PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN – LIFE, ART, LEGACY
Years ago, I watched a movie called Love Liza in which Philip Seymour Hoffman played a grief-stricken widower who starts huffing gasoline fumes. Hoffman’s desperation, his despair was so vivid I actually felt ill, as if I were also breathing in those toxic fumes. I didn’t know at that time about his history of addiction, and I’m not sure it even matters. He was quite simply a brilliant actor. His portrayal of Truman Capote, who I once dined with when I was 19, was so perfectly crafted it was as if he had reached into the Great Beyond, pulled Capote into his body, and let him stay there for the duration of the film.
I wish I could say that the cruel comments on line (especially Twitter) following the news of Hoffman’s death were shocking. Sadly, they weren’t; these are the times we live in. But I don’t think we should let them slip past us as if they don’t matter. So I have something to say to the hateful, disrespectful people who posted idiotic comments about a man who valiantly battled his demons and in the end lost the battle. I have something to say to LeVar Burton who chose that moment to make a crass “joke” about the fact that Mr. Hoffman was not fully dressed when his body was found. (To be fair, Burton did ultimately apologize.)
All of you have, collectively and individually, revealed how incredibly ignorant you are about addiction and have shown how ugly imperious arrogance is. Is your superiority based on the fact that you don’t think you have any addictions? Or that if you did, you wouldn’t fall prey to them? I would suggest that you do have an addiction — to slash-and-burn cruelty played out in the cowardly environment of Twitter, where you never have to look anyone in the eye. Would LeVar Burton have made his tasteless comment if he was standing in front of Mr. Hoffman’s children? Or his girlfriend of many years? I doubt it.
The demons that drive a human being into drug addiction never go away. They can be pushed back, made quieter, but they’re just lying dormant, waiting for a moment to howl and haunt and conquer once again. You want to see what courage looks like? Look into the eyes of someone who has battled those demons and has managed to drive them back — in Mr. Hoffman’s case, for 23 years — knowing that if weakness creeps in they will rise up like fire-breathing dragons. Being an addict means you are always living with dragons and praying that you can be stronger than them. They don’t care if you’re rich, or successful, or amazingly talented. They don’t care if you have children, or loving friends, or everything to live for. They just care if you have a moment of weakness.
So for all the people spewing their hatred in 140 characters or less, look hard into your own eyes. I don’t think you’ll see courage there. The demons living in you are sneakier, more reptilian. They lie still until you sit at the keyboard, and then they turn venomous. The legacy of Philip Seymour Hoffman will be one of stunning talent and a brave battle that he lost at a heartbreakingly young age. Those who responded to his death with venom will be known only for that.