On this date in 1974, Joaquin Phoenix was born to Children of God missionaries in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His family, while traveling throughout Central and South America, became disillusioned with Children of God, which the media referred to as a cult, and left the group when he was a small child. At age four, his family, which included siblings River, Rain, Liberty, and Summer, moved to Los Angeles where the Phoenix children sang and played music regularly, and eventually gained small roles on television. Joaquin's film debut was "SpaceCamp" (1986) but he landed his first successful role in 1989, in the Ron Howard film, "Parenthood." While his brother, River, was becoming a hot new star in Hollywood, Joaquin decided to leave the business, at age 15, and travel around Latin America. At 19, Joaquin was by 23-year-old River's side as he died of an overdose outside a Los Angeles night club.
Joaquin achieved great success in the 1990s with films such as "To Die For" (1995), "Inventing the Abbotts" (1997) and "Return to Paradise" (1998). His most critically acclaimed roles occurred in the next decade, with his Academy Award-nominated role as Commodus in "Gladiator" (2000), Mel Gibson's brother in "Signs" (2002), a reporter in "Hotel Rwanda" (2004) and the lead in "The Village" (2004). His most famous role, for which he earned an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe award, was playing country music legend, Johnny Cash, in "Walk the Line" (2005). After this portrayal, Joaquin had successful roles in "Reservation Road" (2007) and "Two Lovers" (2009). A lifelong vegan like his brother River, Joaquin has been a spokesperson for the Lunchbox Fund, which provides healthy meals to needy children, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Outspoken about his atheism, Joaquin told the Sunday Times (UK) in April 1999, "I'm not into organized religion . . . For me, I believe in a God of whatever my own thing is."