Briefly, About Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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47 Responses

  1. Kazzy says:


    If I may ask a question about addiction…

    My takeaway from what you’ve written here and the quoted pieces is that the relationship between the addict and his substance of choice is fundamentally different than the relationship a non-addict has. If I am write in this regard, what would come of those predisposed to addiction were they never introduced to the substances they become addicted to?

    Coming at it another way, have you ever read Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke? It’s been a few years so I don’t remember all the details, but a number of the characters are addicts of one type or another. One resolves his addiction (I don’t remember what to) by embarking on a project wherein he collects and totes around large rocks (it is eventually revealed that he is doing more than just toting them around but I won’t spoil it). The main character points out that he has simply exchanged one addiction for another. To which the rock-toter concedes that might be the case but at least he is healthy and (ultimately) productive with his new habit.

    Is this an accurate representation? Does every addict eventually find something to be addicted to? Even if it is a manner of being carefully constructed to avoid the more harmful addiction? Or is there something unique about mind altering substances or experiences that makes them specifically dangerous to an addict but, without which, they can function in a wholly “normal” manner?


    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

      A very good question that I will probably answer insufficiently: my instinct is that addicts will always find something. I know that I’ve been fascinated with endurance runners (people that run ultra-marathons for example) and in an exploration of their mindset, I noticed several saying they’d come to the sport as an escape from various addictions.

      My instinct is that addicts will always fine something to be obsessed with. My wife describes me as routinely choosing white whales to chase. Since getting sober, I got briefly obsessed enough with photography to have a show at a studio, earned two master’s degrees, taught myself how to do various things including enjoy coffee and reseason cast iron, and like those mentioned above, started a running hobby that resulted in a marathon (and once the baby is older) probably something longer. Am I representative of the whole? Maybe. Maybe not. But I don’t have a hard time believing that it might be true.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Did you demonstrate such tendencies in your younger days? As a child?

        I also want to say that I appreciate this and other pieces you’ve penned on the topic. It is one I am only beginning to understand and which, not long ago, I woefully and actively misunderstood. Once upon a time, I rejected the idea that someone could be predisposed to addiction. “How can you be predisposed to addiction to a substance you’ve never even been exposed to? Addicts are just weak.” Thankfully, I have come to a better, albeit still incomplete, understanding. Your writing here has been a big part of that. So I thank you. And want you to know the power of your willingness to speak up and out on the topic.Report

      • I’d say I’ve had a tendency to go overboard throughout my life, especially with things that I loved. I’ve never understood not maximizing things that you love. It’s a great mindset when I’m doing something vaguely useful and productive. That’s something very different when I’m drinking.

        As for the kinds things you said there in the second paragraph, thank you.Report

      • Kim in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        hmm… that brings up an interesting parallel with aspbergers/autistic folks.
        (in terms of the depths of passion for a particular subject, and the single-mindedness)Report

    • Caroline Thompson in reply to Kazzy says:

      I think it all depends on what your definition (and your society’s definition) for what addiction is. We’ve talked about addiction in psychology classes I’ve been in, and it’s really one of those things that you have to come up with a clear definition for, even if it may leave out some important cases.

      Part of it is being a problem: is it hurting your health? Your lifestyle? Have you tried to stop but been unable to? Are you ashamed? Hiding it from your friends and family? You have to ask those kinds of questions if it’s about behaviour because it’s a lot easier to measure neuro-chemical reactions that can show substance addiction than bad behaviours, but they can be just as damaging.

      I’ve never been addicted to any substances, but have I ever had addictive behaviour? Who knows. At one point, I was having trouble sleeping for an extended period of time, but what I found helped was exercising. It got to the point that I had to go to the gym or I just wouldn’t sleep. I’d be trying to get school work done, but I couldn’t concentrate because I needed to run–IMMEDIATELY. It wasn’t too long into this habit that I was able to get my insomnia issue fixed, so the dependence on exercise didn’t have time to become a problem, but was it an addiction? Maybe it would’ve fallen under that definition if I’d let it get any worse.

      But this would’ve hurt my school life and/or social life at worst. This obviously isn’t on remotely the same plane as substance addictions like heroin.Report

      • zic in reply to Caroline Thompson says:

        When you exercise excessively, I wonder if you become addicted to the endorphins that you make when you exercise. Those endorphins resemble opiates.

        I’ve known people who I thought were addicted to exercise; and it’s quite possible you were, if such a thing can be. I don’t know.

        I’d be very interested if this still happens; and if not, what your withdrawal might have been like (that’s if there is such an addiction and you were an addict, of course).Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Caroline Thompson says:

        I think it all depends on what your definition (and your society’s definition) for what addiction is.

        Remember the movie What the Bleep do we know? My favorite definition of addiction is from that movie: anything you can’t stop doing.Report

  2. Patrick says:

    I read the Brand piece earlier today and one of my first thoughts was, “This reminds me of Sam’s posts about addiction”.

    Delaney’s notion of death-as-opportunity is simultaneously sad sad and correct: it does give us a moment to pause, to regroup, to refocus.


    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Patrick says:

      I’m never certain about the appropriateness of saying something like this out loud – “When life gives you death, make death-o-nade!” – but still, it’s what happens. I felt such relief when I read what Delaney had written, if only because it is possible to get lost in our own heads in such a way as to believe that we’re the only people doing something.Report

  3. zic says:

    I’m half way through the Brand piece.

    I lost my very beloved step sister to alcohol. She drank until, at 38, she shut down first her liver, then her kidneys, and she died.

    I mourn her death every single day. Sadly, in many ways, she — the person I’d so loved — had died five years before because of her addiction. Though she died so young, it was also a relief.

    I struggle with my own addictions, which is almost expected given my personal history.

    Thank you Sam. I’ll read the Delaney piece after I finish Bran.

    I heard a piece on NPR on the radio coming home, about how our national pill addiction is turning into a heroin addiction. I wondered how much of it’s from Afghanistan (they didn’t talk about that,) and flows from our war addiction which may well stem from our oil addiction. We all, one way or another, ought be in recovery, and cognizant that recover is a life-long effort.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to zic says:

      I’m very sorry for your loss.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to zic says:

      how our national pill addiction is turning into a heroin addiction. I wondered how much of it’s from Afghanistan (they didn’t talk about that,) and flows from our war addiction which may well stem from our oil addiction.

      From what I understand, it’s merely addiction to pain pills (something that people who never set foot in the military can get addicted to) and how people who get addicted to those find that the War On Drugs is far more effective at preventing them from getting prescription drugs than it is from getting illegal ones. They switch from Oxy to Heroin because Heroin is available and Oxy is not. (On that note, there was a (pretty funny) paper that came out a while back that explained how someone could turn Crystal Meth into Sudafed.)

      My first thought when I heard about PSH was not that he jumped back on the wagon but that he got heroin that was of much, much higher quality than he was used to and mixed up a cocktail like always but inadvertently gave himself a much higher dose. I’m guessing that that’s not right and, instead, he fell off the wagon and he mixed up the amount that he was used to taking when he stopped… and started up again without realizing that he had lost all of his tolerance.Report

      • zic in reply to Jaybird says:

        Yeah, I think you’re right on both counts.

        My first point was that when you here about the heroin itself, it comes from Mexico. Not about where the poppies actually grew; I was wondering if they’re from Afghanistan. Lot of dudes built relationships with the farmers over there are back home, now. And some of them are really, really good at stealthy stuff. If I were still reporting, I’d be asking questions to see if there was a healthy market that had developed from those relationships.

        I have mixed feelings about poppies.Report

      • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        somewhat unrelated:
        I know someone who had a job tricking Afghani farmers into growing wheat instead of poppies. (apparently when we had a grain price spike here, suddenly the idea got really popular).Report

  4. Pinky says:

    Apologies if I’m departing from the seriousness of the subject.

    I’ve seen Hoffman in a few things, and I can’t say he ever blew me away. You said, “That sounds like a real person delivering a real line, not actors on a stage.” I don’t see it. A big part of acting is the interplay between actors. The other guy in that scene was there. Hoffman wasn’t. He was acting, not reacting. I understand the tension in the scene is played out by the fact that they’re not talking to each other, but at each other. Even so, I can’t think of a part that I’ve seen him in where he has that there-ness.Report

  5. North says:

    This was a very deep post. Thank you for sharing.Report

  6. veronica dire says:

    Fuck Russel Brand. Why is it every “leftish” man thinks that, because he has some mock social conscious in one place, he gets to be a completely queer-phobic shithead in another.

    And, @sam-wilkinson, did you really need to use that quote? “Ponce”? Do you have no inner editor?

    Anyway, regarding Mr. Hoffman, huge loss. The man was beautiful and I will miss him.Report

    • Glyph in reply to veronica dire says:

      Not being a Brit I can’t say, and I have always understood “ponce” to mean “effeminate man”; but quick googling also tells me the term can also mean “a pimp”, a meaning which might track with the yacht.

      That said, Russell Brand is like nails on a chalkboard to me on general principle.Report

    • Sam in reply to veronica dire says:

      1. I don’t recall declaring my fandom for Russell Brand’s entire oeuvre. I appreciated his written piece about sobriety.

      2. I didn’t use a “quote.” I linked to an actor’s portrayal of a character.

      3. Yes, I did need to use that performance, because I thought it best illustrated what I was trying to show: that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performances were, to my eyes, an incredible thing.

      4. I do have an inner editor. That inner editor said, “There’s a difference between an actor portraying a character and the real world.”

      5. Yes, Hoffman’s death is terrible.Report

      • Bobob in reply to Sam says:

        Sam, I think you misunderstood Veronica. The objection is not to the clip from “Charlie Wilson’s War”, it’s to the quote from Russell Brand, which you did in fact use. And it, in turn, uses the word “ponce”, an anti-gay slur. Based on what I’ve read of you here, I’d like to think that you quoted it in ignorance. Casually including nasty language like that tends to detract from your overall point, which is important and (otherwise) extremely well-made.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Sam says:


        I think @sam-wilkinson made his point just fine. No need to equivocate.

        Not everything is about LBTGQ-E-I-E-I-O issues.Report

    • ScarletNumbers in reply to veronica dire says:


      Sigh, it’s not always about you. Get some perspective, please.Report

  7. Mike Schilling says:

    He was an actor who seemingly knew no boundaries, one who excelled in almost every roll, one whose work was exemplary at a very rare level.

    Of course, none of that is objectively true.Report

  8. LeeEsq says:

    Sam, what are your opinions on the current debate on whether or not that at least alcohol addiction should be treated in pharmaceutical rather than therapeutic fashion with the goal of turning addicts into moderate users? From what I understand, there are many doctors involved with treating addcits that find the current understanding and treatment of addiction as not scientific enough for their liking. They see addiction as a chemical problem that should be treated as such. They also seem to think that turning addicts into moderate users is more realsitic goal that would yield better results. The problem is that a lot of people in treatment for addiction don’t trust this model and want to go completely sober.Report

    • Sam in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I tend to advocate that everybody should do whatever works for them that results in sobriety. If that means a medical solution, so be it. I remain confused how a medical solution takes care of the thinking that underpins an addiction, and I am baffled to the idea that we want to turn alcoholics into casual drinkers. The entire point of alcoholism is that the notion of casually drinking doesn’t make sense. I remain confused whenever I see anybody engaged in it, and even now, I really don’t get the point of only having a handful of beers. If there’s a pill out there that completely changed that part of my brain’s function, I have to admit being slightly terrified at what else it might also do to me, but again: getting sober matters more than anything else, so if it takes a weird pill, so be it.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Sam says:

        From what I’ve read, many people that advocate a medical solution to addiction seem to perceive addiction as being a chemical phenomenon rather than something that has a mental dimension. It’s akin to the worldview where all mental illnesses are biological in nature.Report

      • Murali in reply to Sam says:

        There is a trivial sense in which the latter is true. the question is whether there is any interesting sense in which things like addiction and depression are physiological but ordinary mental activity isn’tReport

    • Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:


      I read a piece on the founder of AA which said that he largely made the whole process up. Now, as @sam-wilkinson said, if it keeps you sober, it keeps you sober and that is a good thing. However, I can understand why the AA process and others based off of it might seem lacking to medical and mental health professionals.Report

  9. Mike Schilling says:

    When I look at his imdb page, I can picture him in:

    Pirate Radio
    Charlie Wilson’s War
    Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
    Cold Mountain
    Red Dragon
    Almost Famous
    The Talented Mr. Ripley
    The Big Lebowski

    All quite different, and other than when was playing Michael Lewis’s weird take on Art Howe, all completely enjoyable.Report

  10. Notme says:

    Meh, what is the fuss? He was a talented junkie but a junkie. Junkies die every day. Even more pathetic he had the means to get clean but choose not to so I don’t have much sympathy.Report

    • ScarletNumbers in reply to Notme says:


      I’m happy for you that you have no demons. However, not everyone is so lucky.

      Calling someone a “junkie” right after they die is unnecessarily cruel.

      He was a heroin addict. That doesn’t make him a bad person and it shouldn’t take away from his acting ability. His peers have recognized him as a fine actor time and time again, and they and his fans will never get to see him work again.

      So, yes, I feel sympathy for everyone involved. It’s a crying shame. While I can’t make you feel empathy, you should take a long, hard look in the mirror to see why you can’t.

      Also, I am no fan of Russell Brand, but his comments are spot on.Report

      • notme in reply to ScarletNumbers says:

        Funny, I didn’t say I didn’t have any demons but if you want to believe otherwise go ahead. I recognized his talent but was honest that he was a junkie. I didn’t say he was a bad person just a junkie. I don’t see why he should get our sympathy when he had the ability to get clean but choose not to. Many folks would like to get clean but can’t get treatment, those folks have my sympathy.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to ScarletNumbers says:


        Funny, I didn’t say I didn’t have any demons but if you want to believe otherwise go ahead.

        Well if you do indeed have demons, then your lack of empathy for Hoffman is even more striking.

        I recognized his talent but was honest that he was a junkie.

        Honesty is overrated.Report

      • NotHimEither in reply to ScarletNumbers says:

        My mother died of a rare and pretty terrible genetic disease. The specific gene that causes it hasn’t been identified, so I can’t get tested, but we do know that there’s a fifty percent chance that I’ll get it, probably between the ages of 35 and 60. If I get it, I will notice one day that one of my muscles just isn’t working right. Then, one by one, they’ll all stop working, and I’ll die of asphyxiation. I had a mild sciatic impingement a year and a half ago, and spent a week or two convinced that I had three years to live.

        It must be nice to choose whether or not to sit beneath the sword of Damocles. I can’t say I have much respect or sympathy for those who, given that privilege, choose to do so and suffer the consequences.

        Hoffman didn’t deserve to die just because he used heroin, but he made his choices and dug his own grave. I feel sorry for those who loved him, but I have none for him, or Amy Winehouse, or Whitney Houston, or anyone else who was privileged with the ability to live as long, healthy life, and chose to throw it away.Report

  11. dexter says:

    Notme, As someone who lost a daughter to heroin I am really glad that you are hidden in your avatar instead of sitting next to me on a bar stool.Report

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