His Own Private Agony

Who will stand by River Phoenix after the young actor's brutal death? His legion of fans will.

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His death is stoking a vigorous debate. "The River Phoenix image was pure," says New Yorker David Kleinhandler, 16. "But I guess he wasn't. He betrayed his image." Outside the Viper Room, one admirer left a painting: a blue stream surrounded by green grass and the message THE ETERNAL RIVER FLOWS.

However the actor died, his mourners knew that he deserved to live, because he had lived inside them and would continue to. He was a love object and an object lesson -- a reason to believe and forgive. In understanding this, his fans showed more maturity than River Phoenix and many of his fast-lane friends. The audience, at least, could tell the difference between starlight and real life.

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