Leonardo DiCaprio: I saw River Phoenix the night he died

Leonardo DiCaprio has worked in the entertainment industry for decades and met countless celebrities. But an encounter with his idol River Phoenix — on the day he died — is one that stands out to this day.

In an interview with Esquire, the “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” star said he’d always wanted to meet Phoenix, and ended up seeing him just hours before the actor died of a drug overdose on Halloween in 1993. He was just 23 years old.

“I grew up revering River Phoenix as the great actor of my generation, and all I ever wanted was to have just an opportunity to shake his hand,” said DiCaprio, now 44. “One night, at a party in Silver Lake, I saw him walk up a flight of stairs. It was almost like something you would see in ‘Vertigo,’ because I saw there was something in his face, and I’d never met him — always wanted to meet him, always wanted to just have an encounter with him — and he was walking toward me and I kind of froze.”

DiCaprio said the crowd of people got in the way and he wasn’t actually able to meet Phoenix.

He continued, “I looked back and he was gone. I walked back up the stairs and back down, and I was like, ‘Where did he go?’ And he was  . . .  on his way to the Viper Room.”

Therapist Bob Forrest, who was friends with Phoenix, wrote in his book “Running with Monsters” that the actor and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist John Frusciante “stumbled in” to the Viper Room that night.

Inside the LA club, Phoenix reportedly told Forrest, “I don’t feel so good. I think I’m OD’ing.”

Reflecting on that night, DiCaprio said their brief encounter was “this existential thing.”

“He disappeared in front of my very eyes, and the tragedy that I felt afterward of having lost this great influence for me and all of my friends,” he said. “The actor we all talked about. Just to be able to have that, always wanting to just — and I remember extending my hand out, and then … Two people came in front and then I looked back, and then he wasn’t there.”

DiCaprio added that he later flew out to New Orleans to audition for “Interview with the Vampire,” in the role Phoenix was originally cast to play. The part went to Christian Slater.

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