"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman, RIP

I confess to mixed thoughts about the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.   I have seen only a handful of his films -- Scent of a Woman, Twister, The Big Lebowski, Magnolia, Almost Famous, Mission Impossible III, and Moneyball.    He was memorable as a spoiled rich kid in Scent of a Woman and great in small but pivotal roles in Magnolia and Almost Famous.   His villain in MI III and his old-school manager in Moneyball were, to my eye, roles that could have been done by a lot of actors, but he brought a ton of charisma to them.   I never saw him in his Academy Award-winning role in Capote, and I never saw him in the more recent The Master, but I have heard that his performances were terrific.   I never saw him on the stage, although the fact that a few years ago he was picked to star in and apparently was wonderful in perhaps the King Lear of the American theater, Death of a Salesman, tells me a lot.   So while I'm not totally sold on the idea that he was the great American actor of his generation, I respect the voices -- like David Mamet -- who are saying that he was a great actor.

On the other hand, I generallly don't buy into and don't credit the "tortured artist" narrative that we're hearing.   There is nothing about being a great artist that requires you to destroy yourself or to damage the lives of people around you who care about you.   Lest we forget, Hoffman had three children ages 10, 7 and 5.   Without putting too mean a point on it, responsible adult men do not permit themselves self-indulgences that would leave their children orphaned.   Responsible adult men do not end up on the floor of their bathroom with a needle in their arm and 50 heroin packets scattered about.   And there are many, many great artists who don't end up that way.   He didn't suffer because of his art, he suffered because he was an addict, and in that he had less in common with great artists and more in common with junkies whose names you have never heard and whose lives were lived in anonymous and pathetic desperation.

That being said... a man who had gifts, a man who had success, a man who had friends, a man who had three children.   Addiction must be a horrible thing, a horrible torment for a man like that to let himself succumb to it.   He must have known that he was doing something evil, something that would leave his children bereft.   It must have embarrassed him, which may be why he apparently had no one at the end whom he could ask for help.   What power heroin must have had over him.   It isn't sad that a great artist, a great actor, has died.   It is simply sad that a human being fell off the edge of life and into the pit of despair, and gave up God's greatest gift, life, before his time.   May perpetual light shine upon him.  

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