Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Celebrities, as humans will, die. Generally when such a person passes, I observe it with sigh and a nod; their time had come; and mark it as yet another milestone on the road we're all on... for whom the bells tolls; etc., etc.

Every once in a while, though, comes one that truly strikes me as out of joint. Wrong. Not just unfortunate, but actually a kind of a violation. That something that was due us as a society has been torn from us far too soon. Over the years I've personally felt this about John Belushi, John Lennon, River Phoenix, and Kurt Cobain. Now there's Philip Seymour Hoffman to add to the list.

The first time I saw Hoffman, he was playing the frenetic Dusty in Twister. At the time, he and I were both in our late-20s. The next time was in Magnolia, where he played a compassionate palliative care nurse. The range between these two roles was nearly was wide as the alphabet, and despite the fact I hadn't seen him in anything in three years, I immediately recognized him. I realized quickly he'd be someone to watch.

Over the years I saw him in a number of roles, but the one that captivated me, as well as the Oscars committee, was his portrayal of the lead in Capote. I left the theatre feeling almost literally as if I'd been in the presence of Truman Capote... a sensation evoked again by Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. This is the measure of the man as an actor, to me. And this is at the heart of it.

I've enjoyed the range of different characters Hoffman took on and mastered. He was truly the peer of Day-Lewis, and I don't credit many of those. So I was looking forward to another 30 years of challenging work taken on by this man. What would he show us? Who would he be? What roles would he grow into at 50? 60? 70? Well, now we'll never know. And the worst of it is, it was so needless. It wasn't cancer, or someone T-boning his car, or something like that. It was simply stupid, careless self-medicating. Same old, same old. He deserved better. So did we all, I think.

I can't be too critical. I don't know what pressures and stresses Hoffman was dealing with that all went away for a while with the press of a plunger. I just know it didn't have to be like this.

I read that not long after John Belushi was buried, there appeared a note on his grave that read, "He could have given us a lot more laughs, but noooo...!"

Ditto; or words to that effect.

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