations in Malta and England. Then came Quills and it was back to London to a rented apartment. Now, I'm anxious to find anywhere I can call home. I'm either in hotels or sleeping on the floor at friend's places."

"Fortunately I'm very close to my family and always talk about what I'm going to do with my mum and sisters. They know I'm always asking questions about myself." "I'm never sure what I'll do next. Who knows, I may even disappear again for a time. Anything is possible."