The cult "believed that [sleeping with someone] was a sacrament, and that sort of everyone should be engaged in it."
Trigger Warning: This story talks about child and drug abuse that may be disturbing to readers.
On October 31, 1993, River Phoenix was at a club that was owned by his friend and fellow actor Johnny Depp. He was at The Viper Room with his sibling, Rain, and Joaquin. At the club, River reportedly mixed a couple of drugs, causing him to seize violently. He was taken outside while Joaquin called 911. His sister tried to stop his seizures but in vain.
Eventually, River lost consciousness and passed soon after. He was 23 years old at the time of his death.
Here's the thing, River was meant for great things in life. He was nominated for an Oscar by the age of 18 for his role in Running On Empty. Unfortunately, he didn't live long to see his career succeed. Like many other actors who departed too soon, it's safe to say that River's life was filled with trauma, probably from his childhood spent traveling in a cult, per Ranker.
River's parents were part of a cult- they were missionaries for the Children of God. Though they did leave while River was still young, the cult was infamous for its seedy practices, and its abuse of children.
“The Children of God was a Christian [pleasure] cult. They believed that [sleeping with someone] was a sacrament, and that sort of everyone should be engaged in it. And this, you know, extended to sort of partner swapping, and it also extended to encouraging children to, you know, engage with each other,” Gavin Edwards, author of Last Night at the Viper Room, told NPR.
His parents, Arlyn and John Bottom, were strapped for money as they traveled across the United States and South America with the cult. For a while, the family settled in Venezuela where the cult set up camp, and to make some money, the children would perform in front of crowds.
“At an early age, River was busking on street corners, trying to spread the word and proselytize for the cult. But if he didn't bring home enough loose change that day, the family wasn't going to eat,” said Edwards. “So, it was a lot of weight in a lot of different ways, on a very young child.”
Despite leaving the cult, River and Rain just couldn't get over their love for performing. "River and his sister got used to performing. So when River was still young, the family left the cult. They decided it had gotten too seamy. But the kids had the bug, and River and Rain started entering talent shows." But there were also things he was addicted to, most likely because of the cult, that were frowned upon by people.
“[Sleeping with someone] was nearly all that River could think about,” Corey Feldman said, according to Rolling Stone. The actor himself said that he first “made love” when he was 4 years old, in one of his interviews. “But, I’ve blocked it out,” he added. “I was completely celibate from 10 to 14.”
"He decided it was time to lose his self-imposed 'second-virginity,' and get on with his first teen encounter," Feldman added. When River decided to lose it to an older girl he was acquainted with, he asked his parents for permission. Not only did they say yes, they even put a tent in the backyard and decorated it, to set the mood for their son, who was only 15 at the time.
He then went on to dabble with drugs which led to his untimely death, and all of this may just have stemmed from the trauma he experienced as a child. It's safe to say that River didn't have an easy childhood at all, but as Edwards said, though River "carried around that weight with him, it didn't define who he was."
Cover Image Source: IMDb | River Phoenix in Running on Empty (1988)