Van Sant, who directed Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho, and was part of the Pacific North-west underground scene with Nirvana lead singer Cobain, has just published, Pink, a novel for the American "chemical generation".
Phoenix, who died outside a nightclub after taking heroin and cocaine in 1993, becomes the drug burn-out Felix Arroyo, the star of weird commercials made by a character called Spunky, who Van Sant has based on himself. Felix is Latin for "happy" and an arroyo is a temporary desert river.
A rock couple, Blackie and Blake, are based on Van Sant's real-life acquaintances, Cobain and his wife, Courtney Love, the actress and singer. Cobain was a heroin addict who with Nirvana defined the grunge sound and look of the early Nineties. He committed suicide by shooting himself in a Seattle hotel room in 1995.
A chapter with the Internet-style title Pink.Alt.Universe deals with the flight by Blackie and Spunky from the Cloudy-Bright Rehab Center. "I'm interpreting parts of real-life experiences into this sort of more fanciful collage," says Van Sant of the book.
Van Sant was blamed by some of River Phoenix's fans for the actor's death because it was believed that Phoenix started taking drugs to get in character for the heroin addict he played in My Own Private Idaho. But now the The Los Angeles Times has described the novel as a "posthumous love letter to River Phoenix".
In Van Sant's book, pink is the colour film turns when it fades and decays, and then he says is "destroyed cruelly, like drowning a little puppy after you are tired of playing with it".