By Kristen Winiarski

The Viper Room courtesy of Bill Morrow Flickr. CC-2.0

Probably most famous for being the site where River Phoenix lost his life, The Viper Room goes back way before that fateful day in 1993 when he collapsed out front. Given the history of drugs and rock ‘n roll, this is an interesting one to visit. The Viper Room has a ton of history, tragedy, and supernatural occurrences that span about 101 years.

The History

Located on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip, it is one of the oldest remaining structures. It started out as a grocery store, but soon turned into a nightclub called The Cotton Club, then the Greenwich Village Inn before becoming The Melody Room in the 1950s. Mobster Mickey Cohen and his cohorts were known to frequent The Melody Room during this time. In the 1970s, the club changed again to Filthy Mcnastys, where rock ‘n roll began to come in. The 1980s brought another name change to The Central.

Gangster Mickey Cohen, who would hang out at the Viper Room when it was called The Melody Room

August of 1993 is when it finally became The Viper Room after Johnny Depp became a co-owner and majority stockholder. Although he no longer has any ownership in the club, he did have a rocky start after he got involved.  It soon became a hotbed for young celebrities, and just two months later, on Halloween, its most famous tragedy happened.

The Tragedy

River Pheonix in 1989, photo by Alan Light

River Phoenix arrived at The Viper Room in the early morning hours of Halloween, along with his girlfriend and younger brother, Joaquin. After being inside for a bit where he was acting strangely, they went out in front and River began convulsing while his brother called 911. Even though the actor was transported to the hospital, a paramedic said that he was clinically dead when they arrived at the club.

River’s unfortunate drug-related death isn’t the only upsetting story linked with The Viper Room. While he survived, Austalian actor Jason Donovan had a coke-induced seizure while partying at the club in 1995. Then, just a couple of years later, rock star Michael Hutchence played at the club mere days before he died by suicide.

The Supernatural Occurrences

Given the death of River and the mobster connections, it would make sense for some interesting ghosts to be hanging around. The most interesting professional visit happened in 2017 by the Ghost Adventures crew. They went into a quieter area and were able to capture voices on tape that Viper Room employee Rita Fiora believed to be River when he said, “I get confused.”

Zak Bagans and the crew of Ghost Adventures. Photo courtesy of Fllckr, jennyfersure CC-2.0

She has experienced paranormal situations herself with grabby ghosts pulling her leg, and another time when a ghost texted her from a dead number and got upset that she couldn’t see her. A former bartender also had strange experiences in the bottom bar when he felt pressure on his chest and glasses flying off the bar.

For more hauntings in Hollywood, check out our Hollywood Ghost Walk, where you can see some of these locations in-person for yourself.