When River Phoenix died on October 31, 1993, he left behind a throng of dazed and devastated fans, but first and foremost, he left behind a group of family and loved ones. These people have not said much, but it is obvious that their grief is overwhelmingly sharp and omnipresent in their lives. Below is an excerpt on some comments that Samantha Mathis made about her late boyfriend. To read her words, is to feel her pain.... Why I Still Grieve For River By Samantha Mathis The Broken Arrow star talks for the first time about her feelings for River Phoenix, her lover at the time of his tragic death. Samantha Mathis followed her boyfriend River Phoenix as he staggered out of a Hollywood nightclub and crouched on the cold pavement. She held his head as he slipped into unconsciousness. Actor River, just 23, never recovered. He died within an hour of being taken to Cedars-Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles. Despite a supposedly clean-living lifestyle, he died from a lethal drug overdose. Since then, Samantha has remained silent about the harrowing events of that fateful Halloween night of October 1993 and the effect it has had on her life. She has simply got on with her acting career, with appearances in films like Little Women, Jack and Sarah, and The American President, while keeping a low personal profile and steering clear of intterviews. She is rarely seen out socializing and has never been back to The Viper Room, the trendy nightclub owned by Johnny Depp on Sunset Boulevard where River Phoenix was taken ill. But at 25, as her film career takes another leap forward, with a major role in Broken Arrow with John Travolta and Christian Slater, Samantha has atlast decided to talk about her memories of the night River died and the emotions that rememberance provokes. 'I certainly look back on the night he died as a nightmare,' she says frankly. 'It is a nightmare that will never end. He had gone to the club simply to play his guitar and enjoy himself, but his life at the time seemed under so much pressure. 'He had a lot of work and it seemed to get to him. He took the problems of the world on his shoulders, and could not seem to shake off blacks moods of depression. 'But he never wanted to die. It was so far from his mind and, together, we shared a loving, caring life. Sadly, there is a feeling among some people in Hollywood that they are somehow invincible. Like them, River began to think that nothing could touch him. 'To a certain extent, his sudden illness and death that night will always be surreal for me. I still can't believe it. I spent a year thinking about it -- a terrible year, and the loss is one of those things which, even now, is very hard to accept.' Samantha sits, speaking calmly and clearly, in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel, Beverly Hills, just three miles from the site of that night's dramatic events. But Samantha's fighting in the last to years has been of an altogether different kind. 'River's death was a life changing experience for me,' she says. 'We all know that when anyone dies, it makes us look at life diffferently. Seeing someone so young and loving, and full of life crumble and die changed all my priorities. You know, it made me see what is really important and what isn't. Ultimately, I have really had to learn to laugh at life, too. Otherwise, it can all become too much.' Samantha, who co-starred with River in The Thing Called Love in 1993, knew that his performances in films like Stand by Me and My Own Private Idaho had set him up to earn recognition as 'the new James Dean'. Dean died in 1955 in a car crash after starring in just three films and is still remembered as a tragic genius whose promise was never fulfilled. But of River, who was set to star alongside Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire, Samantha has more pragmatic memories. 'He had time for every problem and every possibility,' she says, 'but I have learned to be much more selfish in my outlook. I am selfish about my time and who I spend it with. I am also selfish about my work and which films I choose to work on. 'And if I don't want to do something, I never criticize myself for not doing it. I take care of myself and my needs, because life is too short. I do not do anything because I have to.' It's obvious that, although the words flow surprisingly freely for someone who has chosen not to say anything on the subject until now, Samantha is still bruised and fragile over River's sudden death. 'I think of him every day,' she says simply. 'It's strange to see him through his films, still living and breathing. I put on the television at the weekend and I Love You to Death was on, and there he was. I'm grateful to be able to see him like that, but at the same time it is very odd and I'm never quite sure how to explain my emotions.' 'I am pretty much at peace about River now. But it is still strange. I have a feeling it always will be.' (ANOTHER EXCERPT) What normally would have been a difficult period of grieving was made worse by the often vicious press coverage. "I was disgusted," she says. "When River lay waiting in the funeral home for friends to say goodbye, someone snuck in from the National Enquirer to photograph him in his casket. And they ran it. How do these people live with themselves?" The tragedy of River Phoenix's death is obviously very near the surface for her. "I think about it every single day," she says, her eyes filling up quickly. She first met Phoenix when she was 19. As she and then-boyfriend Slater arrived at a party, Phoenix was heading out the door. "I saw him, and just knew," she recalls. When they worked together on 1993's The Thing Called Love (which also starred Bullock), it was Phoenix who did the pursuing. He told friends that his "head was going to pop if he didn't get to hold her hand." Mathis was equally smitten. "He was an ecstatic and happy person," she says. Mathis admits she "knew enough" about Phoenix's troubled lifestyle to know there was a problem. "I tried my best to help him," she says. "And for a while, I always had the thought, What if I had done this instead of that? Now I'm trying to get past that." She prefers to remember Phoenix at his best. "The nicest memory I have of him is when we went down to his family's property in Costa Rica, and we'd eat these mangoes for breakfast. River had then dripping all over him. When he ate, he ate with his hands. For me, he'll always be that beautiful, drippy mess."
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