During our daughter's Super Bowl party Sunday night, I was chatting with her next-door neighbor about the dull football game and bad commercials when he suddenly changed the subject.
It was a real tragedy about Philip Seymour Hoffman, he said.
I looked at him quizzically. "What happened?" I asked.
"He died, apparently of an overdose," the neighbor said.
My jaw dropped. Then we spent the next half hour talking about the scourge of drugs on our society, celebrity victims and what a tremendous waste of a life this was. Philip Seymour Hoffman was just 46 and, in my opinion, was one of the finest character actors on the screen. I never saw his Academy Award-winning performance as Truman Capote, but I did see several clips of the film and I was amazed by how accurate Hoffman's portrayal was.
By Monday, more detailed accounts of his death emerged. Those details included a hypodermic needle hanging from Hoffman's arm when he was discovered by his producer and close friend. They included 70 bags of heroin, mostly unopened, and a bag of hypodermics. But suicide wasn't mentioned as a possibility.
I can only speculate, but with that much heroin, an addict like Hoffman may have been playing for keeps. I read that he had admitted sometime last year to falling off the wagon of sobriety after 23 years and needing to return to rehab. Sadly, when drugs bring such a tragic end to such a valuable and gifted person, one can only ask why on earth we seem to be losing the war on drugs.
Philip Seymour Hoffman could have been a poster child for rehabilitation and could have been an inspiration to a lot of young men and women if he had remained committed to his recovery. Instead, we will have only memories of an actor, apparently more lost than those close to him ever knew.
I thought one of the best tributes to him was written by Bruce Weber of the New York Times. "Philip Seymour Hoffman," Weber wrote, was "perhaps the most ambitious and widely admired American actor of his generation, who gave three-dimensional nuance to a wide range of sidekicks, villains and leading men on screen and embraced some of the theater's most burdensome roles on Broadway.
"Mr. Hoffman was long known to struggle with addiction. ... A stocky, often sleepy-looking man with blond, generally uncombed hair who favored the rumpled clothes more associated with an out-of-work actor than a star, Mr. Hoffman did not cut the traditional figure of a leading man, though he was more than capable of leading roles."
I particularly remember Hoffman in films like "Pirate Radio," in which he played the scruffy captain of a rogue British radio station that broadcast rock 'n' roll from a ship offshore to circumvent British airwave regulations. I hadn't laughed as hard in a movie in a long time.
He was brilliant in "Doubt," playing a suspected predatory priest under scrutiny by a nun played by Meryl Streep.
Acknowledging Hoffman's acting depth and talent, Weber noted that Hoffman appeared in more than 50 films in a 25-year career. In supporting roles, he was nominated three times for Academy Awards -- as the priest in "Doubt" (2008); as a CIA agent in "Charlie Wilson's War" (2007); and as a charismatic cult leader in "The Master" (2012).
He won the best-actor Oscar for "Capote" (2005). "As the eccentrically sociable, brilliantly probing and unflappably gay author of `In Cold Blood,' " Weber wrote, "Mr. Hoffman flawlessly affected the real-life Truman Capote's distinctly nasal, high-pitched voice and the naturally fey drama of his presence." Read Full Article
His death piqued my interest in Philip Seymour Hoffman the man, but the media offered little insight about his personal life. Friends shared stories of how he would walk his three children to school and mentioned a longtime relationship that had ended recently.
But there were no real vignettes about his personality or sense of humor, so I can only assume he was a private person.
Last year, the singer-actor Corey Monteith of the Fox-TV series "Glee" died alone of a drug overdose at age 31.
Philip Seymour Hoffman died alone, too, the victim of the drug demons that plagued him for so much of his life.
For me, his untimely death was such a loss and such a waste of a brilliant talent.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.