In Memoriam: Philip Seymour Hoffman -

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In Memoriam: Philip Seymour Hoffman

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we're uncool."

By Rob Vaux     February 04, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman
© Trate
The sudden passing of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman this past Sunday carries echoes of another talented actor's untimely demise: Heath Ledger, who died in a similar manner just eleven days earlier in the calendar year and whose passing was treated with the same mixture of shock and disbelief. Both men ranked among the most versatile and talented performers of their generation. Both died well before their time. And both left behind a legacy made all the more heartbreaking for that fact that it was incomplete.
I don't want to get into the circumstances of Hoffman's death. He clearly had his demons and by all accounts gave them pitched battle for many years before finally succumbing to them. His work, however, was a thing to behold, all the more impressive because of its subtlety. Though he often appeared in the lead, he seemed just as happy with meaty supporting roles, spinning stew out of an oyster so many times that we came to expect it as a matter of course.
For instance, look at one of his very first roles in Martin Brest's Scent of a Woman, playing the kind of obsequious weasel he became very well known for. His character was basically a plot device: a fair-weather friend who turns on Chris O'Donnell's hapless fellow student basically to let Al Pacino call it all beforehand. But Hoffman, at the tender age of 24, took a thankless part and all but stole the show with it. The flashy confidence giving way to mushy evasions… the self-loathing at being forced to name names at the climactic school hearing… we *knew* this guy, and with him, Brest's middlebrow piece of Oscar bait became something much more interesting than it might have been.
Hoffman found his way to similar twerps as his star rose throughout the 1990s. The most prominent was his grating yes-man in The Big Lebowski, another case of taking a throwaway role and turning it into something special. But along with those parts, he resolutely set about demonstrating the wide array of characters he could play. He found kindness and sympathy as the male nurse in Magnolia; pathos and loneliness as the closeted hanger-on in Boogie Nights; sinister sleaze as the phone-sex pimp in Punch-Drunk Love; cynical assuredness as rock critic Lester Bangs in Almost Famous. Every role seemed to build on the last, telling us what he could do, how far he could go and just how wide his range could get.
He was never showy or grandiose with any of them. He often shied away from big-budget blockbusters in favor of smaller indie productions, and indeed seemed to treat fame as an unasked for and not entirely welcome side effect of acting. His appearance in last year's Hunger Games sequel was something of an anomaly, thought it also demonstrated his extraordinary range. We didn't know what to make of his character, and the plot ultimately suggested that he could have kept pace with any direction the writers chose to take him.
And as always, it came wrapped in nuance and subtlety. You didn't have to pay attention when Hoffman was doing his thing, but you were missing out on a depth and richness rarely seen in movies today. Character was everything to him, one of the reasons he stuck to smaller productions instead of looking for a big payday. We came to expect strong performances as a matter of course, and he almost never let us down. Even in the worst productions on his resume, he gave us something worth noticing. And like everyone that good at what he did, he made it look so effortless.
Somehow, that fresh-faced up and comer who laughed too loudly at The Dude's jokes became an established part of the landscape, and for sixteen years made us excited to go to the movies. His richly deserved Oscar for 2005's Capote came as a matter of course, and we somehow knew that it wouldn't be the last piece of hardware on his shelf. As it turns out, it was. Just like that, he was gone, reminding us of how great he was and mourning all the unmade films that will never be improved by his merest presence. There are a few curtain calls to enjoy -- The Hunger Games sequels apparently won't have to be recast -- but we never really appreciated what we had in him because we assumed it would be there for a long, long time to come.
That's the power of subtlety, something this one-of-a-kind actor always understood, and which remains an indelible part of a legacy that ended too soon. You were the very best Philip; so long, and thanks for everything.


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Roqueja 2/4/2014 10:37:34 AM

Well put sir.  RIP to a tortured soul and master at his craft.

VermithraxPejorative 2/4/2014 12:53:45 PM

PSH may have been a great actor, with loads of Talent, but he already had gone through the trials and tribulations of drug abuse and was sober for over 20 years, and decided, for whatever reason, to get back into Heroin, knowing fully well the seduction of that horrible drug. I can't sympathize with someone who knows better and still falls into that trap. He had enough Heroin in his apartment to feed 15 junkies!

I can't feel sorry for him based on what I said above. I DO feel sorry for his family and friends because his jealous act took him away from those who cared and loved him. They are the ones who need our sympathy, not PSH.

His demons are gone, but so is he. Not the best way to be rid of those demons!



VTGamehendge 2/4/2014 4:14:13 PM

As a recovering addict myself, I do have some sympathy, but it only goes so far.  He got sober and then CHOSE to use again knowing full well what would be the most likely outcome:  Relapse.  And I heard he had just recently completed another rehab stint, but if it was one of those 30 day programs then I'm not surprised it didn't help.  Those programs, for the most part, are a joke.  It needs to be several months to a year of completely changing your habits and your lifestyle.  I was fortunate enough that my addiction wasn't so severe that I really needed to go to a program (thought it may have helped), but I know people who have.  I have one friend who did a 30 day program and then a stint in a halfway house afterward, and he was back using within the first month at the halfway house and got himself kicked out.  My best friend did a nine month program called New Life for Youth (they take older people too) and he's been clean and sober for about five years now and is the director of youth services at his local church.  The place he went to boasts an 85% success rate, which is astounding.  The national average of people who relapse is around that same number.

Anyway, I can only have so much sympathy for Hoffman because he chose to jump off that wagon after more than 20 years.  I feel sorry for his tortured soul.  But feel sorry for his loved ones he left behind and even yourselves for being deprived of his amazing talent and work from now on.  But don't feel too sorry for him.  He knew what he was doing.  It sounds harsh, but it's real life.  No one cries for the dead homeless junkie under the bridge, so why cry for the rich and famous actor who could've done anything he wanted.  I think Hollywood glorifies drugs and addiction way too much.  The real thing is far uglier.

almostunbiased 2/4/2014 10:37:01 PM

This just really upsets me.  Very talented, loved his work, why the hell did he have to chose drugs.  My thoughts go out to his Mother.

Dazzler 2/5/2014 4:17:02 AM

His Mission impossible bad guy role was also rememberable.  RIP.  But don't do drugs...there're bad mmmk?

Wiseguy 2/5/2014 6:40:53 AM

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and The Master are two of his better performances and perhaps because he drew on his own life experiences

Bad choices often lead to bad outcomes but they were all his own doing

jppintar326 2/5/2014 8:21:34 AM

I loved his role in Twister.  Again taking a nothing role and making the character funny and funny to be around.  I like when he tried to give Jonas a sloppy kiss.  I also liked the underrated Owning Mahoney about a compulsive gamble trying to do anything to get that next bet.

VTGamehendge 2/5/2014 2:21:26 PM

Loved Twister all around, especially his character.

VTGamehendge 2/5/2014 2:29:24 PM

I saw Wolf of Wall Street last night.  I don't want to sound like a boy scout (Lord knows I'm not), but that movie certainly seemed to glorify drug use and addiction.  Granted, the last 45 minutes or so did an about-face with that, but in a three hour movie it certainly made cocaine and quaaludes seem to be really awesome.  That probably wasn't the intention and I know it was based on a true story, but Jesus Christ, those first two hours made me wanna go get twisted.  It was like Blow meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  And Fear and Loathing happens to be my favorite movie of all time.  Go figure...

axia777 2/5/2014 3:46:57 PM

I had a good friend of mine die like this.  He was a heroin adict for a long time, then got clean for a long time.  He met up with the wrong person from his past and did the junk one more time.  Then he was dead.

RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was a true talent.

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