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Questions about Joaquin Phoenix's mental health

February 25, 2009 |  3:02 pm

Phoenix_2Joaquin Phoenix's bizarre appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman" on Feb. 11 could be a publicity stunt or evidence Phoenix was drunk or high. But a different explanation is also making the rounds in the blogosphere. Perhaps Phoenix is mentally ill.

The actor-turned-singer looked and acted spaced-out on his appearance on "Letterman." The awkward interview, which drew jokes from Letterman and nervous laughter from the audience, has been the talk of the entertainment industry and even led to a spoof by actor Ben Stiller on the Oscars telecast Sunday. "Letterman" has listed Phoenix as a guest on his show Thursday night.

That's sure to draw high ratings. Perhaps it will also clear up the question of whether Phoenix is still an actor at heart or has truly undergone a behavior change. If taken at face value, the actor would appear to be mentally ill, says Chicago-based psychiatrist Paul Dobransky, a relationships expert and author of "The Secret Psychology of How We Fall in Love."

Dobransky says Phoenix's "socially inappropriate" behavior reflects some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, a brain-based disease that causes people to lose touch with reality. Phoenix's appearance as well as his career change, poor hygiene and grooming, vocal tics (such as muttering) and lack of facial emotion are classic symptoms of mental illness, Dobransky says.

"I was pretty offended by that skit at the Oscars," Dobransky said today in an interview. "It struck me as potentially beating down on the mentally ill."

Dobransky said much of Phoenix's behavior on "Letterman" hinted at mental illness, such as wearing sunglasses, which may suggest paranoia. "There is something wrong. And it's beyond drug abuse." The public should refrain from mocking Phoenix, the psychiatrist said, because real mental illness is cause for compassion.

"The jury is not exactly in on what is happening," Dobransky said. "Whatever it is, it's not funny --whether it's drug abuse, mental illness coming on, or the clumsiest attempt ever at a career change."

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Joaquin Phoenix appeared on the "Late Show with David Letterman" on Feb. 11. Credit: AP photo / CBS / J.P. Flio

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Comments (43)

They are repeating the previously-aired Joaquin interview. Ace reporting, there, Shari!

Chicago-based psychiatrist Paul Dobransky may have been seeking personal publicitiy, you provided it.

Joaquin Phoenix is listed as a guest on Thursday's show because CBS is airing reruns of Letterman this week.

Casey Afleck is shooting a documentary about Joaquin Phoenix's transfer into a music career. Supposedly Phoenix will be appearing in character until the documentary is complete. He is not mentally ill. There is just no way. Everyone is definitely taking this way to seriously. This is comedic genius.

How about this for a theory.
Joaquin feels obligated to his brother to pay tribute to him. Casey his brother and law would not sit idle and allow his wife to watch her brother self-destruct. Nor would Joaquin fake an addict's behaviour because think about it his brother died of drug overdose I doubt he would find that something to mock. What I do think is that he is trying to parallel his brother's last attempt at trying to being a musician and the transition from being an actor. Casey is filming it to pay tribute to River. Who his son is named after Indiana August is named for River's last role and even his middle name has significance to River. This is a very purposeful film being made in documentary like approach to the last days of River's. Joaquin like his brother always becomes his role. He became an alcoholic after filming walk the line. I believe he is dabbling in drugs to as an artist feel connected to his brother and his character. To subconciously rid himself of guilt he may feel for being there at his death and feeling helpless to stop it, and to get sweet revenge on the media for exploiting the death of his brother in an insensitive way. I do believe River is using some drugs..I do not think he would mock drug abuse. I do not think he is doing it to purposefully worry his friends family and fans I just think he engrosses himself like his brother does passionately in whatever he pursues. And he is choosing to be a musician like his brother did and he wants to live vicariously the dreams of River that never got fininshed. I think it is a concious effort yet Joaquin is now taken it to the level where he is River within himself. I hope he realizes he is respected and loved on his own right and if he wants to be a musician his fans support all of his creative endevours but do not want to see it cost his life.

I agree with this article. I feel the drastic changes we see could very well be mental illness. I have seen it happen to a family member of mine who has suffered from schizophrina and it is sad to watch someone change in such a way. I have always been intrigued by his movies and think by far he is one of the best actors Hollywood had to offer.

The stunt Ben Stiller pulled on Sun night's Oscars made me very upset.
Joauquin may or may not have unstable mental health or have problems with drugs. Maybe it is all one big hoax ,maybe to show us what "Real Hollywood" is all about!! Either way for Hollywood to mock him , it is not only sad and pathedic, but it also shows that they think it is ok to BULLY there own when they are down... Felt like I was in Jr High again watching the outsider getting picked on by the football team....Tears came from my eyes when I saw this cruel act in the comfort of my home. Very low class!!

if joaquine really gave up acting, it's a lost for the movie industry. he is one of the best actors of his generation.
what ben stiller did at the oscars was not funny at all. maybe joaquine is really ill and needs help. or maybe he just wants to live that way from now on. why does the society has to rule over celebrities private lives?? let him do whatever he wants to do.

""The jury is not exactly in on what is happening," Dobransky said. "Whatever it is, it must not intefere with my attempts to publicize myself at his expense."

Chicago-based psychiatrist Paul Dobransky saying that Joaquin Phoenix's behavior on Letterman was "socially inappropriate" was absurd. His take on Joaquin's "poor hygiene and grooming, vocal tics (such as muttering) and lack of facial emotion being classic symptoms of mental illness" was just self-serving! But then so is psychiatry!!!

I'm not a Dr. but obviously something was troubling Joaquin. Maybe psychiatric drugs, street drugs or just plain ol' despondency but nothing he did confirmed that he had classic symptoms of mental illness! Joaquin looks like he needs a good friend who'll listen and not make him wrong for his planned career change. That coupled with some good R&R, correct vites, good nutrition and getting as far away from any and all psychiatrists as possible!

I hope this is not true. I really like Joaquin Pheonix and I love him in everything I've ever seen him in...who didn't love Gary in The Parenthood?! And don't get me started on Gladiator, 8 MM, Signs, Clay Pigeons and Walk The Line. If he does have a mental problem I hope he gets treatment. If he does I think he'll be okay.

It's not mental illness but it's not funny either

Give me a break......

Joaquin has recorded music long before his recent visit to "The Letterman Show."

Isn't it grossly inappropriate for a published "authority" on "falling in love" to publicly speculate on someone's personal mental health?

Humor still can't be explained, but as long as an "expert" gets his name published all is well.

Mr. Phoenix accepted an invitation to make an appearance on a late night TV show. That's all.

To have some armchair expert speculate, after the fact, that the guest may be sinking into schizophrenia does a gross disservice to Mr. Phoenix, the mental health professions but particularly to those people who are currently suffered from mental illness and their families---who often have to wade through swamps of ersatz professionals in order to get a reliable diagnosis.

This feels like opportunism. Doctors who are "convinced" of something based on seeing a videotape (who was that woman in the coma that the Senator diagnosed by videotape?) are not the kind of experts I turn to. Wisdom says give it some time and take in the overall picture, not the TMZ portrait.

It looked to me like Phoenix didn't feel like cooperating. He knows how the talk show circuit works, perhaps it was in his contract with the studio but he doesn't have to play the game. While "regular people" probably wouldn't act like that (because they'd be excited to be on the show), someone who isn't really excited by fame could easily blow off an interview in this way.

It's a stunt. Casey Affleck ( his brother-in-law) is filming the whole thing and all this is publicity for the film about Joaquin havinga nervous breakddown and starting a career in hip hop. Everyone knows it's a stunt..

LOVE that wild, speculative reporting. What was Tina the Transvetite Psychic's diagnosis? Is there any public record of him having checked into a clinic for mental health issues? Why not get an opinion of a close friend or family member? Or, ask the actor himself.

Those symptoms of schizophrenia just happen to the be exactly the same symptoms as many psychotropic drugs so it is just as likely that this unfortunate man was prescribed one of these drugs for one the most popular disorders doctors like to promote like Social Anxiety Disorder and is now suffering from the Side Affects. Nearly 30% of the population are predisposed to these drugs because of defective genes in their liver, so just like the singer Britney Spears when they take these drugs for made up disorders they do start to suffer very real and serious side affects. GET INFORMED, and get tested before your local Mad Man (doctor) puts you on a drug that you are allergic to.

No new Phoenix info on Letterman this week. The show is a repeat.

There's no mental illness. It's an act. Casey Affleck is directing this documentary. He's basically pulling a Sasha Baron Cohen, except it's not funny.

Or Phoenix is just pulling a fast one on everybody. Seriously, his brother-in-law is making a documentary about this. Do you really think his family would let him slip into this character if it really were drugs or mental illness? I highly doubt it, especially after what happened to River.

Nobody really knows where this man will be thought, but hopefully for the benefit of mankind, and we really need a lot of imagination and real solutions for this life we lead ....

Why does Letterman keep getting mentally impaired guests? First McCain and now this.

Would all those who complain about the "expert" wish the article had been done without a knowledgeable person giving an opinion? At least the psychiatrist knows what ticks or body movements belong to what mental dissorder. Have some respect for him. As for this Phoenix guy, which I don't even know what he is famous for, at least he is probably rich, so I'm not as sad about him.

All this speculating is ridiculous. I have no idea what was up with Phoenix and neither do you. What I do know is that he is a fantastic actor, so until there is actual information to the contrary, I will assume he was acting a part, a pretty funny part, I might add.

Come on - this was a brilliant spoof...and Letterman and Phoenix pulled it off magnificently. Letterman is known for his intolerance of fools - if Phoenix was for real - he would have been cut short - and surely someone spoke to him in the Green Room. Letterman went to great lengths to compliment JP - and that just wouldn't happen if it were other than a spoof. when the interview ended Joaquin stepped out of character and removed his glasses. As for that dopey Dobransky - he should have his licence pulled for stupidity. Letterman was masterful in that interview and Joaquim showed what a talent he is. They should put this show on the road.

Ben stiller's spoof on the spoof was inspired. Best TV I've seen in a long while.

How extremely INAPPROPRIATE for a doctor to attempt to make a diagnosis in public like this. Any serious and decent physician makes a diagnosis after examining a patient and keeps it confidential. I don't know what kind of purpose his declarations serve.



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