Joaquin Phoenix was born as Joaquin Rafael Bottom to John Lee Bottom and Arlyn Bottom in Rio Piedras in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on October 28, 1974. His parents were ardent followers of the Children of God missionary and so he moved frequently with his family during his earl life. Later they became disillusioned with the religious group and left, changing their surnames to Pheonix which was symbolic of their new life.
Moving to Los Angeles around the age of four, Joaquin and his siblings — older brother River, older sister Rain, and younger sisters Liberty and Summer — soon tried to make their way in Hollywood. The Phoenix children already liked to put on shows for each other before their mother found an agent to represent them. "We all used to sing and play music, and we were all very outgoing. My parents always encouraged us to express ourselves. And so it seemed like second nature to start acting," Phoenix explained to Interview magazine. Soon the children were spotted by a leading Hollywood children’s agent who helped them appear in television shoes and commercials.
As Leaf Phoenix, he got his first significant role in 1986's Spacecamp, and then went on to star in Russkies (1987) and Parenthood (1989), the latter of which was successful enough to make Phoenix something of a fledgling star. However, he chose to retreat from Hollywood, spending a few years traveling and living with his father in Mexico. It was his brother River’s death in 1993 that brought his younger brother – now called Joaquin – back into the limelight, albeit a very unwelcome limelight. The 911 call that Pheonix made as his older brother lay dying was broadcast over radio and television in the aftermath of River's death, only compounding his grief. Again, Phoenix left Hollywood, not to be seen again until 1995, when his performance in “To Die For” where he played a young man whose married girlfriend convinced him to kill her husband which won him an array of positive reviews. From there, Phoenix went on to film Inventing the Abbotts (1997), but the movie was a major failure at the box office.
A turn of events happened in 2000 when Pheonix nearly stole the Roman epic Gladiator from Russell Crowe with his turn as the twisted, jealous emperor Commodus. His work in this summer blockbuster, directed by Ridley Scott, netted him nominations for many of the acting profession's most prestigious awards, including the Oscars. That same year, he cemented his position as a top-rated actor with the film, “The Yards” in which he played a slick operator opposite Mark Wahlberg. The movie was followed by yet another historical epic drama, ‘Quills’ released the same year.
Phoenix outdid himself in his next major role, undergoing even more extensive preparation to play one of country music's greatest stars, Johnny Cash, in Walk the Line (2005). Diving deep emotionally and physically to embody the character and the addictions that shaped his life and career would also come with a dark side for Phoenix: After filming for Walk the Line wrapped, he checked himself into rehab for a brief stint. Phoenix had never been more than a social drinker before Walk the Line, and had increased his alcohol consumption significantly to better understand Cash. As he told London Magazine, "I was really leaning on alcohol to feel okay. That's really what it was." Widely praised by critics, the film and its stars netted numerous nominations and awards.
From 2009 to 2010 the public at large was worried about Joaquin Phoenix, wondering if he was on drugs — or worse — when he announced his retirement from acting to become a rapper. This period was marked with Phoenix behaving erratically in interviews and talk shows like his now-infamous David Letterman appearance which was full of awkward pauses and low mumbling. All of this would turn out to be an elaborate piece of performance art directed by Phoenix's then-brother-in-law Casey Affleck that was eventually turned into the mockumentary “I'm Still Here.”
Following a self-imposed two-year hiatus from acting, he returned to the big screen with Paul Thomas Anderson's film ‘The Master’ in 2012. The film was widely commended and applauded by the critics as well as the audiences. It also won him the Volpi Cup for Best Actor.
In 2018, it was announced that Phoenix would star in an origin story of the playing the mentally unstable Arthur Fleck, an aspiring comedian who decides to hit back against the people who rejected him. The actor lost 52 lbs. for the role. Comic fans initially expressed misgivings, in part because no origin story of the character existed to that point, though a teaser trailer released the following spring offered a tantalizing look at Phoenix as the iconic villain. Joker later received some backlash for its depictions of violence after debuting in theaters in October 2019, though Phoenix's performance was generally praised: He received his fourth Academy Award nomination, his third in the Best Actor category, his fourth BAFTA nomination and won his second Golden Globe in the category Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama, his second Critics Choice Award in the category Best Actor and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role.