I was relaxing in a hotel room in Miami a few mornings ago, when my husband, Rob, looked up from his newspaper to say, “You won’t believe who just died. One of the great actors.”
Hearing Philip Seymour Hoffman had overdosed on heroin was a shock even though we knew he’d had problems with drugs from the past. We’d looked up his biography online, because we were so enamored with his work on film and stage, and had seen most of his films.
To us, he was more than a star. He was everyman, and those were the kinds of roles he picked, those were the kind that made him so memorable. He didn’t shy away from the truth in his work. When I saw him play Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman in 2012 on Broadway, I not only left the theatre sobbing, but the play and its tragedy stayed with me for awhile afterwards as I walked to Times Square and met up with my husband who was waiting for me there on the second floor of MacDonald’s. I fell into his arms crying. That was how much Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance had affected me.
That final scene between father and son, played by Andrew Garfield, was that powerful, even though I’d seen the play twice before and I was watching two famous actors flex their acting muscles. In that final confrontation, I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman put everything into it. Perhaps his father’s background as a salesman had informed his performance, but whatever it was that propelled him to show us his character’s heart and vulnerability, it came from a deep well of emotion. One that perhaps eventually took him from us.
In fact, I had written about his wonderful work in my blog before, about his film Love Liza. Strangely, the title I had chosen for that post was The Curious Appeal of Tragedy.
His death and legacy reminded me of Heath Ledger and how he’d also died of an overdose, in his case, an accidental one of prescription drugs for pneumonia and insomnia. I recall crying while watching his final scene of Brokeback Mountain, in which he brilliantly portrayed a man in love, a man whose heart was broken. Heath Ledger was another actor who was generous with his feelings. His sensitivity, like Hoffman’s, was probably hard to manage. Like in Hoffman’s death, drugs won, we lost.
Since we heard the news, questions have arisen about celebrity and fame. Celebrity is not all what it appears to be. Fame does not feed the soul.
And as a wonderful article through Flavorwire by Michelle Dean points out, we think we know the famous from what we read in the tabloids and what we observe on the screen or as in this writer’s case, what she observed on the street. But the famous are just humans like us, struggling with life’s challenges. The major difference is they have little place to hide.
On Broadway, on Feb. 5th, at 7:45 pm, the lights were dimmed for a minute in honor of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was a brilliant but tortured artist. He’s left behind a prodigious body of work, but also a grieving family and fans. May he rest in peace.