Joaquin Phoenix, born Joaquín Rafael Bottom, was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and grew up in Los Angeles, California.
Phoenix’s parents were briefly a part of the “Family International” or Children of God, a cult whose best way of gaining converts was to tout promiscuous sex as a way to get closer to God. But they left that church and wound up in Los Angeles where Joaquin and his late brother, River, were discovered and became the talented actors that we know today.
Joaquin has given conflicted viewpoints regarding his own religious views. In one breath, he seems open and warm toward religion, saying:
I certainly was raised with a sense of spirituality, but we didn’t follow rules in terms of belief, religion or anything. It was left up to each of us to come to terms with our own understanding of fundamental questions. I just grabbed the best aspects of all religions.
At other times, Phoenix appears to have made up his mind about the ridiculousness of religion. When asked whether or not he believes in an afterlife, he said:
Fuck no. There’s just nothing. We’re gone. If I do have a soul, I don’t think it’s interpreting life, feelings or experience. My brain is what’s making sense of experience and feelings for me. So when that fucker’s cut off, how can I possibly understand or feel anything?
Perhaps his attitude changed after an experience with a woman. So many things do. Phoenix once admitted:
I had a Catholic girlfriend but she wouldn’t, uh, share loving.
Still, that sort of conviction certainly puts him into the atheist category.
Phoenix comes from a very liberal family, to say the least. He has retained his leftist views. His only financial contribution to politics was $2,000 to Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich in 2003, but his activism and lifestyle belies his true loyalties.
Phoenix is really into animal rights, so much so that he’s a vegan and insisted that his wardrobe in the film, Walk the Line, be composed entirely of synthetic fibers. He’s appeared in ads for PETA numerous times and spoken publicly about what he considers gross violations of animal rights, saying things like:
Every year millions of reptiles are slaughtered so handbags, belts and shoes can be made from their skin. The animals’ welfare is not a consideration to those who hunt, skin and farm them.
Of course, his activism is in direct conflict to his attempts to be non-biased and pushy, when he says things like:
I don’t try to impose my views on anyone else, and I can simply say I feel it’s right for me.