John Lee Bottom: The Enigmatic Life of Joaquin Phoenix’s Father

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By David

Real Name:John Lee Bottom
Birthday:April 5, 1947 - 2015
Net WorthN/A
Height:167 cm
Occupation:American Missionary, Father of Jodean Bottom, River Phoenix, Joaquin Phoenix, Liberty Phoenix, Rain Phoenix, Summer Phoenix

John Lee Bottom, born on April 5, 1947, in California, United States, was an American social activist and philanthropist. He gained significant recognition as the father of the famous Phoenix siblings, which include Oscar-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix, late actor and singer River Phoenix, Rain Phoenix, and Summer Phoenix. His intriguing background and unconventional parenting methods have captured the public’s curiosity for years.

Bottom, along with his wife, Arlyn Dunetz, became part of a religious group known as “The Children of God,” a Christian missionary organization. The couple traveled extensively, picking fruit and vegetables on the West Coast before welcoming their first child, River, in 1970. The family’s journey through the world of the missionary organization and their subsequent struggles led to a closer examination of John Lee Bottom’s life and the impact it had on his now-famous children.


Early Life

John Lee Bottom was born on April 5, 1947, in California, United States. He spent his early life traveling with his family and working various jobs. In 1968, John met Arlyn Phoenix (née Dunetz) in California, and the couple started a life together traveling along the West Coast, picking fruits and vegetables. Their first son, River Phoenix, was born on August 23, 1970.

Name and Nationality

John went by the name of John Phoenix for some time and held American nationality. He was a part of a religious group called “The Children of God” later in his life, working as a missionary with his wife Arlyn Phoenix.

Parents and Siblings

John Lee Bottom was the son of Robert Merrill Bottom (1917-1993), born in Stanislaus County, California, and Beulah Ernstine Ingram (1918-1980). Information about his siblings is not readily available.

Bottom’s Children

John and Arlyn Phoenix became parents to five talented children:

  1. River Phoenix (born August 23, 1970 – died October 31, 1993) – A well-known actor and musician
  2. Rain Phoenix (born November 21, 1972) – An actress, singer, and musician
  3. Joaquin Phoenix (born October 28, 1974) – An acclaimed actor and environmental activist
  4. Liberty Phoenix (born July 5, 1976) – A businesswoman and former actress
  5. Summer Phoenix (born December 10, 1978) – An actress, model, and designer

In addition to his children with Arlyn Phoenix, John also had a daughter from a previous relationship named Jodean Bottom.


Musical Pursuits

John Lee Bottom had a passion for music and was a talented musician. Although not widely known for his musical career, he played an instrumental role in the lives of his children, who went on to become renowned artists in their respective fields. Some sources mention him as a part of a landscape gardening company, indicating his diversified interests.

Religious Missionary Work

John Lee Bottom is known for his missionary work as a member of the Children of God, a religious organization. He and his family traveled extensively following the teachings and principles of the organization, working as missionaries across the globe. It was during these years that John acquired skills in carpentry, which later became one of his primary professions.

As a dedicated missionary, John Lee Bottom helped spread the message of faith by working with local communities. His children, who were raised in a spiritual environment, also took part in the missionary work and contributed to their family’s efforts. While the family eventually parted ways with the organization, the experiences and values they gained during their time with the Children of God shaped their lives and careers.

John Lee Bottom’s diverse career as a musician, carpenter, and missionary reflects his commitment to both his passions and his spiritual beliefs. The impact of his efforts can be seen in the successes of his children, who continue to carry on his legacy.

Family Life

Marriage to Arlyn Phoenix

John Lee Bottom married Arlyn Dunetz in September 1969. Arlyn, who later changed her name to Arlyn Phoenix, and John shared a deep connection and commitment to their values, leading a simple and nature-driven lifestyle. Their union lasted about 28 years before they eventually divorced in 1997.


John Lee Bottom became the father of five talented children over the years – River, Rain, Joaquin, Liberty, and Summer Phoenix. Each of his children pursued careers in the entertainment industry, with River and Joaquin being the most notable of the siblings achieving great success as actors. Under John’s guidance and the strong work ethic he instilled in them, the Phoenix children managed to thrive in the limelight.

Children Occupation
River Actor
Rain Singer
Joaquin Actor
Liberty Actress
Summer Actress

Relationship With Children

John Lee Bottom and Arlyn Phoenix raised their children with love, care, and strong work ethics. Throughout their family life, the couple maintained a close relationship with their children, teaching them the importance of environmental conservation and giving back to society.

During a period of their lives, the family joined the religious group known as The Children of God. While the group imparted some core values that the Phoenix family cherished, they eventually left the organization due to disagreements with some of their practices.

Despite their divorce, both John and Arlyn continued to actively participate in their children’s lives. John Lee Bottom took pride in the accomplishments of his children and remained a supportive father figure until his passing.

Religious Affiliations

The Family International

John Lee Bottom, also known as John Phoenix, was once a member of a religious group called “The Children of God.” This organization, which has since been renamed “The Family International,” was a Christian missionary group that gained notoriety for its controversial practices during the time of Bottom’s involvement. In the organization, John and his wife Arlyn Phoenix led a life devoted to their spiritual beliefs and shared their convictions with their children, including the famed actors Joaquin and River Phoenix.

The Children of God was known for its unorthodox teachings and unconventional lifestyle, which garnered the label of a cult in the eyes of some. The group’s practices created a challenging environment for the Phoenix family, as they were heavily involved in religious activities for a significant period.

Life After the Cult

At some point, John Lee Bottom and his family decided to leave The Children of God. Their departure was likely fueled by growing concerns over the group’s controlling methods and other questionable practices. In the years following their exit from the cult, the Phoenix family grew more private about their religious affiliations, choosing to focus on their thriving careers in the entertainment industry instead.

In summary, John Lee Bottom was once a devoted member of The Children of God, a religious group with a controversial reputation. His family, including his children Joaquin and River Phoenix, were initially raised under this organization’s doctrines, but they eventually left and sought a different path after carefully considering their circumstances. Even though their time in The Family International has had an impact on their lives, the Phoenix family has managed to move forward and create their own legacy, separate from their earlier religious affiliations.

Children’s Careers

River Phoenix’s Acting and Music

River Phoenix was a talented actor and musician, making a name for himself in Hollywood at a young age. He starred in several notable films, such as Stand By Me (1986), which helped to catapult his career. River was also a passionate musician and played in a band called Aleka’s Attic. Tragically, he passed away in 1993 at the age of 23, leaving behind a legacy of unforgettable performances.

Joaquin Phoenix’s Filmography

Joaquin Phoenix, River’s younger brother, has become a highly acclaimed actor in his own right. He has been nominated for several Oscars over the years, showcasing his incredible range and talent. Some of his most notable roles include his portrayal of Emperor Commodus in Gladiator (2000) and his chilling performance as Arthur Fleck in Joker (2019). Joaquin’s dedication to his craft has earned him multiple awards, including an Oscar for Best Actor for his role in Joker.

Sibling Achievements

The other Phoenix siblings have also made significant contributions to the world of entertainment and activism:

  • Rain Phoenix is a talented singer and actress. In addition to her work in television and film, she is the lead vocalist for the band Papercranes.
  • Summer Phoenix has had a successful career as both an actress and model. She has appeared in numerous films and television shows, and has also made a name for herself in the fashion industry.
  • Liberty Phoenix made a conscious decision to step away from the limelight of Hollywood. Despite this, she has used her platform to advocate for environmental causes and animal rights.


Impact on Children’s Lives

John Lee Bottom’s legacy is perhaps best exemplified by the impact he had on his children’s lives. His dedication to social activism and philanthropy influenced his children, who went on to become luminaries in their respective fields. His son, River Phoenix, was a talented actor and musician who rose to prominence in the late 1980s. Tragically, River’s life was cut short in 1993 when he suffered a fatal overdose of cocaine and heroin at The Viper Room in Los Angeles.

In stark contrast, Joaquin Phoenix has found continued success in his acting career. Joaquin has been lauded for his versatile and immersive performances, earning multiple awards for various roles throughout his career. His father’s influence can still be detected in Joaquin’s off-screen life, as he actively supports numerous environmental and humanitarian causes.

Cultural Influence

John Lee Bottom’s indirect contributions to popular culture are evident in the careers of his children, River and Joaquin Phoenix. River’s tragic and untimely death at The Viper Room remains etched in the memories of many and serves as a cautionary tale for the perils of fame and drug abuse. The Viper Room itself has become a symbol of the darker side of Hollywood, reminding us of the dangers that lie beneath its glamorous façade.

On the other hand, Joaquin’s career has had a notable effect on contemporary cinema, inspiring other actors and filmmakers with his remarkable talent and unique approach to his craft. His performances have generated significant discourse on various subjects and cultural issues, further cementing John Lee Bottom’s legacy in the public sphere.

John Lee Bottom’s life and impact on his children showcase the complexity of humanity, as both the positives and the negatives intertwine to create a compelling narrative. His story serves as a reminder of the potential influence and power that an individual can have, both directly and indirectly, on shaping the lives and culture around them.

Philanthropy and Activism

Environmental Causes

John Lee Bottom was deeply committed to environmental causes. His advocacy for eco-friendly practices influenced his children’s views and actions in supporting a greener world. The family’s sustainable lifestyle, including living off the grid and using solar power, is a testament to their dedication to the environment. This commitment was also evident in John’s support for the Indigo Green project. Indigo Green is an initiative that promotes the use of sustainable building materials and methods, a cause closely aligned with John’s beliefs.

Animal Rights Advocacy

In addition to environmental causes, John Lee Bottom was a strong advocate for animal rights. He and his family followed a vegan lifestyle and tirelessly campaigned for the humane treatment of animals. Their dedication to animal rights led to their involvement with organizations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Consequently, John’s children, particularly River Phoenix, continued his legacy by becoming fervent supporters of animal rights.

John’s activism also extended to the establishment of the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding. This community-focused organization, named in honor of his late son River, aims at fostering empathy, understanding, and conflict resolution among different groups. It also supports a variety of environmental and animal rights causes, reflecting John’s deep commitment to these issues.

In summary, John Lee Bottom’s philanthropic and activist work focused on two main areas: environmental causes and animal rights advocacy. His dedication to eco-friendly practices and vegan lifestyle, along with his involvement in organizations like PETA and the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, exemplify his passion and commitment to making the world a better place for all its inhabitants.

Death and Memorials

River Phoenix’s Tragic End

River Phoenix, the eldest son of John Lee Bottom, died tragically on October 31, 1993, at the age of 23 due to a drug overdose. He was a promising young actor and musician, with notable roles in films such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Stand By Me. On the fateful night, River was at the Viper Room, a popular club in Hollywood, when he collapsed outside on the sidewalk. The unfortunate incident happened during the filming of his movie Dark Blood, directed by George Sluizer.

Tributes and Remembrance

River’s premature death deeply affected the Hollywood community, and many people paid tribute to his talent and influence. Following River’s passing, Dark Blood came to an abrupt halt. In 2012, George Sluizer completed the film using River’s voice recordings and released it in his memory.

Several memorials were held to remember River and his contributions both on and off screen. The Viper Room, the location of his tragic end, shut down on its anniversary every year for over two decades as a sign of respect.

Friends, family, and fans continue to pay homage to River Phoenix through various works and commemorations. His brother, Joaquin Phoenix, named his first child River in honor of his late brother.

In addition to River’s memorials, John Lee Bottom, the father of River and Joaquin Phoenix, passed away in 2015 after a battle with cancer. His legacy lives on through the successful careers of his children and the impact they have made in the entertainment industry.