February 3, 2014

Here’s to You, Mr. Hoffman: The Untimely & Tragic Death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

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It took me seven hours after I heard of his death to get back to my computer.

I longed for it, to sift through his work, like scrolling through old photos in an album, to remember.

But here I sit, having eaten a plate of bad french fries, staring at the screen, empty of all that has gathered in me throughout the afternoon.

I first heard through an email from my dear uncle I received during lunch.

He said:

I gasped at the news of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Dead of an apparent drug overdose at 48. We, his fans. Lovers of his art, grieve and remember. A real shock.

I was eating a fried egg and grated carrots (because we need to go to the grocery). I thought, “No, he must have made a mistake.”

It didn’t take long for me to discover that my uncle had made a mistake. Hoffman was 46, not 48.

I immediately went into the bedroom where my daughter was watching Lalaloopsy way too loud. I wedged up next to her and wrapped my arms around her, kissed her on her warm, little head.

“Mom!” She said, “I’m not Opal today. I’m a dog and my name is Buffington.”

Hoffman had three young children—ages 10, seven, and five— who he left behind along with his partner of fifteen years, Mimi O’Donnell.

Those kids. And a mom left as a widow.

I put Opal in front of another show and paced the house, feeling a bit shattered by a man I have never met.

How is it that we, as human beings, are able to form relationships with people we have never personally known, simply by bearing witness to their life’s work, to their art? In all honesty—and I know I am interpreting my projections, and I’m ok with that— I always felt he would be someone who I would not have struggled to be genuine with.

A fellow recovering addict—he with drugs and alcohol, me with food—I always felt a kinship with this man.

Since the days of Happiness. Since Boogie Nights.

(That’s fifteen years. I can count on one hand the things I have committed to for fifteen consecutive years.)

He played Willie in last year’s production of Death of a Salesman, and my dear uncle (the one who sent the email) flew me out to New York to see him, knowing of my love for this man. Being in row six, center, able to see the spit that flew from his mouth as it illuminated by the backlights, was as close as I was ever destined to get to him.

And that was fine by me. Because it wasn’t a schoolgirl 8-by-10-glossy-on-the-locker-room-door sort of love that I had for him. It was more of an understanding. And a deep appreciation for how he left his heart on the stage and screen, often in smithereens. He was imperfect that night in Death of a Salesman—alongside the shining tour de force of Andrew Garfield—but that brought his humanness even more close to the touch.

Opal and I went to a Super Bowl party this afternoon, just as the silt had begun to settle in my thoughts. Fuck the Super Bowl, I wanted to talk about Hoffman, talk about his movies. What was now to be his legacy. I couldn’t fathom the idea of just brushing him aside for these events that seemed so immune to death and disaster.

It was a party full of mostly new, lovely, people and though I felt that sad sort of softness that allows for easy connection, I was thinking about him every minute. And his roles that struck me so deeply.

Folks in orange and blue were howling all around me at the one-and-two-and-three strikes against our team, the Broncos, and all I could think of was, Charlie Wilson’s War. Of course I would include that.

And Capote, good lord, Capote.

So, as I said before, I am back to my computer, now. Eyes bloodshot and dry-puffy from having two beers and very little sleep last night.  And I’ve run out of words.

So now, it’s time to have a look.

He’s been on the screen over forty times since his debut on an episode of Law and Order in 1991.

Here are just a few of Hoffman’s performances that have been burned into the soft flesh of my brain.

1997:Boogie Nights.

This movie, one of my all time favorites, was my introduction to Phillip Seymour Hoffman.


1998: Happiness.

I will never forget watching this film in the Drexel Theater in Bexley, Ohio, where they get all the artsy, independent films. This scene where he masterbates onto the wall is cemented in my memory, though I couldn’t tell you what I had for lunch yesterday.



2005, Capote.

I was haunted by this film for months. Hoffman was so convincing that I kept mistaking it for a documentary.



2007: Charlie Wilson’s War.

So good, what else is there to say?


2007: The Savages.

I could be completely off the mark, but I just always felt this character was pretty close to who he was in real life. But I fully recognize that I am totally guessing based on my own interpretations.


2008: Doubt.

Again, so good.


2009: Mary and Max.

I came upon this movie totally by accident. I adore it.

I watched it and forced my husband to watch it with me again less than 24 hours later. It is a stunning marvel.


2012: The Master.

The film left me breathless and half-believing whatever Hoffman had to say as a cult leader.


2012: An interview with Phillip Seymour Hoffman.


On playing Willie Loman in the Broadway production of Death of a Salesman, Hoffman said:

When you’re playing somebody, you have to find a way to get inside him and feel a lot of empathy for him. Many people make wrong decisions or look at life in a way that brings them down. It’s a very human thing that he goes through with who he is.

Here’s to you, Mr. Hoffman.

For being a man who wore his imperfections on his sleeve, and yet so fully and beautifully found a way to show up for the part. Again and again.

You left us much to remember you by, but you will still be greatly missed.

Relephant reads:

Is Your Fifteen Minutes of Fame Worth It?

Drugs & Conformity: A Generation at Risk. ~ Aaron Walker

Finding Rebirth in the Wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death. ~ Melissa Ramos


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Editor: Bryonie Wise


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