As you may have heard, if you’re linked to any social networks or know anyone in the arts biz, Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away today. Apparently he was found in his apartment with a hypodermic needle still stuck in his arm. Heroin overdose.
There are many, many sad things about this, not the least of which is that Phil was a treasure in our industry– unique, compelling to watch, shockingly versatile, a consummate pro on stage, film, and in the director’s chair, brave and bold, and a generous spirit. Although I never saw him onstage (you can never get free tickets to the really good shows!), I saw a couple of shows he directed with LAByrinth, a company he led and worked with for many years in NYC. My voice teacher in college was his coach, and I’ve worked with many actors who had the privilege of working with Phil. He was talented, and that is a loss, but he was also a cornerstone of the arts community in New York, and he leaves a hole.
What really made this tragedy hit deeply was the cause of it. Since he was young, Phil struggled with drug addiction. He was open about that struggle, and in 2013 even returned to rehab.
I am loath to compare disease to disease, but I’ve written about patterns of addiction before, and it’s not unfair to say that all addictions and compulsions share some basic components. In the eating disorder community, we know people who have struggled for their entire lives to fight this battle. Phil got sober in his twenties, but he was lost today at age 46 because these diseases are vicious and cruel. Fighting for health is lifelong, particularly so for those of us who struggle with addiction. I have incredible compassion for Phil’s family, his close friends, and everyone who he touched in his too-short life.
I don’t have too much more to say– I’m too sad. But I wanted to share something a friend of mine wrote on Facebook that, to me, is the most thoughtful and compassionate response I’ve read yet.
The death of PSH is particularly upsetting to me, somehow. Amidst many celebrity deaths/ overdoses in the past few years– Cory Monteith, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Brittany Murphy, Heath Ledger…somehow Philip has hit home for me. Maybe it’s because he was a member of the theater community, and thusly, in a sense less abstract. Or maybe it’s because as I get older, I understand the pain of failure, of loneliness, of defeat in a more complex way. I think of his final moments, he probably wasn’t thinking about his fame, his career, his powerful talent or any of the things most people (including myself) envy him for. He was likely thinking about how he’d messed up again. How his illness had taken hold once more– leaving him alone, isolated, and feeling like he didn’t deserve to be well. He was probably self punishing, as so many of us do every day. Whenever I break a diet, or procrastinate a project, or fail to live up to some expectation, I feel a small version of this. I can empathize and imagine this man’s pain and I don’t wish that on anyone. To those of you who are saying “that’s why drugs are illegal” or “that’s what you get for doing heroin” or one particular facebook “Friend”–who is now unfriended–who said “whatever, he was rich enough to buy whatever treatment he needed”, I sincerely hope that if you ever find your own life touched by addiction, which is a horrible, stigmatized, brutal, tragic and often incurable disease, you are able to show yourself more humanity than you seem to be reserving for Philip today. Yes, he was a celebrity, so it feels fine to discuss him as if we have a right to comment (guilty!). But he was also a father, a partner, a collaborator, a friend, a person. And his family and friends lost him to a disease, which he battled for years, courageously and publicly. I wish them strength through this time, and I wish that all those who struggle with addictions (myself included) find a way out, free of judgement.