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Coroner: Phoenix died of massive drug overdose

By
VALERIE KUKLENSKI

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office determined Friday that actor River Phoenix died accidentally after ingesting a deadly combination of cocaine, heroin, valium, marijuana and other drugs.

The 23-year-old actor, known as a health fanatic, collapsed Oct. 31 outside a West Hollywood nightclub popular with young celebrities.

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According to the toxicology report, his death was caused by 'acute multiple drug intoxication.'

'If that isn't a message to those who want to use drugs out there,' coroner's spokesman Scott Carrier said. 'That's a horrible death.'

Examiners found 'lethal levels' of cocaine and morphine, probably ingested as heroin, as well as the prescription sedative valium and ephedrine, a medicine commonly used to treat asthma and allergy symptoms.

Phoenix starred in 'Stand Me' and 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.' He was scheduled to begin filming 'Interview with a Vampire' this month.

Phoenix was at actor Johnny Depp's club, the Viper Room, with his 19- year-old brother Joaquin, who works as an actor under the name Leaf Phoenix, and his sister Rain and a group of friends.

The club is a haven for the young Hollywood crowd, and drug use is said to be rampant and overt, with patrons cutting lines of cocaine powder in restrooms or even on tabletops.

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When Phoenix began trembling, actress Samantha Mathis and Joaquin Phoenix helped him outside where he went into seizures.

Joaquin Phoenix told paramedics he believed his brother had taken 'valium or something.'

By the time he arrived at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center a few blocks away, he had no pulse or blood pressure. He did not respond to efforts to revive him.

Sheriff's deputies questioned witnesses and concluded there was no reason to suspect foul play.

According to medical texts, ephedrine itself is not a harsh drug, but when coupled with marijuana or cocaine, it can cause an irregular or rapid heartbeat and high blood pressure.

Phoenix was known in some circles as a health maniac, a clean-living vegetarian who was not seen drinking anything stronger than carrot juice.

But a crew member on 'A Thing Called Love,' filmed last winter, told People magazine that Phoenix 'acted messed up and confused' and 'seemed real thin and unhealthy.'

Coroner's spokesman Scott Carrier said it was possible that if Phoenix was not a regular drug user, he would have little tolerance for them even in modest doses.

His death has drawn attention to an apparent upswing in drug use among young actors, musicians and artists in Southern California. Bartenders and other witnesses of night scenes describe increased use of heroin, the designer drug known as Ecstacy, and psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms.

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Filming on 'Dark Blood,' the movie he was shooting when he died, has been suspended while producers decide whether to try to complete it.

One of Phoenix's last projects, a feature titled 'Silent Tongue,' was premiered Thursday night at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco. Festival organizers dedicated the opening night to Phoenix.

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