Farewell, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Like 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.