Stuck with a needle and burst

Photo credit: The Guardian
Photo credit: The Guardian

I just heard the sound of a flame being pinched out by wet fingers.

Wuff, SSssss.

My heart is in such pain over the news of the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Young, talented, and responsible for some of my most moving moments in front of a screen. Yesterday he was capable of bringing additional decades of mind-blowing art to us. Today he is gone.

We just saw him in Catching Fire. He was just on Broadway. What the hell, Mr. Hoffman? What did you do to yourself, and why, for god’s sake?

I was in my car tonight, driving to pick up my kid from a friend’s house where she had been house-sitting. The words from the radio slipped into my brain before I had the chance to defend myself. I literally gasped out loud and took my hands from the wheel to cover my mouth. I know, such a silly movie pose, but it was instinctive. I thought back through the two-sentence newscast. When I realized I had really heard it, the tears began. I looked at the people in the cars around me, desperately looking to connect, to share this shock and pain. None of them were listening to the same radio station, or were reacting.

Crazy, huh, when a total stranger means so much to you that you cry at their death. It happened to me with Princess Diana, and Kurt Cobain. It makes my response totally inappropriate because I didn’t know the person; I just knew the way they could make me feel. As a stranger, the only things that come to my mind are weak cliches like “What a loss,” or thoughts that are so obvious it’s just stupid, as in “Fucking addiction,” and “His portrayal of Truman Capote was phenomenal.”

Forgive me, Mr. Hoffman, for not having the ability to honor you well. In words, no less, which are supposed to be my medium. Thank you for the way you lived your 46 years. Thank you for choosing to put yourself out there for public consumption for over twenty years. If the point of art is to connect to people, or to make the people react, or to empathize, or feel childlike joy, or weep like a betrayed lover, or flush red hot with anger, or yell at the screen, …or any of a number of remarkable human responses to effective art…

You have done it. 

Since my words aren’t working well tonight, I’m going to borrow from an old post that I wrote not so very long ago:

“Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favourite actors. Some actors can pull my emotion out of my gut the way Miller and Toole did with their writing. Hoffman’s characters can be wretched, pathetic, funny, fiercely strong, and always always achingly beautiful because they show us unflinching glimpses of what it’s like to be a person. Hoffman finds a core human soul in his character and translates it for us. He first got to me as Scotty in Boogie Nights. Didn’t your heart just break for Scotty? I know him, that Scotty. He’s been in my life in many scenes, and –as I felt when watching the movie- I just have no idea what to do with him.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Rusty, in the movie Flawless.

“The two roles that friggin’ killed me were Phil in Magnolia and Rusty in Flawless, both 1999. As the empathetic hospice care provider, I was utterly convinced of him. “Oh, there’s no asshole like you,” he said. And it was not an insult, but an easy statement of fact, honesty, almost respect (but no respect really), that showed Phil had the courage and compassion to meet –at his level – the jerk who was dying.

“See, it’s not just the writing; it’s the actor who can make it come true.

“In Flawless… WHY doesn’t everyone love this movie? No one I talk to remembers it. In Flawless, Rusty was the real thing. Pain, love, anger, hunger, tenderness, bitchiness, mothering, beauty and ugliness all came together as clumsily and real as it does in life. PSH’s insecure drag queen playing off Robert De Niro as the epitome of a wounded arrogant asshole, gave me a reason to fall in love with humanity again. And since I saw parts of myself in Rusty – particularly the way a tenderhearted insecure person is willing to take abuse because of the faith that maybe the abuser can one day be reformed – I had a reason to love myself, too.

“I haven’t seen all of Hoffman’s work. But after Rusty, I have been a devoted, unconditional fan. It doesn’t matter what he shows me on the screen: I’m all in. Every time.”

Read that whole blog post here.

8 thoughts on “Stuck with a needle and burst

  1. Achingly beautiful tribute, my friend. I disagree with you, though. You did find the words to honor him well. His art moved you, so he did what he set out to do. I haven’t seen “Flawless” yet, but it’s on my list now. On the flip side, we do have 20 years’ worth of material to return back to over and over. Still, unspeakably sad. xo

    1. Thanks for your kind words, dear friend. Yes, now that’s he’s not making more, I’ll have time to catch up with all of his work. But that seems a very pathetic silver lining. Dang. I really did love the guy’s acting.

  2. I am willing to wait, wait and see what the autopsy results and good ol’ fashion detective work have to say. Yes, some unnamed cop has stated it looks like drug overdose. Duh, he was found with a needle stuck out of his arm and what appears to be heroine in his home. I have to ask, was it a self inflicted overdose? Many a murders are committed and covered up in such a fashion.

    With all he was achieving in the legitimate theater, could he do that and be on heroine? He had problems in the past. Should that be the deciding factor in leading us to believe he would off himself?

    Whatever turmoil this talented man faced at his death whether emotionally or from some evil he saw with his own eyes, I hope he is at peace now.

    1. I agree, Deb. I have always suspected that actors can’t completely hide their real selves from us. And thus I have wondered if Philip Seymour Hoffman’s emotions were mixed in with his characters’ emotions. If so, there was a soul inside that had some tragic wounds.

  3. Crystal, I read your words the day you posted them, and being one of the few that was not familiar with his work, saved it to come back to, and learned. I’ve heard so many tributes to this man (including yours) and am impressed with the variety and depth of his work.
    Such a loss … of an actor and a man.

    1. Laurie, I am so touched that you would take such efforts to respond with thoughtfulness and genuine feeling. You are an amazing woman.

      Of course you know I’m not going to be able to withhold my plea for you to see some of Mr. Hoffman’s acting. All the tributes in the world won’t do him justice. One of these days, when you get a chance, pick a movie to rent, and see if you like his work.

  4. I was also in my car and gasped when I heard the news. Your description of looking at people in other cars to try to connect at such a time is such a HUMAN reaction…
    You did a wonderful job with your tribute here…don’t sell yourself short…

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sue. It’s nice to know someone else reacted so strongly. I guess what I am lamenting in this post is that I didn’t feel like I could conjure up words that matched what was going on in my heart. Thanks for the reassurance, though.

      …and I always like when my knee-jerk reaction shows that I am really and truly human and in touch with my emotions. That’s a nice thing to know.

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