Monday, February 3, 2014

Caught Dead---After 23 Years

Heroin chased Philip Seymour Hoffman down for over 20 years. The tireless drug finally caught him.

Drug addiction, like alcoholism, cancer and other terminal diseases, is patient. It'll wait you out. If you think your body is in the Addict Protection Program, you're sorely mistaken.

Once you've shown yourself to partake in its vice, you're on the list.

Can you beat it? Can you stay ahead of it? Sure---but addiction's won/loss record is stellar.

Heroin beat Hoffman, the actor/director who was found dead in his Manhattan apartment Sunday at the age of 46, reportedly with a syringe still stuck in his arm.

The news of the death of an artist before his or her time comes in stages.

First is, of course, shock.

I came home from one of my daily walks with our pooch yesterday when our daughter broke the news.

"Philip Seymour Hoffman died," she said plainly.

I reacted the way I'm sure millions did.

"WHAT?" was all I said.

That's Stage One.

In Stage Two, details---real and imagined---dribble out and are spread onto social media. The key in this stage is to separate the facts from the rumors and speculation.

In Stage Three, reports become confirmed and the information has been run through the proper filtration system, leaving the cold hard facts. Rumors are debunked and facts become crystallized.

So we know this. Hoffman was last seen alive on Saturday night around 8:00 p.m. When he failed to show up the next morning to pick up his children, red flags were raised. Then, Hoffman was found on the floor of his bathroom, dead of an apparent drug overdose and stuck with the needle, presumably self-inflicted.

It's not unlike how edgy and often profane comedian Lenny Bruce was found. Bruce was 40 when he too was discovered on a bathroom floor, dead and with shooting up paraphernalia nearby.

It was the great columnist Dick Schaap---normally known for his sportswriting---who said it all about Bruce's death in a much-publicized obituary.

"Here's one more four-letter word for you, Lenny," Schaap wrote. "D-E-A-D, at age 40."

Hoffman tried to outrun heroin and other substance abuse and addiction. He was able to keep ahead of it for 23 years. But then a relapse a couple years ago sent him into rehab. Hoffman got tired; heroin was as fresh as a daisy. Police reports say that between 50 and 70 packets of heroin were found in Hoffman's apartment, after they cleared his body out.

If that's true, then it was only a matter of time before heroin put another in the W column.

For a terrific take on Hoffman the actor, I urge you to read this piece by my friend and pop culture writer Ian Casselberry, who nails Hoffman's eclectic career and who astutely points out that while Hoffman may not have had that "signature role," his career was no less magnificent.

The worst part of losing someone like Hoffman at 46---whether it was self-inflicted or not--- is the life sentence we have been saddled with of wondering "What if?" about his career.

It's Heath Ledger-ish.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: 1967-2014


The greatest actor of our time, Johnny Depp, is approximately Hoffman's age. And, like Hoffman, when you think of Depp you realize that he has never looked the same way twice on the screen. The range and the versatility are mind-boggling.

It was the same with Hoffman. As Ian Casselberry wrote, "Where do you begin with Hoffman and his career? Did he have a signature role or was he just the classic working actor, willing to try just about anything?"


There actually was something signature about Philip Seymour Hoffman---that there wasn't anything signature about his acting. His dizzying array of roles, accumulated in relatively short order, is his legacy.

But Hoffman was also a junkie. Let's face it. He ran from it, ran for over two decades. 

He left everything he had on the screen, and maybe that's why there wasn't much left for anything else---like staying off blow.

To paraphrase Dick Schaap: Philip Seymour Hoffman---D-E-A-D at age 46.

How profane indeed.

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