Monday, February 03, 2014

When the Good Die Young

"There will be another film, there will be another relationship, or I'll die and then I'll be dead. But if I'm alive, I know life is going to keep throwing things at me."

Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967–2014)

In every generation, I suppose, there is at least one prominent person who dies tragically — and far too young. As Philip Seymour Hoffman told The Guardian a few years ago, life keeps throwing things at you.

Life threw something at us yesterday, something with which we should be all too familiar — yet it always comes as a shock. See, what Hoffman didn't say was that it's frequently the same thing over and over, just in a different form.

Yesterday, Hoffman became this generation's John Belushi or Lenny Bruce, a brilliantly talented entertainer dead from abuse of a substance. What was new was the quantity of drugs that apparently was found in Hoffman's New York apartment. I've been hearing that 50 bags of what was believed to have been heroin were found in his apartment, an astonishing number. Hoffman is said to have been found with a syringe in his arm.

If you'll permit a little speculation here, that could be what it appears to be, a sudden death brought on after (and, perhaps, by) his own injection. Hoffman was known to have struggled with addiction during his life. Or it could have been a staged scene. If someone wanted to kill him and make him look like an overdose victim, leaving a syringe in his arm could give that appearance.

I don't know. The mind wants not to believe it could be what it looks like and seeks alternative answers.

Hoffman's autopsy, which reportedly is taking place as I write, may answer many questions — and it may raise new ones. That remains to be seen. One thing I can say for certain is this: The facts of the case that are known are sad enough without those whom I have seen using this as an opportunity to argue about whether marijuana, of all things, should be legal.

Illegal drugs are not interchangeable. Hoffman's death is a tragedy, but the drug that apparently snuffed out his life is not legal anywhere in the United States. Those who have seized this event as an opportunity to argue against legalizing marijuana truly are guilty of equating apples to oranges.

Marijuana is legal today in the states of Washington and Colorado; no one has died from it there or in any of the other 48 states. Heroin is a much more potent substance. The two should not be treated as if they are the same thing, and I acknowledge that most rational people do not, but a handful have. That must stop. End of rant.

Putting all of that aside ...

I am saddened by Hoffman's premature death. He was a phenomenally talented actor, and I have thought a lot about the roles in which he entertained me over the years. He was always top notch in everything I saw him in. The movies themselves were not always top notch — but his performances were.

I guess the first time I saw him was when he appeared in "Scent of a Woman." Around that same time, I was impressed with his work in "Leap of Faith." The next time I remember seeing him was in "Twister," then, in rapid succession, "Boogie Nights" and "The Big Lebowski."

He won an Oscar for his performance in 2005's "Capote," and it was truly an amazing performance. He was nominated for Oscars three more times, but he never won another one.

I guess the thing I appreciated the most about him was that you never really knew what kind of role he was going to play. He defied pigeonholing. He was Everyman, believable in every part he played. He could do it all. And, even in the relatively short time he was here, Hoffman seems to have done it all.

The word prolific should have his picture next to its definition in the dictionary.

And that is the greatest tragedy — that the world will be deprived of the great performances he was sure to deliver in the next two or three decades.

Other questions about Hoffman's death can wait for another day to be addressed — and they, no doubt, will be. For now, it is enough to realize that this loss of Everyman is everyone's.