Briefly, About Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman died Sunday. He apparently overdosed on heroin. Hoffman had apparently battled heroin use on -- and for a very long time off -- throughout his life, having sobered while young and then only recently falling back into its use.
Predictably, there has been a simultaneously stunned and beautiful outpouring of grief, mostly celebrations of his incredibly immersive performances. 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. It is very tempting to compare to him others who similarly left too soon, but there is time for that.
Clips have gone around too, attempts to briefly capture the man’s work in such a way as it immediately makes sense to anybody watching. Below is an example that has been posted routinely since his passing.
It’s Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos from Charlie Wilson’s War. For me, it’s the blow-up at the end, especially the, “…go fuck yourself, you fucking child.” That sounds like a real person delivering a real line, not actors on a stage. And although the writer deserves credit, it’s the deliverer who does the selling. That line fails if it doesn’t sound right. In Hoffman’s portrayal, it was perfect.
Speaking of describing somebody as a child, several people have written decided to use Hoffman’s death as a springboard for their own noxious brand of cultural critique. I would describe them in the same way that Hoffman’s Gust described his boss, but I don’t know what children have done to deserve being associated with such assholes. I won’t link to their work here. I suppose that sort of thing emerges every time somebody dies in an unfortunate way.
Instead, I wanted to link to two other things, one that I just read, one that I’ve posted before. The first is Russell Brand trying to explain sobriety’s challenge:
You are likely one of the 90% of people who can drink and use drugs safely. I have friends who can smoke weed, swill gin, even do crack and then merrily get on with their lives. For me, this is not an option. I will relinquish all else to ride that buzz to oblivion. Even if it began as a timid glass of chardonnay on a ponce’s yacht, it would end with me necking the bottle, swimming to shore and sprinting to Bethnal Green in search of a crack house. I look to drugs and booze to fill up a hole in me; unchecked, the call of the wild is too strong.
The second is Rob Delaney‘s remembrance of Cory Monteith. It was passed along again after Hoffman’s passing, mostly because it accurately captures what it is like for many sober people to witness the death, even at a distance, of somebody else who was struggling.
So when someone ODs or kills themselves or crashes a car and dies due to their alcohol/drug use, I don’t say “C’est la vie…,” I say “Fuck that shit,” and I circle the wagons with my other survivor friends and we go over the battle plans a FIVE-HUNDREDTH time, figure out where our dead friend that we love and mourn deviated, and we prepare to greet the coming day in a manner that will give something other than our addictions a fair shot at killing us.
Hoffman’s loss is a terrible moment but Delaney’s notion of death-as-opportunity is simultaneously sad and correct: it does give us a moment to pause, to regroup, to refocus. It’s what I was doing last night while I was reading about Hoffman, while I was reading Brand for the first time, and while I was reading Delaney for the umpteenth. In the midst of all of this, a voice in my own head started chirping, “You could drink again probably.” It came out of nowhere and I had to very firmly tell it to fuck off, just as I’ve often done for these past seven plus years of my own sobriety.
Here’s hoping that Hoffman’s family can eventually find peace, although I cannot imagine what the search is going to be like. And here’s hoping that the other people in the same place Hoffman found himself in Sunday morning are able to get whatever sort of help it takes to end up anywhere other than where Hoffman did Sunday.
(Photo courtesy of Raindance.)