Joaquin Phoenix Quotes Late Brother River in Emotional Best Actor Speech

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Joaquin Phoenix, 2020 Oscars
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

As anticipated, Joaquin Phoenix won Best Actor during Sunday's Oscars for his performance in Joker. And as anticipated, his acceptance speech did not disappoint, an impassioned call to action touching on everything from sustainability to artificial insemination and ending with a tribute to his brother, River.

"I'm filled with so much gratitude right now," Phoenix said onstage. "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... I don't know where I would be without it."

He went on to say that his "greatest gift" has been the opportunity to use his 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 are made to feel that we champion different causes," he said. "But I see commonality. I think whether we are talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we are talking about the fight against injustice. We are 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, use and exploit one another with impunity."

After thanking the industry for giving him multiple chances over the years ("I've been a scoundrel in my life. I've been cruel at times, hard to work with," he admitted), Phoenix concluded his passionate speech with a touching quote from his late brother, the actor River Phoenix:

"When he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric. He said, 'Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.'"

Jane Fonda, Joaquin Phoenix, 2020 Oscars
Photo by Matt Petit - Handout/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images

His fellow nominees included Pain and Glory's Antonio Banderas, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's Leonardo DiCaprio, Marriage Story's Adam Driver and The Two Popes' Jonathan Pryce. This is the actor's first win, following three previous Oscar nominations for Gladiator (2001), Walk the Line (2006) and The Master (2013).

The Academy Award caps off an awards season that saw Phoenix take home the Golden Globe (for Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama) and SAG Award, along with wins at BAFTA and the Critics' Choice. At each stop, he used the platform to deliver a powerful message -- speaking on everything from climate change to systemic racism -- and wore the same suit as an act of sustainability.

Phoenix is the second actor to win an Oscar for playing the Joker, after Heath Ledger's posthumous win for The Dark Knight in 2009. He paid tribute to the late Ledger at the SAG Awards, saying, "I'm standing here on the shoulders of my favorite actor...so, thank you."

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