Phoenix began acting at age 8, shortly after his hippie parents piled him and his two siblings in an old station wagon, changed the family name from Bottom to Phoenix, and headed West to Hollywood from Florida. He and his brother, River, landed roles in the 1982 television series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. A series of films followed, including SpaceCamp (1986), Russkies (1987), and Parenthood (1989). After Parenthood, however, Phoenix, who was going by the name Leaf, retreated from Hollywood and traveled through Mexico with his father.
Phoenix returned to Los Angeles in 1993, reclaimed his given name, and began hanging out with his brother, River. His life changed forever on October 31, 1993, when River overdosed on heroin and cocaine. Joaquin's frantic 911 call was rebroadcast on television and on the radio. Joaquin withdrew from the limelight once again until 1995, when he starred opposite Nicole Kidman in Gus Van Sant's To Die For. He followed the indie hit with 1997's Inventing the Abbotts. He co-starred with actress Liv Tyler, and the two were a couple for several years. His career took off in 2000, with acclaimed performances in Gladiator, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, and Quills. His other credits include U-Turn (1997), Return to Paradise (1998), 8MM (1999), Gladiator (2000), Quills (2000) and Buffalo Soldiers (2001).