River Phoenix: An Honorary Scout

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Following the recent premier of The Force Awakens, it’s no big secret that the Boy Scouts are among the most exuberant fans of the seven-part Star Wars saga.

When I attended the National Boy Scout Jamboree, in the summer of 1997, George Lucas was probably—and may still be—the most famous Eagle Scout in the history of scouting. Scouts traded patches all week long across Fort A.P. Hill, and it was a series of patches depicting the Jedi Master Yoda that drove scouts absolutely mad. There were four distinct patches in the set, each with Yoda holding a different colored light saber. My friend Grossmann managed to get all four patches—only to have them stolen a few days before we broke camp.

After all these years, I’m still surprised that the scouts don’t look as fondly upon the Indiana Jones trilogy as they do Stars Wars, seeing how the origin of the former hero connects directly to the earliest days of scouting in America.

You won’t see the actor River Phoenix on any list of celebrity Boy Scouts. He wasn’t a Boy Scout as far as I know, but a young Indiana Jones was, a Life Scout in fact, portrayed by Phoenix in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which offers a glimpse of Indy’s Utah boyhood in 1912.

Phoenix is only on screen for the film’s opening chapter—a perilous pursuit by grave robbers atop a locomotive—but it’s enough to reveal the origins of Indy’s skills with a bullwhip, his fear of snakes, and his iconic fedora too.

In less than a decade, River Phoenix successfully transitioned from child star to genuine talent—a task that has eluded and damned so many other teenage actors. Still, despite the critical acclaim he received for later films like Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, River’s career was punctuated with a stubborn question mark.

At the age of twenty-three, River Phoenix died from a drug overdose outside the Viper Room, a Hollywood nightclub, on Halloween night in 1993.

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INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, River Phoenix, 1989

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, River Phoenix, 1989

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