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‘Joker’ Joaquin Phoenix finally won, but did it his way

The road to Oscar glory ended in success for Joaquin Phoenix on Sunday, with the star hoisting his first Academy Award for best actor and giving an impassioned call for change in the world and the need for second chances. 

It’s the rise of the new Phoenix who has shown many complex sides this awards season.

The eccentric, media-shy Phoenix, 45, did the Oscar season his way – going from his rambling, F-bomb-filled acceptance speech at the Golden Globes to taking the entire film industry to task for systemic racism in his BAFTA speech.

“Joaquin Phoenix has been a fascinating presence on the awards circuit, especially as he’s more willing to play the game than he has in the past,” says Dave Karger, special correspondent for “He has his own idiosyncrasies, but at times he’s been the trailblazing maverick demanding change. He’s has a lot to say, and he’s used the awards platform to say it.”

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Joaquin Phoenix

Phoenix’s reticence to promote himself became evident with his role as Johnny Cash in 2005’s “Walk the Line,” which earned him the second of four Oscar nominations.

During one infamous red carpet interview, Phoenix bizarrely asked the reporter, “Do I have a large frog in my hair?” When told there was no frog, Phoenix added, deadpan, “Something’s crawling out of my scalp.”

“We’ve always known he was a classic Hollywood oddball,” says Tom O’Neil, founder of awards prognosticating site Gold Derby. “After the bravura performance in ‘Joker,’ we’ve seen the nuttiness sometimes. But he’s been engaged, and using his moment to highlight important causes.”

Phoenix has always been appreciated for his full devotion to the acting craft, disappearing in roles such as his breakout as simpleton Jimmy Emmett in 1995’s “To Die For,” the conniving Emperor Commodus in 2000’s “Gladiator” (first Oscar nomination) and veteran Freddie Quell in “The Master.”

His complete immersion as an aspiring rapper for the faux documentary “I’m Still Here” carried into one of TV’s more bizarre moments with David Letterman in 2009, where Phoenix sported a bushy beard, sunglasses and mumbled incoherently.

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