Samantha Mathis Opens Up About The Night Her Boyfriend, River Phoenix, Died At 23

25 years after his death, Samantha Mathis recalls the tragic night her boyfriend, River Phoenix, died of a drug overdose.

Samantha Mathis Recalls Death of River Phoenix
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25 years after his death, Samantha Mathis recalls the tragic night her boyfriend, River Phoenix, died of a drug overdose.

Twenty-five years after the tragic death of actor and musician River Phoenix, Samantha Mathis has recalled that heartbreaking night. Mathis, one of the stars of American Psycho, met Phoenix when she was just 19-years-old. The pair became romantically involved following their 1993 film, A Thing Called Love. According to People, Mathis quickly became smitten with the star and had a feeling she would end up with him forever.

Although the two were very different, the relationship worked well and they both shared a special focus on family. Phoenix had five siblings, Joaquin, Rain, Summer, Liberty, and Jodean, who is a half-sister. Growing up with barely enough money for food, Phoenix and his siblings would often play music on street corners to help support their family. As a result, Phoenix was known to be especially protective of his younger siblings. Before his death, he even told Mathis his primary encouragement to continue acting was to put his younger sister through college.

Unfortunately, the Running on Empty actor would not live long enough to watch that happen. On Halloween night of 1993 he died of a drug overdose at only 23-years-old. On that tragic night, Mathis and Phoenix were partying at a Los Angeles club, the Viper Room. At that time, the club was owned by actor Johnny Depp, and was a celebrity hot spot.

The Viper Room Today
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Mathis said that she knew her boyfriend was high upon their arrival at the club and could tell he was not in a good state.

“I knew something was wrong that night, something I didn’t understand. I didn’t see anyone doing drugs but he was high in a way that made me feel uncomfortable — I was in way over my head. Forty-five minutes later, he was dead.”

It was heroin that caused the actor’s premature death. While on her way to the bathroom, Mathis said she saw Phoenix collapse when being pushed out of the club by a bouncer. His brother, Joaquin, called 911 but it was too late. Phoenix took his last breath just outside of the Viper Room.

Mathis, now 48, still speaks very highly of Phoenix and the time they spent together. In the last year of his life, the pair grew close spending time with his family and getting to be kids in a way neither of them had before. Mathis considered where Phoenix would be today if he was still alive.

“I think if River was still here, I think he’d be acting, directing, saving the environment, just living and hanging out,” she explained. “Oh gosh, wouldn’t that be nice?”