Leading Article: Live fast, die unpleasantly

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The Independent Online
RIVER PHOENIX: the world mourns. Those whom the gods love make an impressive list. At random: Hector, Alexander, Lysander, Joan of Arc, Henry V, Harry Hotspur, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Marilyn Monroe, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, and Guevara were all taken young.

Battle, brawls and disease are legend-lenders, romantic dispatchers of the young: Marlowe at Deptford, Wolfe at Quebec, Byron at Missolonghi, Brooke on Skyros. This century, a most assiduous courtier of any kind of fame, has added the sudden, thrilling shock of the car or air crash as early executioner: Duncan Edwards and his Manchester United team-mates at Munich; Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and Eddie Cochran in America; and, of course, caught forever in the imagination, River's role model, James Dean, gunning that Porsche for the last time.

But Phoenix, who died at 23, features in another subdivision thrown up by our times, the sad, gruesome death. Latterly stars have not gone out like Dean; they have died from accidental overdoses, or drowned in their own vomit, or suffered massive heart attacks as horrendously abused systems have cried - enough] They include Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison (whose grave is shown above), Sid Vicious, John Belushi. It will be interesting to see how Phoenix fares, but the squalor and unpleasantness and weakness of these ends seem in no way to have detracted from the legends. We now seem to prefer it that way; the post-modern hero.

You, less interesting, but still alive, will look for consolation in age. Churchill as war leader, Beethoven in his pomp, perhaps; we seem to remember, also, that Lord Palmerston fathered a child in his eighties. Cilla Black is an inspiration, and Max Bygraves. Imagine, too, how much worse the fuss would have been if Elvis had died young. Now we await the first sighting of River Phoenix.