Philip Seymour Hoffman died. I’m very bummed out. He was a brilliant actor, one of the best of his generation. There aren’t many guys who I can say, without hesitation, can do anything. Ed Norton, Johnny Depp, Kevin Spacey, Gary Oldman, probably one or two others. But fuck, man, Hoffman was fantastic. Everything he did was gold. His Lester Bangs was spot-on in Almost Famous. Obviously his Capote was outstanding. He was a perfect lackey in The Big Lebowski. And if you haven’t seen Synecdoche, New York, you’re missing out on probably the greatest movie Charlie Kaufman’s ever made. So, yeah, the dude was good. And now he’s dead. And now I’m sad.
I’m always more upset by the ones that come out of nowhere. I suppose that’s normal. But isn’t it interesting the way that we mourn for strangers? Especially artists. We don’t know them. But their work has burrowed into our brains, and I think we mourn the loss of more art, rather than the artist themselves. I mean, he had friends and family who will mourn him like a person, and on an intellectual, sympathetic level I’m so, so sorry for their loss. It’s different for us, outside of the inner circle. This fandom mourning we do is so psychologically strange. I’ve never really been able to satisfactorily wrap my brain around that type of sadness, but it’s there nonetheless.
We deal with it in different ways. My sister, for example, has the kind of dark sense of humor that can come across as horribly offensive if you don’t understand where it’s coming from. One of her favorite movies is Twister (don’t judge, she’s from Oklahoma, they all love that movie), and Hoffman’s character in Twister was named Dusty. So she Facebook messages me: “Now he’s just Dusty in the wind…too soon?” At least she knew enough to not post it on my wall (thanks for that, by the way). Which bad joke reminded me of the time that I ruined a stranger’s funeral. I used to deliver flowers. Officially the Worst Job Ever (tip your flower delivery person heavily, friends, they deserve it). I had a truckload of wreaths for a funeral, but the funeral before it was running long. While I waited there was much wailing going on, and I didn’t want to listen to it, so I turned the radio up fairly loud and stood there smoking a cigarette. Finally the family exited the funeral home, but they came out the wrong door and had to walk right past me. The song I was blasting on the radio was “Dust in the Wind.” Of course it was. Now, I personally would have laughed had this happened as I was leaving a funeral, and I would have considered it some kind of cosmic synchronicity. But I got the running-mascara hate stare from Mrs. Wailing Widow and her entourage, and by the time I got done unloading the flowers, I was weeping myself.
Why did I tell that story? Oh, yeah, strangers dying.
The other factor in how strangers’ deaths affect us is the manner in which they die. Hoffman died of a heroin overdose, after twenty-four years of being clean and sober. (At the time of this writing, the New York City police are investigating whether it was actually an overdose, or if there was foul play involved, but I’m not going to speculate on that without further information. We’ll see how it turns out, I guess. That’s kind of beside the point at the moment.) I would never have pegged him for a junkie. Not in a million years would I have called that. I don’t know why, really, but there it is. It’s tremendously sad that he fell off the wagon after such a long period of sobriety, and after having such an accomplished career. I know acting is a stressful job, but damn, couldn’t there have been another way to cope? Coincidentally, I heard about his dying on the anniversary of a close friend’s overdose. So I was already all fucked up that day. The news just added insult to injury or whatever. Another one bites the dust.
I’ve known many an addict. When they’re at their worst, they are indeed pitiful creatures. I’m from a pocket of the world where meth and pills are the coin of the realm, and everyone swims giddily in oceans of cheap beer. It’s economically depressed and culturally bereft and there is nothing to do but fuck, fight, shoot things, and drive around aimlessly. In this petrie dish, sadly, addiction becomes so routine as to not really be considered a problem until you wreck a vehicle or lose custody of your kids or something. Jail is preferable to rehab because jail is free and rehab is for pussies, apparently. Also, anyone can get drugs in county. It’s a fucked up place to be from. Makes it difficult to learn to empathize, I suppose. (I’m overgeneralizing, obviously. There are good, normal people there, too. But the ratio of losers is somewhat more skewed than other places I’ve lived. Way, way more.)
I’m not blaming addicts for their problems or for their disease. I want to make that perfectly clear. But let me say this, especially if you’re living in a place with a similar cultural attitude toward drugs: getting help does not make you weak. It doesn’t make you less of a person. It doesn’t permanently label you as fucked up or irredeemable. You know what does? Choosing instead to live with an addiction. It’s the easier path, in some ways, than going through recovery and rebuilding your life on the other side. But living with it lessens your options, pretty drastically, in every possible way. Money, relationships, friendships, health, normal human decision-making. The blunt truth is, being high is great in small doses, if you’re into that kind of thing. But needing to be high all the time just to get through the day is a very different animal. It can make you dead. Very, very dead. And when you overdose or drink yourself into liver failure or wrap your car around a tree, that’s when we’ll judge you and your addiction. Because you could have been helped and all you had to do was ask. Furthermore, white knuckling it and suffering through withdrawal by yourself is completely unnecessary, and often ineffective. Get. Help. Call an anonymous hotline. Ask a friend to hold your hand while you sweat it out. Get your preacher or your doctor on your side. It’s in their job description. Show up at a hospital or a rehab facility and worry about the money later. Fuck, send me an email, I don’t care. Seriously. Just ask for help, and someone will help you. I promise.
Anyway. There’s no good way to wrap up this post. I’d like to drink a toast to the man and his body of work, but that feels a little inappropriate, somehow, given that I drink too much already. I am truly sad that he’s gone, though. Rest in peace, sir.