I was driving in my car when three text messages came in. All of them were telling me about Philip Seymour Hoffman dying. I responded to the first one, “He got out of rehab a few months ago, so it was probably a relapse.”
When my phone rang a second later, another movie critic in town was calling me. I said, “Yeah, I know about Hoffman.”
He hadn’t. It was a strange few minutes as we talked about his film career.
I was thinking about how days earlier in a radio interview with LaDona Harvey (KOGO 600 AM). She gave me the news that in the next Superman, the villain Lex Luthor would be played by Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network). Everyone is in universal agreement that this is horrible casting.
I thought about how Hoffman would be great. He’s played villains before, and with a shaved head, would look rather menacing.
I thought about how they introduced his character in the last Hunger Games movie, and wondered what the studio would do about that.
In one of my favorite movies from him, he played a heroin addict. That was Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. He talks his brother (a meek Ethan Hawke) into robbing their parents jewelry store. Of course, everything goes wrong with this plan. Just as everything had gone wrong in Hoffman’s real life.
It’s hard for me to sympathize with people that get addicted to drugs and die. It always makes me sound like a major a***ole, but I don’t care. Everyone jokes about the “27 club.” Others talk about celebrities “dying in threes,” or they have those creepy “death pools” in which you guess which celebrities will die next. Those lists are always filled with older actors, or ones that have recently come out of rehab. Yet does anybody ever pull these people aside and try to talk sense into them? We’ve been hearing these stories about Mel Gibson getting drunk and saying vile things for decades, and nobody ever did anything.
I would’ve preferred to be writing about the career of Maxmilian Schell right now. He passed away at 83 the other day. Instead, we’re going to hear a standing ovation at the Oscars in a few weeks when they show Hoffman’s face. How about we get the crowd to boo, and send a statement? It could reflect our anger at another talent from us taken too soon, when it really didn’t have to happen. Nah, would never happen.
I like to reserve my sympathy for people that died fighting for our country; or for people that have terminal illness. I know an incredible woman that’s a hard working teacher, that is probably going to die from a rare lung disease she has. Her lungs aren’t ruined from years of smoking. I don’t think she ever touched a cigarette.
I remember being devastated that one of my favorite athletes and a class guy – Walter Payton – had a rare autoimmune liver disease and was dying. He couldn’t get on a donor list. Yet Mickey Mantle, who chose to drink and became an alcoholic, was given a new liver.
David Crosby (The Byrds, Crosby, Stills, Nash) drank and did drugs, and also got a new liver. Guess what he did with the new liver? Well, he was arrested for drugs in his hotel room years after that. When I brought that up to him in person, he stuck his middle finger in my face (there’s a bit more to the story, but I’ll save that for another time).
So I apologize for not sounding sympathetic for a guy that was rich, and had an amazing career in Hollywood. A man that could go from blockbusters to indie films – with fans and critics praising his every move. That’s a tall order, for a short guy that was pudgy and didn’t have leading man looks. Most Hollywood agents would tell you…with a look like that, there’s probably not a lot of roles coming your way.
He nabbed an Oscar for Capote, which he was great in (although the movie was a tad boring).
The first time I remember seeing him was as the quirky sound guy in Boogie Nights, one of the best movies ever made. Director Paul Thomas Anderson would use him a few years ago in The Master, in which he played an interesting cult leader. I wish the script would’ve been as good as his performance (he did get an Oscar nomination).
He was also in the P.T. Anderson films Punch-Drunk Love and Magnolia, both movies worth seeking out.
His only directorial effort was Jack Goes Boating. A brilliant, low-key film about a sad-sack limo driver that is dealing with a coworker having marital problems, as well as a new relationship he gets involved in. I’m not sure why he was sporting dreadlocks, but he was good. I was thrilled that I got to interview that cast of that movie (minus Hoffman).
I was disappointed in the political thrilled The Ides of March with George Clooney, but Hoffman has two scenes that are just brilliant. One of them, he has to fire Ryan Gosling, and gives him a speech about a small-town mayor that he once worked for. In another scene, Hoffman is forced to resign. The way he plays it is fabulous.
One of the things I always liked about Hoffman’s performances…he didn’t just play these losers that you couldn’t sympathize with. That can’t always be the director. A lot of that has to be his own instincts as an actor.
A movie like The Savages, where he and Laura Linney are siblings that don’t care much for each other, but have to rally to put their dad in a home…could’ve just been a role where you hate the characters on screen. Yet Hoffman always made it so they weren’t one-dimensional.
He had a nice performance in Doubt, even if it was Meryl Streep and Viola Davis that got all the acting accolades.
Hoffman got an Oscar nomination for Charlie Wilson’s War, a movie I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. He brought a burst of energy I didn’t think he had in him.
He then took it down to a really subdued level as a baseball manager in Moneyball. Again, his performance was overshadowed by the other two in the film (Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt). He had the perfect look as an angry, tobacco chewing coach that just didn’t care.
Everyone loves The Big Lebowski. It was a hysterical Coen brothers flick, and Hoffman has some nice roles in that as the rich Lebowski’s right-hand man.
As a San Diegan and music lover, I was interested in his role in Almost Famous. He played San Diego music critic Lester Bangs, who would write for the San Diego Reader and go on to be a Rolling Stone contributor.
In the movie, Bangs makes fun of Jim Morrison. In Rolling Stone magazine after Janis Joplin’s death, Bangs wrote “It’s not just that this kind of early death has become a fact of life that has become disturbing, but that it’s been accepted as a given so quickly.”
Bangs himself would OD in 1982.
Now the guy who played Lester Bangs has supposedly been found with a needle in his arm, and three kids are without their father.
It’s a shame we lost an amazing talent. It’s also a shame that young artists don’t realize the dangers of drugs. They idolize the people that came before them, yet they seem to learn little from their mistakes.