Philip Seymour Hoffman may not have been the best actor of his generation, but it’s hard to think of anyone who was better.
The news that he had died, and even worse, of a stupid, senseless, drug overdose, came to me via a brief cell phone check during a snack stop on a hike along North Vancouver’s Lynn River. Nothing seemed quite so exhilarating after that, and we talked about Hoffman much of the way back.
In any movie I saw that he was in, I can’t think of a scene when the superbly-gifted Hoffman wasn’t, well, basically perfect. He was a master of the acting chops.
Yet Hoffman made it with no matinee looks, no lithe, lean frame, granite jaw or great abs. Rather, he was a shuffling bear of a man with unruly hair and an often quizzical expression, who just seemed to melt into his parts. He was always in character.
I was lucky enough to have seen Hoffman on stage in New York City. He and the equally great John C. Reilly shared the main roles of Sam Shepard’s tough, riveting, often hilarious play, True West. They played two very different brothers – one hard, one soft, but both scarred victims of their dysfunctional family. Each performance, they switched brothers. Watching these gifted young actors take over the intimate theatre in such meaty roles was mesmerizing. And unforgettable.
Now, we will never have Philip Seymour Hoffman to mesmerize us again. His loss is made even more tragic by the manner of his leaving. A needle sticking out of his arm. Heroin scattered about. A goddamned drug overdose.
Hoffman had been clean and sober for 23 good, long years, only to relapse last year for who knows what reason. The agony of the addict is a daily struggle, the sweet seduction of heroin so difficult to resist. One is left to speculate whether, with more progressive drug policies, Hoffman’s deadly overdose might never have occurred.
So we are left to mourn the passing of a brilliant artist. To weep, but also to rage against the dying of the light of Philip Seymour Hoffman, lost to drugs and medieval attitudes to harm reduction. What a bloody shame. What a bloody waste.