Revealed: The Special Meaning Behind Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara’s Newborn Son’s Name

This article was originally posted on Sept. 28, 2020.

Actors Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara’s baby has arrived.

On Sept. 27, director Viktor Kossakovsky announced during the Zurich Film Festival that Phoenix and Mara are now parents to a newborn son.

New parents Rooney Mara (left) and Joaquin Phoenix
New parents Rooney Mara (left) and Joaquin Phoenix | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara welcomed a son

Director Viktor Kossakovsky broke the news as he promoted his film, Gunda, on which Joaquin Phoenix is an executive producer. The exact birth date of the child was unsurprisingly not made clear, given how much Phoenix, 45, and Mara, 35, cherish their privacy.

Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix
Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix in 2013 promoting ‘Her’ |
Stefania D’Alessandro/WireImage

The couple named him River, after Joaquin Phoenix’s deceased brother.

The actors have worked on films together including Her in 2013 and on two films in 2018, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot and Mary Magdalene. They collaborated, also in 2018, on voice narration for a documentary exposing modern animal agriculture, Dominion.

River Phoenix, also an actor, died in 1993

River Phoenix was born in 1970 and was also an actor like his brother Joaquin. River had memorable roles in films including Stand by Me (1986), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and My Own Private Idaho (1991).

In 1993, at the age of 23, River died of a drug overdose outside of the Viper Room in Los Angeles. With him were Joaquin, their sister Rain, and River’s girlfriend, Samantha Mathis, who in 2018 told The Guardian about the night of his death.

Joaquin Phoenix, left, and his older brother, River
Joaquin Phoenix, left, with his older brother, River | Dianna Whitley/Getty Images

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“I knew something was wrong that night,” Mathis said. “Something I didn’t understand. I didn’t see anyone doing drugs but he was high in a way that made me feel uncomfortable – I was in way over my head. Forty-five minutes later, he was dead.”

Joaquin was 19 when his brother died from what was later revealed to be an overdose of heroin and cocaine.

Joaquin and his family still feel River’s influence on their lives

River Phoenix’s absence is felt deeply by his family. Nearly 30 years after his death, Joaquin appeared on 60 Minutes in an interview with Anderson Cooper along with his mother and siblings.

Joaquin shared that he was told by River one day, “You’re going to be a more successful actor than I am. You’re going to be better known than I am.”

The actor described the day his older brother introduced him to an influential film in his life, Raging Bull.

The Phoenix Family with Joaquin second from right and River second from left
The Phoenix Family with Joaquin second from right and River second from left | Dianna Whitley/Getty Images

“I think it just… awakened something in me,” Joaquin said. “And I could suddenly see it through [River’s] eyes. There’s a part in Raging Bull where De Niro meets a girl in between a chain-link fence. And he, you know, shakes her pinky and it’s like this just beautiful little detail, it’s this wonderful moment. And I think that in some ways is what I’m always looking for.”

Cooper asked Joaquin about River’s legacy in their lives.

“I feel like in virtually every movie that I made, there was a connection to River in some way,” he said. “And I think that we’ve all felt his presence and guidance in our lives in numerous ways.” 

The connection is even stronger, now that there is another River Phoenix in the family.