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Farewell, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Farewell, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Phillip-Seymour-HoffmanLike many others, I reacted with shock and sadness when I heard about the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman (I’m actually currently in the middle of watching one of his most recent films, The Master ). And the manner of his death — a heroin overdose — made the news that much worse.

Tragedies like these cannot but make me wonder how it is that people (especially people with so much wealth) find themselves addicted to such destructive mind-altering substances. Surely the teenage version of Hoffman would have recoiled in horror at the idea that he would one day be found dead with a needle still in his arm, but clearly something, or a whole series of somethings, precipitated his demise.

Was it simply a matter of one gateway leading to another? Did he drink a beer, desire a whiskey, smoke a spliff, and then need a needle?

Something tells me it’s more complicated than that. Plus, I’m not sold on the whole gateway narrative anyways. Maybe it’s because I managed to avoid pretty much any consumption of beer until I was well out of my teens (and drank almost no liquor until I was out of my twenties), but I can say with relative certainty that there’s nothing I am doing now that would ever be a “gateway” to something more dangerous. But that’s just me.

G.K. Chesterton said something like, “Drink, but only because you’re happy, and never because you’re sad.”

I concur. In my experience, alcohol used in moderation facilitates merriment, conversation, camaraderie, and joy. It loosens people up and lightens the mood. It makes people more honest and susceptible to expressing how they really feel rather than persisting in mask-wearing and hypocrisy.

But when use becomes abuse, when moderation becomes indulgence, that’s when the fun ends. And when it comes to drugs like heroin (which is by its very nature anti-social), there’s just no conceivable context in which it improves anything or anyone.

As to why people use hard drugs, I can’t speculate. I didn’t know Hoffman, I don’t know his story. All I can say is that, unlike certain conservative social critics, I would rather respond to his tragic death by seeing it as an opportunity to reflect and lament and show compassion rather than co-opting it and using it to advance my position in the culture war.

Anyway, I’ll spill a little Laphroaig on the ground for Philip tonight, and for the loved ones he left behind.

 

 

17 Comments

  1. Loved your farewell. RIP Philip!

  2. Hard drugs help you to escape life. Sometimes, they work too well.

    Hell of a thing for a guy that talented with three little kids not to have a reason to live. May he find the peace that he lacked here.

  3. What I find interesting is someone who was supposedly sober for over 20 years, especially in a career where drink and drug are plentiful, decided to fall back into old habits. Maybe something in his personal/professional life that seemed to overwhelming.

  4. I thought Jim Carrey captured the moment surprisingly well, “Dear Philip, a beautiful, beautiful soul. For the most sensitive among us the noise can be too much. Bless your heart.” There’s no explaining the self-destruction we embark upon. We just do sometimes.

  5. Ever notice how really talented and popular and famous drug addicts who die with needles in their arms on the loo get mostly glowing obits and misty-eyed farewells, but your standard issue addict that nobody gives a flying F about who dies the same way gets, well, more judgment than glow? I’m not sure what to make of that (well, I have a few ideas), but it has always intrigued me.

    That said, “Let it fly!” in peace, Sandy Lyle, and try not to shart wherever you are.

  6. Hence the difference between left- and right-leaning people in this country. For the most part, the former think the non-famous should be treated with more compassion, while the latter think the famous should be treated with less.

  7. That was one of my thoughts. Another, less politicized one was how actual addicts who are both clean and neither famous nor skid row tend to display both compassion and judgment for other addicts, the kind of compassion and judgment tempered with a wisdom that escapes the rest of us. Sometimes they’re called counselors, like Jere Burns’ character in “Breaking Bad.”

  8. Or that dude from The Wire. Member him? Who was trying to help Bubbles out?

  9. No, I’m a “The Wire” virgin. But I’ll taketh thy word for it.

  10. Since the discussion went there, I think that both the right and the left are just exploiting this to sell their particular narratives. The left’s “oh, such a tragedy!” narrative is really about “isn’t this sad? We have to restructure society to prevent the Bad Things that cause people to do this.” And the right’s “tut tut” narrative is “we need to enforce morality on society to prevent the Bad Things that cause people to do this.” And they’re both full of merde (pardon my French).

    Just as Amanda said, the only way that you can actually respect people as real human beings is to give them the dignity of their choices and not try to reduce them to some machine. The former addicts who have seen that spoon as the crucible of their choices understand that. Those of us who have lost people to drugs whom we loved too much to be just a statistic understand that. It’s only the lefties and righties who are so damn sure that they’ve put people in the proper box who really don’t.

  11. Jason – And the manner of his death — a heroin overdose — made the news that much worse.

    Erik – Watch him in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”. Foreshadowing.

    Also “Love Liza” and “Owning Mahowny” (different drug — gambling)

    Jason – Surely the teenage version of Hoffman would have recoiled in horror at the idea that he would one day be found dead with a needle still in his arm, but clearly something, or a whole series of somethings, precipitated his demise.

    Erik – He was a heroin addict in his early 20s.

    Jason – rather than persisting in mask-wearing and hypocrisy.

    Erik – That’s the default? What does this say about people who never drink?

  12. I posted this on the day he died:

    I just learned that Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead at 46. I am shocked. He is probably the actor who has had the greatest impact on my life. The roles I will always remember:

    His 5 roles in Paul Thomas Anderson’s films:

    Young Craps Player in “Hard Eight”
    Scotty J. in “Boogie Nights”
    Phil Parma in “Magnolia”
    Dean Trumbell in “Punch Drunk Love”
    Lancaster Dodd in “The Master”

    Brandt in “The Big Lebowski”

    Freddie Miles in “The Talented Mr. Ripley”

    Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous”

    Wilson Joel in “Love Liza” – Must See

    Dan Mahowny in “Owning Mahowny” – Must See

    Sandy Lyle in “Along Came Polly”

    Truman Capote in “Capote”

    Jon Savage in “The Savages”

    Andy in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”

    He is the best actor I have ever seen. Gone far too soon. RIP

  13. Some of the best films/shows dealing with addiction:

    “The Lost Weekend” – alcohol

    “Leaving Las Vegas” – alcohol

    “The Wire” (Bubbles, especially) – heroin

    “One Man’s Seduction” (cheesy TV movie with Dennis Weaver — on Netflix, or at least it was) – cocaine

    “Shame” – sex

    “Don Jon” – online pornography

    “Goodfellas” and “Boogie Nights” also show some of the consequences of cocaine addiction

    Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano” is supposed to be one of the best books written about alcohol addiction, but I haven’t read it.

  14. Erik, but what about Father Flynn in “Doubt”? And the question is, Was he guilty or not? Mrs. Z. and I have always been at odds on that answer…

  15. Erik,

    … [mask-wearing and hypocrisy] are the default? What does this say about people who never drink?

    Well, I was speaking in generalities (if you’ll read my post on mask-wearing you’ll get a better idea of where I’m coming from). My point is that it is quite common to seek to put forth a false version of ourselves for others to see, and that moderate drinking is one of the things that facilitates greater genuineness.

    And for the record, no, this doesn’t apply across the board in all cases.

  16. Jason – moderate drinking is one of the things that facilitates greater genuineness.

    Erik – I’m not a tea-totaller but you know there are tea-totallers who will fight you to hell and back on that one. I’ll let them fight their own battles though.

    The only caution I would give is that one of the signs of being drunk is that your behavior changes. If you stop at one this normally isn’t a problem.

  17. Zrim,

    “Doubt” was o.k. but not one of my favorites. He was good as always, though.

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