‘The Last Good Time’: 55 Vintage Photos From Early ’90s Hollywood

Published December 19, 2019
Published December 19, 2019

Just before Leo, Brad, Charlize, and Keanu became untouchable, they partied their hearts out in an L.A. free of TMZ and camera phones in every pocket.

Johnny Depp Smoking With Winona Ryder
Keanu Reeves Smiling
Mark Wahlberg And Leonardo Dicaprio
Angelina Jolie Dancing With Peta Wilson
‘The Last Good Time’: 55 Vintage Photos From Early ’90s Hollywood
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Before there was a camera on every phone and a phone in every pocket, celebrities could still go out without being all but certain that their exploits would be recorded by somebody. This is why the 1990s were perhaps the last era in which Hollywood's hot, young talent could go out, let loose, and feel more like the popular kid in school, rather than an alien being documented by the masses.

Without such relative privacy, how else could Leonardo DiCaprio casually attend Charlize Theron's 22nd birthday party at Sunset Boulevard's infamous Chateau Marmont at the height of the global Titanic craze? How else could Johnny Depp buy a club, the Viper Room, and host all manner of debaucherous shenanigans inside?

And though this era was the last gasp of this kind of privacy, enough cameras were present to give us a glimpse of what Hollywood was like for the up-and-coming stars that ruled the first half of the '90s.

Discover more about this wild time below and travel back in time via the gallery above to revisit a world long gone by — yet one that will, nonetheless, live forever.

The Viper Room And The Wild Nights Of Early '90s Hollywood

Before Johnny Depp bought the place in 1993 and called it the Viper Room, 8852 Sunset Boulevard's Melody Room once served as a meeting place for the likes of infamous mobster Bugsy Siegel. But as soon as Depp took it over, it became the hot spot for young Hollywood. According to Hollywood Interrupted, no other spot on the strip was a hotter meeting place for young actors in the early 1990s.

In fact, New York Times bestselling author Mark Ebner said the audience was commonly far more famous than the rockers performing on the club's stage. Actress Samantha Mathis of Little Women and American Psycho fame — also the girlfriend of actor River Phoenix — as well as actor Richmond Arquette (brother of David, Rosanna, and Patricia), who often tended bar there, remembered it fondly.

"You knew that on Thursday night you'd put on the dress and the heels and the red lipstick," said Mathis. "And there were the Pussycat Dolls, and you'd see them dance around...[they] are sort of a burlesque, 1940s-style, all-girl show — they do these dances wearing bowler hats and underwear."

"It was great," said Arquette. "Christina Applegate was one of them for a while, and they actually danced recently at Leonardo DiCaprio's birthday party... The first time I ever set foot in the Viper Room, Johnny Cash was playing."

Keanu Reeves Outside The Viper Room

Denny Keeler/Contributor/Getty ImagesKeanu Reeves stands outside The Viper Room after performing with his band, Dogstar.

Viper Room talent booker Stacey Grenrock recalled transforming the club into a different theme every Monday. One week there would be mimes and people dressed as snowmen running around, while the following week would have a man dressed up as a gorilla barreling through the room.

"I can't think of a cooler place to play in L.A. than the Viper Room," said Nancy Sinatra. "If my dad were still performing, he'd want to play an after-hours show there."

And though Old Blue Eyes may have fancied a show at the Viper Room, it was indeed the generation that ruled early '90s Hollywood who made it their own. And it was here and other L.A. hotspots that these newly famous young actors cut loose — without fear of seeing their antics online the next day.

No Cameras, No Problem

Photographer Randall Slavin remembers the early '90s era as the dying breath of freedom for those with any semblance of fame.

"Hollywood in the nineties was the last good time," he said. "You went out, and things would happen, and no one would know about it, which fostered an incredible sense of fun and party atmosphere. It was a different era, because people could let go and no one would take their pictures."

Jennifer Aniston And Adam Duritz

Randall SlavinJennifer Aniston had just become a break-out star on Friends when she started dating Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz.

Slavin recalls, for example, when Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz started dating Jennifer Aniston in 1995.

"Friends had just exploded and was massive, and Adam was in the biggest band in the country and his record was blowing up, so they were the biggest power couple," said Slavin. "We would all sit on the back patio until the wee hours of the morning, taking about how everyone's going to change the world and make great art."

"It was a very fertile, creative, wild time," said Duritz. "We all worked feverishly trying to make something of our lives and then went out every night and lost our minds. Crazy, wonderful time to be a young idiot in Hollywood."

But, sometimes, the idiocy went from fun to dangerous.

Drugs, Alcohol, And Innocence Lost

With so many stars and parties, drugs were always going to be around.

"It's amazing how many people I see on TV now who used to be standing around my kitchen doing lines at 3 in the morning," author Bret Easton Ellis told The Hollywood Reporter of his wild '90s days. "Peter Dinklage, Mario Batali, Candace Bushnell... so many greats passed through that cokey den of inequity."

Johnny Depp, Hunter S. Thompson, and John Cusack arrive at the Viper Room in 1996.

Unfortunately, all good things inevitably come to an end, and even young Hollywood has to eventually reckon with that loss of innocence when the party must end. For Viper Room regulars and thus so many of early '90s Hollywood's in-crowd, that moment was encapsulated by the untimely drug overdose of 23-year-old star-in-the-making River Phoenix in the early morning hours of Oct. 31, 1993.

On the night of Oct. 30, Phoenix came to the Viper Room to play a show with his band (which included Depp and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers), but he was clearly not in a good way. He'd been on one of his regular drug binges — which he had down to a routine of coke or intravenous cocaine followed by heroin — and, in the words of friend Bob Forrest, looked like "a boxer who had taken one too many head-shots during a fifteen-round bout."

Phoenix only consumed more cocaine once inside the Viper Room and ultimately found his way out to the sidewalk, where he started convulsing as Mathis screamed in horror. His younger brother, Joaquin, called 911, but it was too late. He was taken to the hospital and promptly declared dead.

"The first night I was ever there, I was with River," Mathis later recalled. "For reasons I don't need to explain, it was ultimately not a joyous experience, and I think it was almost a year before I went back."

River Phoenix Tributes Outside The Viper Room

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesThe exterior of The Viper Room on the day after the death of River Phoenix. Fans have left flowers, candles, and notes at the spot where he collapsed.

After Phoenix's death, the wild days of the Viper Room and its regulars were never quite the same.

"I stepped in right after the River Phoenix incident," said Viper Room employee Kimberly Toth. "It was a very awkward situation, and that's when it became very touristy — there were a lot of out-of-town people with cameras."

Nevertheless, though these heady days were dangerous and even fatal for some, plenty of other young stars made it through the early '90s just fine. In fact, they had the time of their lives. And thanks to photos like those in the gallery above, we can peek in on their party-of-a-lifetime.


After traveling back in time to explore the early 1990s nightlife of young Hollywood stars in 55 mesmerizing photos, take a look at 66 revealing photos of celebrities before they were famous. Then, check out vintage Hollywood in 48 photos.

Marco Margaritoff
Marco Margaritoff is a Staff Writer at All That Is Interesting.