Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Death of a Wasted Artist


James E. Copple

The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, the apparent result of a drug overdose after 20 years’ sobriety, is one more soul crossing a line from self-indulgence to “what a waste.”

His peers considered the Oscar-winner among the brightest talents of a generation. When Hoffman relapsed last year, he course-corrected, entering treatment to get his life and career back on track. Heroin, as Hoffman discovered, is a cruel mistress whose persistence often leads to self-destruction and, ultimately, death.

Hoffman abandoned three young children to court mistress-heroin. And now, they have lost him forever.

Fans will grieve, if only for a short time. But people have short memories; they move on to the next rising star.  There will be no more films but for the few already “in the can” awaiting release. After that, no more Philip Seymour Hoffman. The demons that led to drug-dependence found their target and prevailed.

Perhaps, there is a warning for the rest of us in Hoffman’s demise. Drug use and drug-related death have become too familiar; “normal.” We tolerate the imagery of Colorado and Washington selling weed. We accept, joke even, about people puffing away on joints and chowing down on marijuana-laced brownies. So much fun to escape reality with mind-altering carcinogens – I mean, what’s all the fuss? From the entertainment field alone, over the past two years we have lost Amy Winehouse, Cory Monteith and now Hoffman. No big deal?

Controlled-substances only change things for a brief time. It’s all the same – marijuana, heroin – a drug-infused escape that takes us from what is real to pain-avoidance.

Oh, the journey can be fun. Decreased inhibitions, and we can be “the life of the party.”  Don’t worry, most people don’t die, right? At least not at first and not if we’ve got it “under control.” But control is a fallacy in addiction. Hoffman’s heroin dependency was so acute he injected the “shit” when he was alone. Wow. What a party.

We laugh about Lindsey Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber. We shake our heads, dismiss them as relatively harmless antics of a few spoiled, rich kids who are only hurting themselves.

WRONG. These celebrities set the tone of a culture that bombards us with flashy, fickle, superficial images and messages, from Super Bowl entertainment to Access Hollywood and the Grammys: “Hey kids, it’s okay to be stupid – see how much fun it is!” Seldom celebrated are drug-free artists who find their “highs” in service to others – like the artists in recovery – Johnny Depp, Drew Barrymore and Robert Downey Jr.

I’m angry about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

He was an artist, a talent who transcended run-of-the-mill and Hollywood flash-in-the-pan. A promising storyteller, he brought escape to the multiplex for two hours on a Saturday night. In a too-brief career, Hoffman’s 50 movies took us into a character’s world. He let us think things we might never have thought. He let us feel things we might never have felt. Now, he is dead.

Philip Seymour Hoffman made choices that led to his addiction, and he made choices because of his addiction. His was a dependency that isn’t glamorous or romantic. It’s an enormous waste.

Lindsey, Miley, Justin: Wake up! Or follow the same tragic, empty trajectory. Wake up, or send the message to your fans:  Since I don’t care what happens to me, I don’t care what happens to you. Eat, drink and DIE. What a waste! Is that the world we have inherited?

We are better than this.

And Philip Seymour Hoffman, you were better than your inheritance – death by overdose.

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