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Actor River Phoenix dies

River Phoenix, one of the most versatile and prominent of contemporary, young actors, collapsed outside a nightclub early Sunday and died. He was 23.

He had approximately a monthof filming left to go on “Dark Blood” at the time of his death; upon completing that film, he was scheduled to play the reporter in “Interview With a Vampire.”

During his short, prolific career he worked for some of the industry’s leading filmmakers and established a professional reputation well beyond his years.

His credits included “Stand By Me,””The Mosquito Coast,””My Own Private Idaho ,””Sneakers,””Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Running on Empty.” He was nominated as best supporting actor in 1989 for the last named film.

Sheriff’s Deputy Diane Hecht said Phoenix was leaving the Viper Room in West Hollywood at about 1 a.m. when he fell to the ground. Friends reported that Phoenix was “acting strange.” Paramedics rushed him to Cedars Sinai Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 1:51 a.m.

“At this time, the cause of death is under investigation. The exact cause will be determined at autopsy by the coroner,” Hecht said.

The autopsy will probably be performed today, she said. Sheriff’s detectives are handling the case, as a matter of routine, but “it’s not a homicide investigation at this time,” Hecht said.

Phoenix had begun filming “Dark Blood” with Judy Davis and Jonathan Pryce late last month in Utah. A production source said there was about another month of shooting left. It’s unknown whether New Line and U.K.-based Scala Prods. can complete the film.

Recent examples of actors who have died during production include Natalie Wood in “Brainstorm” and, earlier this year, the set-death of Brandon Lee, who was making “The Crow.” With input from bank financiers and completion bond companies, both films were resumed.

Born in Madras, Ore., on Aug. 24, 1970, Phoenix was the eldest of five children — all of whom have entered the entertainment industry. At the age of two, his parents, John and Arlynn, became missionaries for the religious sect the Children of God and relocated to South America.

For six years, the family travelled throughout the continent. However, the family eventually left the sect and relocated to Florida, where they adopted the name Phoenix — a symbol of rebirth.

From an early age, River demonstrated musical talent and performed in amateur stage productions. After winning several Florida talent contests, he was invited to audition at Paramount in Los Angeles. When the family moved to Hollywood in the early 1980s, he initially became a regular on the television series “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” and performed in commercials.

Crediting his parents with imbuing him with strong moral convictions, Phoenix stopped doing ad work because he said he could not ethically support a product he did not personally use. He was also active in environmental and animal rights issues.

The actor and his family moved back to Florida in 1989. He said the family environment and leaving Hollywood’s “bad influences and superficial values” was important to him.

Phoenix made his film debut in “Explorers” in 1985. The following year, he emerged memorably from the pack of “Stand by Me.”

Registering a depth of emotion rare among his peers, Phoenix graduated from youthful roles and was just beginning to come into his own as a young man. He made a stunning impact in Gus Van Sant’s 1991 “My Own Private Idaho,” and other films include “Silent Tongue,””I Love You to Death” and “Dogfight.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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