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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

How Joaquin Phoenix was discovered busking on the streets

Joaquin Phoenix is widely considered one of the greatest actors of the 21st century, having starred in a vast array of hugely successful films, such as JokerWalk the LineHer, Gladiator, and You Were Never Really Here. Despite the acclaim he has received over the past few years, Phoenix’s life used to look completely different, and his success is entirely driven by his creative desire.

The actor was born in 1974 to parents John and Arlyn, who were members of a highly controversial cult, Children of God. Alongside multiple siblings, including the late River, who also became an established actor, the family travelled across South America and Puerto Rico to spread the cult’s gospel. The cult was known for promoting adultery, incest and sexual activity between children. Although Phoenix has never revealed exactly what happened to him in the cult, his brother once shared that his first sexual encounter was when he was just four years old: “But I’ve blocked it out,” he said. “I was completely celibate from ten to fourteen.” 

When Phoenix was three, the family left the cult and headed to the US on a cargo ship from Venezuela to Miami. During the early years of Phoenix’s life, the family lived in extreme poverty, describing their house in Venezuela as a “rat-infested shack with no toilet.” While in the US, conditions weren’t much better. The family of seven crammed into a one-bedroom apartment that enforced a strict no-child policy. “I remember hiding behind the laundry machine when the owner came over. We could be there for hours,” he once recalled. 

With no money, Phoenix’s parents would send their children out onto the streets of Los Angeles to beg for money. This led them to try out busking by singing and dancing on the streets, hoping they would earn enough money for food and rent. Despite the more than unideal nature of Phoenix’s childhood living situation, he has remained optimistic in interviews, once stating, “Even when we had no money, we still had a car to sleep in and a friend’s driveway we could park in and a dad who said, ‘I’m going to take care of you.’” 

In 1981, 11-year-old River and seven-year-old Joaquin, who went by the name ‘Leaf’ at the time, were performing inside a shopping mall in Century City when a Hollywood agent, Iris Burton, stumbled upon the brothers. She decided to represent the pair, and they began starring in adverts and minor roles. Soon, the rest of the children were discovered, and the family would spend time driving around from audition to audition, hoping to give one of the kids their big break. Phoenix recalled, “We’d get into a station wagon that would break down at least twice a fucking week, and we’d drive, all five of the kids, to the different studios for auditions.” 

Whilst River recieved his big break as one of the main characters in 1986’s Stand By Me, Joaquin made his feature film debut the same year in SpaceCamp. One of his most notable early performances was in 1989’s Parenthood, yet the actor decided to give up on his talents after he completed his role. However, Phoenix returned to acting in 1995 after River died two years prior, inspired by his brother, who had encouraged him to continue. 

Since the 1990s, Phoenix has found great success, landing leading roles that have earned him awards from the Oscars, BAFTAs, Golden Globes and even the Grammys. Most recently, the actor has wrapped production on Ridley Scott’s epic historical drama Napolean, where he will play the titular role. 

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