Philip Seymour Hoffman died yesterday of an apparent heroin overdose. Mr. Hoffman grew up in a Rochester suburb, Fairport, in the 70’s and 80’s. I grew up in Rochester in the 80’s. He was born July 23, 1967. I was born July 23, 1973. His father worked for Xerox. Xerox was my mother’s most important client and for all intent and purpose paid our mortgage and for my education. For years Mr. Hoffman was a fixture in Greenwich Village, New York City. I’ve lived around the Village for roughly 15 years and have seen him a couple of times, most recently at the St. Mark’s Bookshop across the street from my apartment. I was tempted to introduce myself and point out the parallels in our lives, but instead let him be; I’ve never been one of those people who bugs celebrities.
Celebrity successes and failures, triumphs and tragedies, always feel over-stated, over-weighted, to me. But Mr. Hoffman was a mold-breaker, someone who defied Hollywood’s typecasting culture and pursued the art of acting, not the celebrity. You always got the feeling that he would have acted for minimum wage and zero accolades. There’s something about that type of commitment that must come at an emotional cost, because so often the people that truly inspire us through art have demons they can’t escape. Those demons often manifest themselves in the form of heroin addictions, and it doesn’t matter what type of art you master. Painter and poet Jean-Michel Basquiat died of a heroin overdose. Rock musician Kurt Cobain struggled with a heroin addiction that contributed to his suicide. Comedians Lenny Bruce and Chris Farley overdosed on heroin. Now Mr. Hoffman is on this list of tragic endings to brilliant lives, leaving us with the gifts of his art and the questions of his troubles.
Mr. Hoffman and I have one other thing in common: we’re fathers. My heart goes out to those kids. Their father was an incredibly gifted man who ultimately couldn’t escape the wickedness that lived inside him. No amount of art can fill the hole left by a father who checked out too soon.