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Joaquin Phoenix credits late brother River Phoenix for career: 'I am indebted to him'

Phoenix remembered his older brother, who passed away in 1993, at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Joaquin Phoenix at the "Joker" premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 9, 2019 in Toronto, Canada.GEOFF ROBINS / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Joaquin Phoenix has established himself as a major film actor in recent years. He has three Oscar nominations and may end up with a fourth after his new film, "Joker," hits theaters next month.

But he couldn't have made it happen without tremendous support from his late brother, River Phoenix, who died in 1993.

Phoenix shared his emotional memories on Monday during his acceptance speech for the Tribute Actor Award at the Toronto International Film Tribute Gala.

"When I was 15 or 16, my brother, River, came home from work and he had a VHS copy of a movie called 'Raging Bull' and he sat me down and made me watch it," recalled the actor, 44, in a video from Variety. "And the next day he woke me up and he made me watch it again. And he said, 'You’re going to start acting again. This is what you're going to do.'

"He didn't ask me. He just told me," Phoenix continued. "And I am indebted to him for that because acting has given me such an incredible life."

River Phoenix's promising acting career (he had starred in films like "Stand By Me" and "My Own Private Idaho") was cut short when he died suddenly at age 23 of a drug overdose. At the time, Joaquin Phoenix was just 19.

"I feel overwhelmed with emotion, because I'm just thinking about all the people that had such a profound influence on me, throughout my career," Phoenix said.

That included his mother, Arlyn Phoenix, who was more commonly known as Heart Phoenix. He said she was "a constant source of inspiration to him.

River Phoenix
River Phoenix with Joaquin and their mother Arlyn in New York City, date unknown.John Roca / Getty Images

"Everything I do is for her," he noted.

Phoenix in "Joker."
Phoenix in "Joker."Warner Bros.

"Joker" opens in theaters Oct. 4.