Remembering River Phoenix, and other stars who died too soon

Image: River Phoenix
FILE October 30: On October 31, 2013 it will be the 20th anniversary of the death of actor River Phoenix. Known for his roles in 'Stand By Me', 'My Own Private Idaho' and 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade', Phoenix quickly became a teen sensation. He died at the age of 23 after suffering drug-induced heart failure caused by heroin and cocaine at the Viper Room, in West Hollywood, California. Please refer to the following profile on Getty Images Archival for further imagery: LOS ANGELES, CA - 1988: Actor River Phoenix, star of "Stand By Me," poses during a 1988 Los Angeles, California, photo portrait session. Phoenix, a rising young film star, tragically died in 1993 outside a Sunset Strip nightclub of a drug overdose. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)Getty Images

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By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

On Halloween night 20 years ago, actor River Phoenix, 23, collapsed and died outside the Viper Room nightclub in West Hollywood, Calif.

Fans were shocked. Phoenix was well known from both his child star days ("Stand by Me") and his venture into adult roles ("My Own Private Idaho"). An autopsy found high concentrations of cocaine and heroin in his blood, which unnerved fans accustomed to Phoenix's squeaky-clean activist image.


Gone too soon

River Phoenix, Chris Farley, Marilyn Monroe and Heath Ledger are just some of the entertainers who died young, never making it to age 40.

Phoenix's mother wrote in the Los Angeles Times that her son was no drug addict despite the circumstances of his death.

"His friends, co-workers and the rest of our family know that River was not a regular drug user," Heart Phoenix wrote. "We feel that the excitement and energy of the Halloween nightclub and party scene were way beyond his usual experience and control. How many other beautiful young souls, who remain anonymous to us, have died by using drugs recreationally? It is my prayer that River's leaving in this way will focus the attention of the world on how painfully the spirits of his generation are being worn down."

Our slideshow takes a look at more than a dozen entertainers -- comedians, actors, musicians and more -- who died before they reached 40. It's no surprise that many deaths were brought on or more indirectly influenced by substance abuse. But others died in plane and car crashes, other accidents, or of illness. And all of them exited the stage far too soon.