While I would normally be grateful for anything that would detract from the unwarranted attention given to the Super Bowl, this is most certainly NOT what I would have wished on a twinkling star.
Those of us brave enough to call ourselves Movie Snobs are learning of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the greatest acting talents EVER.
As I am still in shock, I prefer to borrow the French term disparu, as I did in my obituary for Roger Ebert, as it softens the blow of death’s finality.
When notable figures of one’s generation die before their time, it becomes a cultural touchstone and a personal reminder of one’s mortality. For my generation, actor River Phoenix’s heroin overdose was our first clarion.
The details released at this early stage: a suspiciously short spell in rehab only last spring, his presence at the Sundance Film Festival less than a fortnight ago where after his death he was revealed as appearing “slightly disheveled and pasty” (his default appearance), and speculation on the cause of death as a “suspected overdose” from No-Shit-Sherlock reporting a needle found hanging from his arm.
Other unexpected celebrity drug-related deaths include these elements of recent rehabs, in the midst of working, children to live for, etc. Forgive the pun, but this “Monday morning quarterbacking” of ticking off the boxes on the post-mortem publicists’ cheat-sheet has become standard punditry for the first day of Celebrity Shiva.
But Philip Seymour Hoffman’s life and career should not be defined by his death. He was no Amy Winehouse whose biggest hit “Rehab” mocked a better life nor Heath Ledger who let a comic book role overtake his psyche and left his partner and child to play chemist with a former child star. Neither should he be compared with talented train-wrecks-in-waiting Tom Sizemore and Lindsay Lohan.
Since then there have been others, yet this loss transcends such trite classification, not least because for me there are some personal links that are causing this to hit me very hard.
Philip Seymour Hoffman graduated from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University the year I matriculated. He trained at a different studio than I, but like those with whom I studied, he belonged to a theater company. He was a peer and friend to those only slightly higher on the ladder than I. Those with whom I have remained in contact often spoke of his talent and professionalism; now the shock they are expressing on social media is hitting me like an outer ring of a bomb blast.
I hope Mr. Hoffman’s legacy will ultimately transcend the familiar circumstances of his death. He does not belong in the “Only the Good Die Young” Club. Instead of tsk-tsking about his drug use, we should wonder what kind of work he would have gifted us had he had the time of another of my favorite actors, Maximilian Schell, whose death this weekend was already under-reported. Mr. Schell was an Austrian actor, director, writer and producer who died this week at age 83.
Unlike Mr. Schell, who was as handsome as he was talented, Hoffman valiantly upended casting directors’ and studio suits’ preconception of what a leading man should look like. (I acknowledge that men unfairly have more leeway than women concerning looks and age, but that is a discussion for another forum.)
Hoffman was willing to take on a supporting role even after having become a leading man, one whose romantic potential was not questioned by his ginger-haired, pudgy physique. Read the last paragraph of my review for the 2012 film A Late Quartet.
I’m guessing most of the media coverage will focus on his popular breakthrough as Scotty J. in Boogie Nights and his deserved Best Actor Oscar for Capote. His work in the theater was as impressive. I could not find on his Wikipedia page, (which hadn’t been updated to note his death), the play he did with John C. Reilly a few years ago in which the actors alternated roles each night, both receiving rave reviews as each. Perhaps some Theatre Snobs can enlighten us.
Merci to the reader who pointed out the play was True West by actor/playwright Sam Shepard. I recommend you read this rave review to get an idea of what a unique production that was.
You’ll notice the picture I chose does not show him in costume.
I chose this early headshot of him so that we will remember that Philip Seymour Hoffman was the best kind of actor, one that transcended typecasting.