Yesterday’s news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sudden passing – purportedly from a heroine overdose – gave me some unexpected and profound grief. I hadn’t known how much I had appreciated him in the movies he starred in – or so it seemed to me, when suddenly faced with the finite realization that I’ll never see him in another movie again.
“Going for broke”, is what this article by Tom Junod for Esquire offers as a possible explanation, trying to weave some consistency into the most diverse roles Hoffman played onscreen and the offscreen person, whom all of a sudden everyone feels entitled to know something about. That’s a pretty bold, far fetched stretch from where I’m sitting and it angers me beyond words to see the public apparently “owning” their celebrities as if they were nothing else than just another one of the many commodities our convenient, consumerist lives are taking for granted. At this point, we – the public – know next to zero about the person behind the actor. So we are left to speculate. And speculate we do and seem all too willing to offer special knowledge about his sudden and much too early demise.
Over the past five to six years, many of the “formative” celebrities of my younger years found an “untimely” death, in most cases brought about not by natural causes, but involving some form of substance abuse or addiction. Time and again, when this happens, the public echo seems to focus on the cause of death instead, immediately bypassing any compassion or even just mentioned piety in reporting. To me, this is clear evidence of the massive erosion of culture taking place on every level of our “societies”. It almost seems as if the greatest comfort for those left with the aftermath of a void never to be filled again is in wildly rationalizing away instead of acknowledging the more obvious in appropriate ways: We lost a fellow human being, they’re gone and won’t come back. And that’s all that should matter in the situation.
But there is one small aspect that gives me some comfort and seems capable of vanquishing my anger. Apparently, Hoffman managed to almost completely shield his private life – including whatever struggle he had with any substance – from his work. According to Doris Barr, mother of the late Hoffman’s brother-in-law, he was completely dedicated to his work, which was his passion, his calling from early on, and he seems to have managed – for the most part – to hold on to this dedicated work ethic. “Going for broke?” I don’t think so. Quite the opposite: I find grace, style and dignity in Hoffman’s consummate way of going about his career, that never seemed to allow whatever personal troubles get in the way. Until now. There is no farewell note or other information that may give a clue as to what lead up to this. I find it a great victory on his part that he’ll take most of the private person that he was to his grave, leaving us with his legacy of films he starred in. Well done, Sir.
R.I.P., Philip Seymour Hoffman.
P.S. And if by all means you can’t help blaming it on the drugs and his battle with addiction – which I take as a symptom for something running a lot deeper, b.t.w. – then treat yourself to some very pragmatic and potentially life-saving ideas as expressed from someone with firsthand knowledge, a recovering heroin user himself.