What a difference a shave makes: Joaquin Phoenix back to handsome best

It was the talk of Hollywood – how Joaquin Phoenix had grown a beard, quit acting and decided to become a rapper.

He seemed back to his usual self however this week – at least in terms of his appearance – as he attended a documentary screening in LA (below left).

Without the bushy beard – which he shaved off a few months ago – or the dark sunglasses which had been constantly covering his eyes during public appearances, the star was back to his handsome best.

His look was a marked change from last year, when he hit headlines for his erratic behaviour and less than polished appearance.

The Walk The Line actor gave journalists conflicting reasons about why he had grown facial hair. He said he had done it to avoid being a sex symbol, before saying: "Or maybe I'm just lazy."

There was also mystery surrounding his decision to embark on a music career. The Puerto Rica-born actor (pictured performing on stage last year) insisted he was serious about being a rapper, saying: "There's not a hoax. Might I be ridiculous? Might my career in music be laughable? Yeah, that's possible, but that's certainly not my intention.

"I had a lot of dudes come up and say, "We really respect you for doing it, putting yourself out there, and going with it."

But there were rumours that the whole thing was indeed a prank, for the subject of a documentary to be filmed by his brother-in-law Casey Affleck.

"It’s a put-on. I’m going to pretend to have a meltdown and change careers, and Casey is going to film it," he is reported to have said.

There were also fears for his health after a bizarre interview on the David Letterman show.

While fans wait to see if Joaquin will return to acting, they can at least hear him in a new Peta advert aiming to raise awareness about the cruelty behind the exotic animal skin industry.

It was rumoured he was to come out of retirement to play Edgar Allen Poe in a new movie, but his representative has denied this.