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He made his film debut in Space Camp (1986) as Max and starred in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "A Very Happy Ending" the same year.
Phoenix first starring role was in Russkies (1987) and he later co-starred in Ron Howard's Parenthood (1989), in which he was credited as Leaf Phoenix.
Directed by Gus Van Sant, the film was screened out of competition at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival and became a financial and critical success, resulting in a domestic box office total of million.
New York Times critic Janet Maslin praised Phoenix's performance, writing "So pity poor Jimmy. Phoenix with a raw, anguished expressiveness that makes him an actor to watch for, Jimmy is both tempted and terrified by Suzanne's slick amorality.
He has recorded an album, the soundtrack to Walk The Line, for which he won the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media. 1964) from a previous relationship of his father's.Phoenix's first acting jobs were guest appearances on two television shows with his brother River in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1982), and Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia (1984) as well as an episode, "We're Off to Kill the Wizard" in Murder, She Wrote with his sister Summer.In 1985, he appeared with in the CBS television movie Kids Don't Tell.During the comeback portion of his career, Phoenix went back to his given name Joaquín and was often cast in supporting roles as conflicted, insecure characters with a dark side.
In 1995, he co-starred in To Die For, as the disturbed young man Jimmy who gets seduced by Nicole Kidman's character Suzanne to commit a murder.In that, he speaks for us all." In 1997, Phoenix played a small-town troublemaker in Oliver Stone's U Turn, and a poor man in love with a rich woman in Inventing the Abbotts.