Remember When River Phoenix Bought Acres of Rainforest in Costa Rica?

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As far as iconic ’90s legends go, River Phoenix was one of the greats. The acclaimed actor, who was nominated for his first Academy Award at the age of 18 for Running on Empty, inadvertently helped launch the careers of Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Slater when he tragically passed away in 1993 (DiCaprio and Slater were given Phoenix’s lead roles in The Basketball Diaries and Interview with a Vampire, respectively). His younger brother Joaquin then went on to follow in River’s footsteps, earning Oscar nominations for Gladiator and Walk the Line.

Beyond his acting prowess, Phoenix also became known as a staunch environmentalist and animal rights supporter. A lifelong vegan since childhood, Phoenix decided to stop eating animal byproducts after seeing fishermen near his Venezuela home killing their catch. During his date with then-girlfriend and co-star Martha Plimpton at the age of 15, he began crying once he witnessed her eating soft-shell crab. „He left the restaurant and walked around on Park Avenue, crying,“ Plimpton said in 1995. „I went out and he said, ‚I love you so much, why?…‘ He had such pain that I was eating an animal, that he hadn’t impressed on me what was right.“

Dubbed the „vegan James Dean“ for his good looks and wholesome public image, Phoenix and his sister Rain started a band and would often play environmental benefits for PETA. Most notably, as a testament to his environmentalism, Phoenix once bought 800 acres of rainforest on the border of Costa Rica and Panama, as well as created a non-profit to save endangered species.

„I want to buy the last ‚first growth forest‘ and turn it into a national park,“ he said. „It’s a human tragedy of immense proportions. Many native Indians in that region are losing their homes daily, and it’s going to affect both you and me, because that’s where most of the world’s oxygen comes from. The Amazon rain forests are the world’s lungs and without them we will not be able to breathe. It’s a very scary thought and it’s not too far off.“

After Phoenix’s death from an accidental drug overdose in 1993, the land was eventually sold to a conservancy and the funds were used to create the River Phoenix Center for Peace-building in Gainesville, Florida.

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