Samantha Mathis

Active - 1949 - 2019  |   Born - May 12, 1970 in Brooklyn, New York, United States  |   Genres - Drama

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Biography by Rebecca Flint Marx

The daughter of actress Bibi Besch, Samantha Mathis earned respect and popularity for her work in such '90s films as Pump up the Volume (1990), Little Women (1994), and John Woo's Broken Arrow (1996). A native of Brooklyn, where she was born May 12, 1970, Mathis grew up surrounded by show business thanks to her mother's job. She made her professional debut alongside her mother in a TV commercial for baby products and had her first speaking role as Merlin Olsen's daughter in the short-lived 1988 TV series Aaron's Way. It was with her first onscreen starring role in the seminal '90s high school insurrection drama Pump up the Volume that Mathis first earned recognition; following the film's success, she began appearing in lead roles in mainstream and independent films alike. Although she worked fairly steadily throughout the decade, doing particularly strong work in films such as Nora Ephron's This Is My Life (1992), her career was affected by the death of her mother in 1996 and the 1993 fatal drug overdose of then-boyfriend River Phoenix, whom Mathis was with the night he died. She retreated somewhat from the limelight during the mid-'90s, but resurfaced in John Woo's commercially successful Broken Arrow (1996). In 2000, she could be seen as the mistress of a yuppie serial killer (Christian Bale) in Mary Harron's controversial and long-awaited American Psycho.

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  • Speaks fluent German due to her Austrian descent; her maternal grandmother is WWII-era Austrian actor Gusti Huber and her mother is Austrian-American actor Bibi Besch.
  • Began acting career at just 6 months old in a commercial for baby products.
  • Showcased her singing voice in The Thing Called Love (1993).
  • Was with River Phoenix at the Viper Room in West Hollywood the night he died. 
  • Co-founded the Los Angeles-based floral design company Succulent.