Is Joaquin Phoenix really crazy?

05/09/2010 | By

The documentary ‘I’m Still Here’ portrays the ‘retired’ actor as a mad, out-of-his-mind rapper….

In the rap game, respect is everything. So you gotta pity Joaquin Phoenix, who on the street cred-o-meter is currently falling somewhere between the Fat Boys and that rapping dog on YouTube. Ever since the actor unexpectedly announced in October 2008 that he was retiring from acting to pursue a career in hip-hop, the poor guy has been undermined by ironic quote marks wherever he goes.

He’s not a rapper, he’s a “rapper.”

He didn’t retire from acting, he


Imagine how unsettling it would be if this happened with other jobs: “Sir, the ‘doctor’ will see you now.”

And now comes a new documentary about Phoenix. Sorry,


The thing is, nobody can decide if “I’m Still Here” (out Friday) is for real. The story of the actor’s transition to musician was directed by Phoenix’s brother-in-law, actor Casey Affleck, and is described by the studio as “a portrait of an artist at a crossroads.”

Judging from the trailer and reports from the very few who’ve seen it, the movie features a heavily

bearded, disheveled Phoenix living a debaucherous lifestyle that includes snorting cocaine, ordering up hookers, hanging at nightspots, verbally abusing his assistant and getting — how to say this nicely? — defecated on by a rival. It’s basically like a quiet weekend at Lindsay Lohan’s house.

At the same time, Phoenix

somehow finds time to work on an album with Diddy, sloppily performs a couple of shows and makes his

infamous February 2009 appearance on David Letterman, in which the out-of-it actor could barely slur one-word answers to softball questions.

So is this laughable hip-hop career some sort of publicity stunt or a piece of performance art? Phoenix isn’t breaking character to let anyone know.

“People still ask me if it was real,” says an employee at Lavo, the Las

Vegas nightclub where Phoenix

performed his very first show in January 2009. “There were moments when he seemed very serious and there were moments when it seemed so staged.”

“People were really confused,” says Seth Browarnik, owner of Miami nightlife photo agency, who shot Phoenix’s second performance at LIV nightclub in

Miami. “It was like, ‘Oh, my God! It’s Joaquin Phoenix . . . rapping!’”

Sources at both clubs, who asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized by management to speak on the record, say that off-stage, Phoenix was “a man of few words,” but completely lucid and pleasant to work with. He was also never seen drinking. So is MC Joaquin for real? Let’s examine both sides of the case.


*He has no songs and only performed twice

For a hip-hop artist, Phoenix seems to have a small catalog: all of two songs. That’s about all he’s managed to perform at his two concerts, both of which have been cut suspiciously short. His Lavo show ended abruptly after Phoenix stumbled and fell off the stage. In Miami, he stopped the show early to leap into the audience and confront a heckler.

*His album is MIA Granted, it’s hard to release one if you only have two songs, but last year,

Phoenix told that his debut record was imminent. “It’s real close,” he said. “I’m shooting for Feb. 14.” Seven months later, still nothing.

*His co-star thinks he’s full of it Gwyneth Paltrow, who starred opposite Phoenix in “Two Lovers,” his last film before “retiring,” told the UK’s ITN that she believes his rap career is “a big performance art piece.”

*No one from the film is talking “I’m Still Here” is a modest documentary that, if authentic, could have a difficult time finding a wide audience. So why is no one involved promoting the project? If Phoenix really has a rap album coming out, wouldn’t he want more people to know about it?


*Phoenix has real musical talent The actor reportedly learned to play guitar for his role as Johnny Cash in 2005’s “Walk the Line,” and he claims to have been dabbling in music for much of his life. He reportedly worked on a rock ‘n’ roll album in 2008 with members of the UK band the Charlatans. The record was never released, but speaking to E! News, an LA musician named

Julian Shah-Taylor compared Phoenix to David Bowie, Oasis and — dear God — The Beatles, and called the album “brilliant.”

*No one will even hint that it’s a hoax Both Affleck and Phoenix have insisted that “I’m Still Here” is for real. “This is not a joke,” Phoenix said last year. “Might I be ridiculous? Might my career in music be laughable? Yeah, that’s possible, but that’s certainly not my intention.”

*The movie is played completely straight

According to reports, audiences won’t know whether Phoenix is a serious rapper, even after seeing “I’m Still Here.” The documentary is played completely straight, treating the actor as a

legitimate rap artist on a quest to make an

album, so if it’s a joke, it’s a very subtle one.