Joaquin Phoenix thanked his late brother River for convincing him to return to acting
Joaquin Phoenix, River Phoenix
Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty; George Rose/Getty

Joaquin Phoenix gave an emotional tribute to his late brother River Phoenix.

Joaquin, 44, was honored with the TIFF Tribute Actor Award at the Toronto International Film Festival where he thanked his brother, River, for persuading him to return to acting. Joaquin (then known as Leaf Phoenix) starred in Parenthood as a young teen in 1989, then took a break from acting, making his comeback in the 1995 Nicole Kidman film To Die For.

“When I was 15 or 16, my brother River came home from work and he had a VHS copy of a movie called Raging Bull and he sat me down and made me watch it,” Joaquin said, via Variety. “And the next day he woke me up and he made me watch it again. And he said, ‘You’re going to start acting again, this is what you’re going to do.'”

He continued, “He didn’t ask me, he told me. And I am indebted to him for that because acting has given me such an incredible life.”

River died from a drug overdose at 23 years old in October 1993 outside of The Viper Room. Joaquin also took the time to thank other members of his family, including his parents and sisters Rain, Summer and Liberty.

Joaquin Phoenix, River Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix and River Phoenix with their mother Heart Phoenix
| Credit: John Roca/NY Daily News via Getty

“When I was watching those clips, I thought about my family,” he said, referring to clips from his acting career. “My sisters Rain and Liberty and Summer, who are still my best friends.”

The Joker actor concluded his speech by seemingly making a reference to his girlfriend Rooney Mara, who starred in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

“One last thing — somewhere here, I don’t know where, is a filthy dragon, and I want to rip its wings off and fasten a blanket and sleep with it forever,” he said. “I love you. Thank you.”

Joker is in theaters Oct. 4.