Marking the second time an actor has won an Academy Award for portraying the Joker, after the late Heath Ledger’s win in 2009, Phoenix was recognised for his tortured performance in the Todd Phillips film.
As he has been all awards season, the passionate animal rights activist used his time on stage not just to list his thankyous, but deliver a strong political message.
It wasn’t until the final moments, however, that saw his eyes well as he quoted his brother River Phoenix, who died after a drug overdose in 1993, aged 23.
“I do not feel elevated above any of my fellow nominees or anyone in this room because we share the same love – the love of film – and this form of expression has given me the most extraordinary life,” his stirring address began.
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“I think the greatest gift that it’s given me, and many of us in this room, is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless. I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the distressing issues that we are facing collectively, and I think at times we feel or are made to feel that we champion different causes.
“Whether we’re talking about gender inequality or racism, or queer rights or indigenous rights, or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice.
“We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender, or one species has the right to dominate, control and use and exploit another with impunity.”
Phoenix, who follows a strict vegan diet, discussed the importance of protecting the natural world and our “entitlement” in consuming animals and animal by-products.
“I think that we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world and many of us what we’re guilty of is an egocentric world view – the belief that we’re the centre of the universe,” he said, adding we have a “fear of personal change” that leaves us unwilling to make substitutes in our diets.
He then called himself a “scoundrel”, referencing the swirling reports that he’s a difficult actor to work with on set.
“Now I have been a scoundrel in my life. I’ve been selfish. I’ve been cruel at times. Hard to work with and ungrateful, but so many of you in this room have given me a second chance and I think that’s when we are at our best, when we support each other, not when we cancel each other out for past mistakes but when we help each other to grow, when we educate
each other to grow, when we educate each other, when we guide each other toward redemption. That is the best of humanity.”
Then – stumbling over his words slightly as he fought back tears – he said: “I just want to – when you – when he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric, he said, ‘Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.’ Thank you.”
Joaquin – then known as Leaf – was 19 and present at the Viper Room nightclub in LA, owned by Johnny Depp, when his older brother collapsed.
He was pronounced dead in the early hours of the morning of October 31, 1993.
The cause of death was “acute multiple drug intoxication”, including cocaine and morphine.