The news alerts started flying at 2 p.m. that Sunday, then the e-mails. “Did you hear? Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead.”
People everywhere were shocked. His odd career — character actor (“Moneyball”), comic foil (“The Big Lebowski”), powerful lead (“Capote”) — meant moviegoers across the spectrum knew his work.
One word was repeated: “Sad.” Sad, they said, that such an actor, a man we knew, had died so young, just 46. Even when details emerged — found in his underwear, a needle in his arm; relapsed druggy hooked on heroin again — the mantra was still: “What a shame.” Some said “tragic.”
But Hoffman’s death was nothing of the kind, not sad, certainly not tragic. It was just the death of a selfish man who decided that mainlining heroin for the zubby buzz was more important than his three young children, ages 10, 7 and 5; more important than his work as a superb actor; and in the end, even more important than his life. He didn’t care; he just wanted to get high.
He was just a man who got sad, took drugs, and died. Reports say he split with his longtime girlfriend — at least in part because he had started using heroin again — and instead of cleaning up, for her, for his children, he went the other way, down into the darkness. He didn’t care if he lived or died, so he died.
Actor Russell Brand, himself a recovering addict, noted that Hoffman was alone when he died, “like a lot of drug addicts, probably most, who ‘go over.’
“In spite of his life seeming superficially great, in spite of all the praise and accolades, in spite of all the loving friends and family, there is a predominant voice in the mind of an addict that supersedes all reason, and that voice wants you dead,” Mr. Brand wrote.
Hoffman, Mr. Brand said, had “an unfulfillable void,” so he used drugs. But in the end, he didn’t blame his fellow actor: “Addiction is a mental illness around which there is a great deal of confusion, which is hugely exacerbated by the laws that criminalize drug addicts.”
So, not his fault.
But there was another view out there, laid out by Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist who was having none of the “woe is me” mentality and readily admitted, “I’m a little tired of it.”
“Mr. Hoffman loved heroin more than he loved any human being and more than he loved himself. No genetic anomaly can make a person text a dealer, withdraw a stack of bills from an ATM, pick up a supply of 70 bags of heroin, tie a tourniquet around his arm and inject the stuff into his vein,” he wrote on the Fox News website.
And: “Only one person is, ultimately, responsible for his death: Philip Seymour Hoffman, himself.”
The doctor, who has treated actors, wasn’t buying the drug-addiction-as-disease line. “No quirk of neurochemistry can make you rate getting high as more important than getting your kids through life. Only a disorder of character can do that,” he wrote.
Character. And the doc is right. Man can rise above any adversity — any. Somewhere, right now, an addict is staying clean — maybe for himself, but just as conceivably, for his children. In fact, men and woman around the world — right now — are beating back their personal demons and winning. The power of resolve is absolute, knows no boundaries.
Unlike Mr. Brand, who focused on the addict, Dr. Ablow could only see the children.
“When children of addicts lose a parent to overdose, they can also lose any certainty that their mom or dad loved them more than anything in this world. Most little humans, in that predicament, deny that fact. They search for other reasons for their loss and wonder whether they themselves were inadequate.
“They often wonder,” the doctor said, “whether anything in life can be trusted, whether they can ever be safe from catastrophe. And that makes them vulnerable to depression and drug addiction and personality disorders, just like their dad was. Round and round and round. That’s the real way psychiatric suffering is passed through generations.”
That’s the real legacy Philip Seymour Hoffman left. And that’s what’s really sad.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times and is now editor of the Drudge Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.