On Celebrity, Addiction, and Art: Why Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death Matters

Update, 2/7/2014: Aaron Sorkin‘s brief tribute to Hoffman from Wednesday, February 5 struck a chord, so you should go read it. DeBieHive also published a great piece on addiction, and the way it affects not only the addict but everyone around him. 

Yesterday one of my favorite actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman, was found dead in his New York apartment with a needle hanging from his left arm. He’d openly discussed his issues with addiction before, and today a friend of his claimed the actor genuinely seemed to have his life back together. This is exactly what people said about Cory Monteith.


“We are uncool.” A discussion of the quicksand that is celebrity in Almost Famous.

Every time someone famous and talented dies, those of us in the real world are subjected to ridicule for mentioning it. My Facebook has blown up with snarky, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and “I have no sympathy for this,” and “Who the fuck cares? You didn’t know him.” These same folks said the same thing about Paul Walker and Monteith when I mentioned I was upset to hear of their deaths. (And by the way, though I can’t say I respected Walker’s acting career particularly, NO ONE deserves to die that way, particularly not someone who devoted large chunks of his personal life to charity.)

Why is any death less significant than any other death? Why do people feel the need to slither out of the woodwork and vehemently attack those who mourn the passing of young, talented people?film Heist 2015

I have seen either 28 or 29 of the movies in which Mr. Hoffman performed, and each time he was onscreen he affected me. That means at least 60 hours of my life, not counting time in the college classes in which I studied his roles, and time spent contemplating and writing about his performances, I spent with this man. He played grief, anger, intensity, love, and poignant humanity in a way that no other actor of our generation has. He had an incredible presence, a way of inhabiting each and every role he got his hands on, that deserves recognition no matter the way he died.

“I do many, many things.” (2012’s The Master).

Maybe instead of taking to the internet to claim you lack sympathy, that “the only reason people give a shit about this guy’s death is that he was famous,” it’s time to discuss why our culture venerates celebrity, loves to follow the travails of Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and their ilk, but condemns the drug abuse that so often accompanies this celebrity. These people live in a world where anything and everything is available to them due to stature, money, and a cadre of hangers-on who wish to provide. Maybe it’s time to quit being self-righteous dicks about death, and discuss the fact that drug abuse is common, not only in the poor and under-educated, but among the wealthy, famous, and talented. Let’s face it: it’s even common in the middle class. And that in any case, it’s a terrible illness that needs not your contempt, but a discussion of how to help stop it. How do we care for the addicted? How can we provide assistance to those in need? Publicly scrutinized deaths like those of Hoffman, Monteith, River Phoenix, or Amy Winehouse (and the list goes on) should not be ignored or shoved aside. Those who mourn them should not be viewed in contempt. Let’s actually talk about drug abuse. Let’s actually talk about celebrity. Let’s not diminish the importance of someone’s death because of the cause; let’s not diminish death, period.

Rest in peace, Mr. Hoffman. I, for one, will miss you as though you were a friend. Your brilliant performances will live on in celluloid and digital prints and your memory with the people who loved you. I hope your demons no longer haunt you. I’ll continue to hope that a life like yours will bring out the best in people instead of the worst. That you’ll be an inspiration for those to come.


“I’m a fucking idiot!” In one of my favorite performances in film history, Hoffman played poor, rejected, messed-up Scotty in P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights.

One comment

  1. David Banner says:

    Poor Scotty. 🙁 That was the first time I ever saw him in a movie. Well said.

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