Minnesota's co-op op-ed page
You know, I had my topic all picked out for this week. It was something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, something that has come up often in my life of late and in my relationships. I woke up this morning, all ready to dive into it. Then Philip Seymour Hoffman had to die in a good ole pedestrian celebrity drug overdose, with a needle sticking out of his arm and heroin on the premises. So here we go.
I know people die. Everyone does. I will, maybe soon. I smoke. But when it’s a celebrity, it hits a little hard. They can go like James Dean, who crashed his Porsche into an oncoming Ford, or Elvis, on the toilet, or James Gandolfini, who had a heart attack in a hotel room. But when they pump themselves full of lethal cocktails, like River Phoenix in front of the Viper Room and Heath Ledger in an apartment in New York and that cute kid from Glee in Vancouver, it really irritates me.
I mean, how hard can it be, your reality? You’re rich and famous. You are doing what you love for a living. The world is watching you in adoration, and you are showered with acclaim and press and money. So instead of getting high off this unrealistic twist of fate, you decide to dope yourself up to escape. Maybe people like this should switch with me. They can shovel my driveway out after the snow plow goes by, and I will live off my art. I broke my shovel today digging through those snow rocks. It was miserable. I came back bathed in sweat with barely enough time to get ready for work, a place that does not pay me to write anything. You’d think that I’d have more reason to take a bunch of drugs. If any famous person wants to just make it all go away, I’ll gladly let them wait tables , try to sneak in some creative efforts when they’re not exhausted, and buy all the smack they want with their tips. And I will PAY someone to shovel out my driveway while I go off to accept my academy award. Sound good? Any takers?
So Philip Seymour Hoffman died. I liked him, you know. I thought he was a damned good actor. I didn’t like all of the films that he made, for example Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, a film that annoyed me so much I actually wadded up my napkins at one point in the theater and threw them at the screen. But he did all sorts of edgy, independent, experimental stuff, which I admired. And I was elated when he won the oscar for Capote, a film I was absolutely shocked to enjoy, considering my great love of the book. And Mr. Hoffman, in my opinion, nailed Truman Capote.
He wasn’t an attractive man. He was a great big unapologetic extremely talented ginger. And he was an absolute work horse. Looking back on his film career, he made over 50 films, three or four a year since the early ’90’s. That is very impressive, and that’s just the movies. He also did a great deal of theater. He was unafraid to play characters that I disliked intensely. I don’t mean he was the bad guy. He was often the protagonist. But he huffed gasoline at the pump. He was a drunk. He had asperger’s. He was a lecherous priest, a gambling addict, a phone sex enthusiast. He played real people heartbreakingly well. And everyone noticed. He was sought after. He was adored by every one of my film loving friends. he won a freaking oscar. And now he is dead. He was 46 years old. His career had taken off and stretched before him with nothing but promise. He had children, for chrissakes.
A friend of mine blames the heroin. He says that it gets everyone in the end. I’ll have to defer to his judgement here. He has tried it. I have not. Maybe it’s a lot of fun, but people die from it, so I choose to avoid it. And I suppose I sound terribly callous, here, but the fact is that this is a complete tragic waste of someone I admired very much. He was young, brilliant, insanely talented and driven. He had a massive resume, chameleon-like abilities, and limitless opportunities to continue doing gratifying and challenging work for decades to come. But now he’s gone. It’s over. He will offer us nothing else. We can no longer appreciate him, because his work is done.
It shouldn’t be. That’s all I’m saying.