Philip Seymour Hoffman was born just outside of Rochester, NY. — where I lived for nearly all my married life, where Jerry and I raised our family, had our business. Hoffman was quintessentially a home town boy, someone in whose success we all felt proud. His mother was a family court judge, and his father worked for Xerox. Hoffman and his siblings went to Fairport public schools. He was, in all of his brilliant achievements on stage and screen, one of us.
He died at age 46 in Manhattan, a needle sticking out of his arm, like any back-alley junkie. He left three children, and his longtime partner, Mimi O’Donnell. She has a searing piece in Vogue, remembering him.
I thought Hoffman’s portrayal of Truman Capote was astonishingly great. Hoffman, like all gifted actors, literally inhabited the character he was creating on screen, or on stage. Like Meryl Streep playing Julia Child, or Tyne Daly playing Maria Callas — neither actress bore the remotest resemblance physically to the character she was playing — Hoffman’s acting prowess allowed our brains to accept him in the role of Capote. Hoffman mastered the real Capote’s mannerisms, his speech patterns, his wicked self-centeredness and skill in stirring the New York society pot. And Hoffman conveyed Capote’s ability, when he wasn’t drunk, to tell a riveting story.
Hoffman first got into trouble with drugs in his 20’s, went through rehab, and had been clean for over 20 years. Then he relapsed, and his new foray into the depths of addiction proved fatal. Hoffman seemed to have everything to live for: a longtime relationship, three children, an enviable acting career. And yet drugs won out.
The Vogue piece, in the voice of Hoffman’s longtime partner and the mother of his children, is incredibly sad. Hoffman’s death is incredibly sad. That death is a marker of how hard it is to overcome addiction, to keep overcoming it every day, every year, every decade. Hoffman’s death is singular, but that death is not different in kind from all the deaths arising from the opioid epidemic that is affecting our country. Hoffman had a lot of resources on his side in the battle to overcome addiction, and he still lost.
Hard to think we’re going to turn back the carnage of the opioid epidemic easily, or any time soon.