We all know Joaquin Phoenix as an odd but good egg who has lived a public life that’s been filled with stunning performances (that go beyond just Joker) and weirdly inspiring, world-saving acts. What you may not know is that Joaquin Phoenix also had an absolutely wild childhood of the “born and raised in a crazy religious sex cult called Children Of God” sort.
Speaking of crazy, the GOAT team look at The Weeknd’s wild career trajectory on ‘It’s Been A Big Day For…’ below:
So who are the Children Of God, the aforementioned crazy religious sex cult Joaquin Phoenix was part of during his childhood? Well according to Esquire, they were a bunch of wild runaways and hippies who formed a group originally called Teens For Christ in 1968 and were led a a charismatic (and bearded) preacher called David Brandt Berg.
This little group of yahoos would soon evolve into the Children Of God and had about 15,000 brainwashed followers at one point in time. The cult believed in a bizarre mix of Jesus Christ worship, free love (which was the rage in the 60s), and the coming of the apocalypse. They didn’t believe in working and this belief of the end of the world meant that the cult lived hand-to-mouth – i.e begging and living off donations.
Children Of God quickly became notorious for two things; getting female followers to have sex with men in order to “convert” them to the cult (called “flirty fishing”), and a seriously f**ked history of alleged pedophilia and child abuse that lasted decades. Berg himself was at the centre of several serious abuse and assault allegations, which would continue until his death in 1994.
So in short, the Children Of God was basically your stereotypical 60s religious cult that you’ve probably seen in movies like Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, but even more f**ked up.
Joaquin Phoenix’s parents, who had – don’t laugh – Bottom as their surname back then, joined the Children Of God in 1969 as missionaries and travelled with the cult around South America for about eight years. It was during this time when Joaquin and his younger siblings were born.
The actor tells Vanity Fair that his parents were never negligent during their time in Children Of God and they eventually grew disillusioned with the cult. The tipping point was when the aforementioned “flirty fishing” policy was introduced, to which Joaquin’s parents responded with a paraphrased version of “f**k this, we’re outta here.”
The entire Bottom familiy managed to escape the Children Of God and their cooked sex/religious cult stuff unscathed and eventually made it to Florida. As a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings, the family also changed their surname from Bottom to Phoenix because phoenixes represent rebirth and… yeah you get it.
As for what happened to Children Of God, the cult changed its name to Family International and have declined significantly since their heyday. These days the membership has dwindled to a bit over 1,000 (according to them) and is solely an online community as they don’t want to be caught by the police.
If you thought Joker was a wild origin story for the character, it has nothing on the real person behind the face paint and creepy smile, which probably why Joaquin Phoenix was so good in the role.
Always be in the loop with our snackable podcast breaking the biggest story of the day. Subscribe to It’s Been A Big Day For… on your favourite podcast app.