Born Joaquin Rafael Bottom in Puerto Rico on October 28, 1974, the middle child of five of a New York Jewish mother and California father of mostly English heritage, his parents who were then members of the Children of God missionaries changed the family name to Phoenix. With older siblings named River and Rain and younger ones named Liberty and Summer, Joaquin felt out of place and chose Leaf as his new name. It was as Leaf Phoenix that he made his acting debut at the age of eight in an appearance on the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers TV show in which his 12-year-old brother River played the youngest of the brothers.
He appeared mostly in guest appearances on TV throughout his childhood, with occasional forays into big screen roles, but it wasn’t until 1989’s Parenthood that he made an enduring impression. Aside from a 1991 short film, however, he did not appear before the cameras again until after the tragic death of his brother. It was he who made the 911 call when River Phoenix died of a drug overdose at an L.A. nightclub on October 31, 1993. He returned to acting two years later to great acclaim as Joaquin Phoenix in 1995’s To Die For directed by Gus Van Sant who had directed his brother in what would be his last great role in 1993’s My Own Private Idaho.