Joaquin Phoenix took home the coveted Best Actor Oscar Sunday night — his first Academy Award and fourth nomination — for his leading performance in Joker, and he paid tribute to his late brother River Phoenix in his emotional speech. Taking the stage, the actor said that he was "full of so much gratitude" and reflected on how his career as an actor has given him and others "the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless."
Phoenix went on to discuss "some of the distressing issues that we've been facing" and how "we're talking about the fight against injustice."
"I think that we've become very disconnected from the natural world. We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow, and when she gives birth, we steal her baby, even though her anguish is unmistakable," he said, according to The Guardian, going on to call for "love and compassion" to "develop and implement systems of change to benefit all sentient beings."
"I have been a scoundrel all my life, I've been selfish," he said. "I've been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I'm grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. I think that's when we're at our best: when we support each other. Not when we cancel each other out for our past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow. When we educate each other; when we guide each other to redemption."
"When he was 17, my brother [River] wrote this lyric," he concluded his speech with the quote from his late brother. "He said: 'run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.'"
River died in October of 1993 of a drug overdose outside of the iconic Viper Room in Los Angeles. He was 23.
In the decades since, Phoenix has paid tribute to his brother. Being honored with the TIFF Tribute Actor Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, the actor thanked River for encouraging him to return to acting, according to Variety.
"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," he said. "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.'"0comments
"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," he added.
Before snagging the Best Actor award Sunday night, Phoenix had previously been nominated or 2000's Gladiator, 2005's Walk the Line, and 2012's The Master, according to Entertainment Weekly. This year, his fellow nominees included Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory), Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes), Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), and Adam Driver (Marriage Story).