This is the sound of a moment in time that would change Joaquin Phoenix for the rest of his life. But how did this propel him to become today’s most respected two-time Oscar-nominated actor actor as well as just one of the coolest people alive? Find out on this episode of Classic Charm.
In 1993 at a Los Angeles nightclub, River Phoenix, older brother of Joaquin Phoenix, overdosed on drugs and died. Joaquin was at his side calling 911 for help. I don’t think he was ever the same after that moment, and it shaped his personality and outlook on life at the age of only nineteen.
For a moment, Joaquin quit acting. He went to Florida to live with his parents and forget about his career that was only just beginning. In fact, it’s likely before the mid-nineties you’d never heard of Joaquin. He’d had some small roles and appearances, but nothing ever substantial. It wasn’t until a year or so after he was able to mourn his brother’s passing that he decided to take a chance on a new movie.
If you look at almost any of Joaquin’s interviews, you’ll see a cold, shy, sarcastic demeanor. Sometimes playful and childish, sometimes articulate and thoughtful, and sometimes rude. Doing junkets for movies during the late nineties hardened Joaquin after being treated like a spectacle instead of a human. What kind of normal person wants to casually talk about the devastating moment where his closest friend and family member vomited and had seizures in your arms and then suddenly died? But that’s what the media did, with almost every single interview. That 911 call was played all over the news when it happened, and transcribed for headlines on newspapers all over the country. How much trust would you yourself have in the people who wanted to interview you? Would you think they cared about your own well-being, or just wanted to get a good story for themselves? These are the thoughts Joaquin has to deal with each time he goes on camera.
Then why, you might ask, aside from his outstanding acting skills, do people love him?
Joaquin Phoenix is Hollywood’s anti-actor. A rebel. He’s weird, not exactly bubbly, and quite introverted. But guess what? You’ve learned all your life that those are the opposite of the qualities of an attractive person. We want normal, happy, and extroverted—like every actor you’ve ever seen interviewed. I don’t believe that’s always the case. I know that relationships aren’t about catering to the majority, but rather being able to find and connect with your own tribe that shares your specific eccentricities and interests. The problem with most unsuccessful people is *not* that they are weird, sad, or introverted. The problem is those people hide those qualities away thinking they’ll be ridiculed. Worse, these people won’t even show themselves in public so they won’t have to deal with the prospect of rejection in the first place.
Joaquin could have easily done this in 1994. He didn’t have to fly with his family up to New York City to audition for Gus Van Sant’s movie To Die For. He no doubt was bruised and jaded and could have walked around pouting for the rest of his life how unfair the world is. But he did the opposite. With all that darkness inside of him, Joaquin Phoenix decided to *show up*.
And this—this is what sets him apart from every sad, tortured soul who hides away from an unfair world. Joaquin shows up, even when he knows every successive interview will casually ask about the harrowing 911 call he made and private details about his brother’s death when they should be asking about his movies.
Joaquin shows up. Do you know what that means? No, it doesn’t mean you hide everything you’re feeling and put on a happy face. It doesn’t mean you arrive reluctantly. Showing up means that you do what you need to do over and over again. It means that you confront your fears regardless of how you feel. It means that you show who you are and what you’re feeling. Is it anxious? Show up anxious. Is it angry? Show up angry. But show up and do well.
Joaquin might even try to hide those dark feelings with the spotlight on him, but he just shows up so hard that he can’t seem to avoid showing his true, brooding, unique self in the process.
And this is that magic that sets him apart from everyone else. We don’t love Joaquin in spite of his dark side, we love him because he’s showing us these things. We love seeing him get uncomfortable and show up to an interview anyway. We love seeing the glints of joy or childishness in-between his pouty expressions. This is what gives him character. This is what makes him relatable and massively loved. This is what makes a person wildly charming.
But why does he do it? Why does Joaquin show up when he could easily retreat to a cave where nobody can bother him? Because there’s something in life that makes Joaquin electrified. He is constantly chasing the excitement he feels whenever there’s a camera on him and he is playing a role. The fear, anxiety, pressure, it’s all because of his love for acting.
This is something I call Purpose. Purpose is the thing that drives a human to do something. It’s that burning inside that makes a person feel useful—Something that makes you feel like you’re valuable to the world—even if you can affect just one person. It’s something you love to do—or better put—something you *need* to do. Having a sense of Purpose is one of the strongest sources of bravery, success, and attractiveness. Without Purpose, life just becomes a blur. A walking daze.
The truth is, Joaquin doesn’t have a choice for whether he should act or not. There’s no negotiation for him. He even puts himself through interviews he knows he won’t enjoy because he loves the work as a whole. It feeds him. Just as Michael Jordan isn’t Jordan without basketball, Ethan Klein isn’t Ethan Klein without the goofs and gaffs, Joaquin isn’t Joaquin without acting.
So if you are considering doing anything big in your life, you don’t choose not to do it because you are having a bad day, or you’re depressed, or you’re feeling not 100% yourself. Because it’s exactly those things that *make* you so alluring, relatable, and charming to the world. You are acting as an inspiration to others when you show up with exactly who you are and what you’re feeling. People can’t do that so easily—so when they see you doing it, they admire you for it. Just like we admire Joaquin Phoenix for exactly who he is, not in spite of his scars, but exactly because of them.