Phillip Seymour Hoffman loses battle with drug addiction
On February 2, Super Bowl Sunday, Denver Broncos fans wept at their team’s beat down by the Seattle Seahawks. Amid the mourning of the big game, Oscar awarded actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was tragically found dead in his rented Greenwich Village, New York City office.
The cause of the death was considered to be a heroin overdose, made apparent from the syringe stuck in Hoffman’s arm at the scene. Police also found more than 70 bags of heroin stamped with the words “Ace of Spades,” a street name for batches that had gone off the radar since 2012, and a vast variety of prescription drugs.
Police commissioner Bill Bratton informed the press, “We’re dealing with a death. It is, I would emphasize, not a narcotics investigation, but rather the investigation of a death.” Discovered by his personal assistant Isabella Wing-Davey and David Katz, a screenwriter Hoffman had been collaborating with, Hoffman was pronounced dead on the scene. Hoffman had reportedly been clean from a battle with heroin addiction which he stated he kicked 20-some years ago, but up until recently, relapsed.
There have been many deaths among celebrity entertainers in the past few months (James Gandolfini “The Sopranos,” Paul Walker “The Fast and The Furious”). These deaths are all equally tragic, but none have hit me as hard as Mr. Hoffman’s. I became keenly attentive towards film in 2007, and since then it has become a recreational special interest of mine that I have not given up. It had not occurred to me until news broke of Hoffman’s death, but his role in 2007’s “Doubt,” in which he played a priest accused of sexual misconduct with an altar boy, was one of the first performances that made me step back and appreciate an entertainer’s commitment to craft. Subsequently, every movie that had his name under the billing was an easy 10 bucks out of my pocket.
Fortunately for Hoffman, he left behind such an incredible catalogue of films in his legacy—unlike an actor such as Heath Ledger who established his marvelous talent after his death. On top of winning an Oscar for his portrayal of the real life author, Truman Capote (“Capote” 2005), who penned the classic novel “In Cold Blood,” Hoffman has an endless list of highly regarded films to prove what a phenomenal actor he was. He was cast in nearly all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films: the 1997’s rags-to-riches, porno-biz saga, “Boogie Nights,” as the awkward boom operator, “Magnolia,” (1999) an inter-related character tale set in Los Angeles, where he played a devoted visiting nurse striving to reconnect a dying father with his distant son, “Punch-Drunk Love” (2000) as the corrupt, foul mouthed Mattress Man, and concluding with “The Master” (2012). His performance in “The Master,” where he played a religious leader in a bizarre movement who comes into contact with a damaged veteran in post WWII America, was one of his final roles.
Prior to these huge Paul Thomas Anderson films, Hoffman made his name playing unsympathetic individuals on the fringes of society—generally sleaze balls and deviants. He disturbed me to no end in films like Todd Shutlz’s “Happiness,” (1998) pervertedly moping around his darkened apartment yearning for next-door resident, and in Sidney Lumet’s “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” (2007) as a betraying son who robs his parents’ “mom & pop” store to support his drug habit—coincidentally heroin. Both performances are absolutely grueling to sit through; the latter even more so considering how the truth was even stranger than fiction in relation to Hoffman’s addiction.
“Synecdoche, New York,” (2007) Charlie Kaufman’s wonderfully incoherent, Fellini-esque box-office bomb, is certainly his most overlooked work. Hoffman plays a deteriorating playwright who sets out to make a colossal theatrical project that encompasses his entire life span. Over time, I feel the film will hold merit for Camus’s ideologies and thematic arcs towards the purpose of being. Roger Ebert, another hero in the eyes of cinema lovers, championed it as the greatest film of the last decade. Other Hoffman fan-favorites include oddly calm bad guy Owen Davian, in “Mission Impossible 3” (2006), Brandt the butler in “The Big Lebowski” (1998), music journalist Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous” (2000), and of course, Dusty the tornado-hunting storm chaser in “Twister” (1996).
Never would I become overly sentimental or pass judgment on Hoffman concerning his cause of death. I can say this: the man was a fantastic entertainer and it is extremely regrettable that we will be without his acting artistry for the years to come. The good news is that Hoffman still has three completed films slated for a 2014 release date: John Slattery’s Sundance debut, “God’s Pocket,” Anton Corbijn’s drug-war thriller, “A Most Wanted Man,” and lastly, the two-part adaptation of “The Hunger Games” novels entitled “The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay – Parts 1 & 2.”
Rest in Peace, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Your contribution and dedication to the craft of film will forever be admired and revisited.
Rob Gabe is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RG770214@wcupa.edu.