Philip Seymour Hoffman — Another Celebrity OD

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hoffman FIRSTI 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.

hoffman BOOGIE NIGHTSHis 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.

hoffman DOUBT LAST


  • Andy

    I see you toned it down a little this time around. Still no sympathy and I agree 100% with that. Sad that you have to write these kind of columns on a bi-yearly basis it seems.

  • Mark Stewart

    Josh, your anger is understandable as is your argument. I think people are saddened however not for the mistakes he made with himself (and arguably to family, friends, and fans alike) but by what happened and that we lost him. I think this early in the game people are mourning the joy he brought into peoples lives (both personally and professionally).
    There is that side of the story that was noted this past wknd, as well as why he died. My own personal opinion is its a little early in the game to be chastizing the guy. Again, your tough love argument is valid and should be discussed out in the open like this. I agree with you also in that enough is enough with all these actors and other artists OD'ing but again right now its time to mourn the good he brought us. Maybe that sounds a littel corny but not from his family and friends' perspective.

  • Heather

    I realize it is your job to ruffle feathers. Good on ya. I think you might do well to spend some time in a rehab facility. Interview addicts who are recovering and those who are still using. Have a better understanding of who you are so unconcerned with before you write lengthy articles on something you truly have not experienced or have any understanding of. How would you know if the people surrounding him did not try to help or get involved? How would you know anything about him except that he was a phenomenal actor and wealthy? Were you personal friends with him? Addicts are addicts. Not bad people trying to get good….sick people trying to get better. Some of us are LUCKY enough to recover but most of us are not. Remember that no one ever says, "when I grow up, I can't wait to be an addict." Forgive me for being surprised that someone of your age has not been affected by addiction either yourself or a friend….maybe you are just LUCKY. Everyone seems to be affected by it. Best of luck and hope for your understanding.

    • joshboardfox5

      Heather, I appreciate you taking the time to read this and for taking the time to comment. First let me say, congratulations on your recovery. I have to imagine it's a hard thing to do. Having had a few family members that are addicts, I have seen some of this first hand. Obviously not to the extent of rehab facilities and things of that nature.
      No, my job isn't to ruffle feathers. It's just the fact that sometimes MY FEATHERS get ruffled by all this. I grew up going to parties, and having friends that were musicians. They all smoked dope around me, and I never tried it. You know why? My favorite bands all had members that died from drugs (The Doors, The Who, Led Zeppelin, etc.) I figured it would be a stupid thing to try. Once I had family members that became alcoholics, I saw first hand how ugly addiction could be. That kept me from refraining from ever getting drunk until I was 34 (I'm in my mid 40s now). I think these are decisions that people can make, even as teenagers. That's what makes it so hard for me to have as much sympathy as you might. Because I go into things knowing….if I try this pot…if I try this one line of coke…it might just kill me. Sure, a hit from a joint probably wouldn't. But guess what? A teenager in Poway smoked some pot a few years ago. It was laced with something, and he ended up getting killed after some serious fight broke out. You just never know.
      In regards to if I know if anybody tried to help him…you are correct. I don't know for sure. I just know Hollywood has a habit of turning a blind eye, and then when somebody dies, they all mourn and talk about his immense talent. That's why I used Mel Gibson as an example. I was at an event with him where he was plastered. That was years before it ever came out that he was an alcoholic nutjob. Guess what? After that all broke, various stars talked about the various crazy things he did at parties. NOT ONE PERSON pulled him aside and said, "Dude, get your friggin act together!" And now I have to listen to Jodi Foster and Robert Downey Jr claim he's a nice guy. It's disgraceful.

  • L. Nevarez

    I agree 100% with your comments. What a waste of precious life and amazing talent. Drugs continue to take the very best. I am deeply saddened by the loss of a great actor, and angered at the way he died. May he finally rest in peace. Thank you for your amazing article and please keep on writing…

  • anonymous.

    I was disgusted last night seeing photos of PSH slumped over high our of his mind on a plane. No one bothered to say, "hey do you need some help." What a waste. Loved him in Almost Famous. "You can NOT make friends with the rock stars."


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  • LTaylor

    Excellent article. Thanks for having the guts to write it. If only those in a position to help Hoffman had had such guts..

  • joshboardfox5

    After watching 60 Minutes, and a great interview PSH did with Kroft (god, what a talent Hoffman was)…I thought about how Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) has been commenting on this case. It started with him writing a wonderful letter to Time Magazine about how talented and wonderful Hoffman was. Yet it contained this line that is being quoted everywhere: "If one of us dies of an overdose, probably 10 people who were about to won't."
    Well, Mr. Sorkin, that's a powerful statement. I also think it's garbage. I mean, when that actor from GLEE died of an overdose, why didn't that scare Hoffman straight? Heck, when Hoffman did "Before the Devil Knows Your Dead" and his character was a heroin addict, you think that should've worked. Now, the one thing Sorkin DID get right in that letter, was stating that he OD'd not because he was depressed, or partying hard, but because he was an addict. I just don't think somebody ODing causes others to stand back and think "Hmmmm….maybe what I'm doing is dangerous." Otherwise, no rock stars would go down this path after Hendrix and Morrison, Cobain, etc. I think Sorkin saying that, is almost like somebody saying "It's said Paul Walker died in a Porsche that was speeding, but it probably kept 10 others from dying out on the roads." REALLY??? At his own funeral, people were trotting out the fast/fancy cars! I'm guessing people that love racing cars (whether illegally or legally), were still doing it, just as they were before Walkers death.

  • Jo F.

    I think the guy was scum. If you stick a needle in your arm and buy heroin from drug dealers, why do you deserve to be praised by the actors attending the Oscars. Lets praise Shirley Temple Black and talents like that. Not druggies.

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