February 3, 2014
Why it's especially awful to lose Philip Seymour Hoffman
There's been shock, regret, and sadness in responses to yesterday's news that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died of a heroin overdose. It was public knowledge that he'd struggled with addiction in his youth, and again recently, but he wasn't exactly a hellion bent on his own self-destruction. Amy Winehouse's death was tragic, but not exactly a surprise.
Something about losing PSH feels like more of a personal loss. I'm more affected by it than other celebrity deaths, in part because of how talented he was and how much I love his movies. There's no better actor out there. I remember noticing him in some earlier roles, like in The Big Lebowski and Boogie Nights, and in a Broadway production of True West in 2000 I was lucky enough to see, and feeling like I'd found out about something big and important that the world wasn't quite aware of yet. Think about PSH in Happiness. Then think about him in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Then in Synecdoche, NY. Then in Pirate Radio. The guy could do anything, and he made so many movies.
But the best actor we had was also a middle-aged father of three and appeared to be a nice, smart, down-to-earth guy. He seemed to be genuinely respected and admired by everyone, both people who actually knew him and regular fans. It's hard to think of a person you admire doing something as foolish as getting sucked into heroin abuse. Again. This is what makes addiction so scary, and so hard to understand from the outside: he must have known how dangerous it was to start using again, and he couldn't stay away from it.
Here's how I'm thinking about it all:
1) We're lucky that the best actor we had worked so much and made so many movies, right up to the end of his life. I don't think there's a single actor who I've seen in more movies and plays.
2) We're unlucky that our best actor was addicted to heroin.
3) Heroin has gotten really incredibly dangerous lately, with spikes in deaths being reported all over the country. There seem to be batches out there that contain a lot of fentanyl. And as Russell Brand keeps reminding us, addiction kills.
Here's a great Times Magazine profile of PSH from 2008.
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