Queen Latifa had a well-timed guest on this morning: Liza Manelli. If anyone in this world knows what it's like to lose someone famous and well-loved to drug addiction, it's Liza. If anyone knows what it's like to struggle with fame and addiction, it's Liza. She sat on that big white couch and moved quite a bit. Was she anxious, was she just getting older? What could she make of this tragedy of Hoffman? It must be bitter for her every time this happens. Leger and Hoffman. Gone. And not good talents, great ones. Great ones, like Bulushi and Winehouse. Towering, staggering talents. Captivating and extraordinary. I will always think of Leger blazing across the bleachers like a madman in Ten Things I Hate About You, that lovely take on The Taming of the Shrew. How I enjoyed Heath, each and every time.
Hoffman. Hoffman even more.
The six actors who stopped me in my tracks the first time I saw them: Daniel Day-Lewis (back in 1984 in A Room With A View), Wes Studi (as Magwa in The Last of the Mohicans), James McAvoy (in White Teeth and again in Dune), Romany Malco (in Baby Mama), Sam Rockwell (The Green Mile) and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a very small part in Twister, of all things. (I am only including modern actors. Toshiro Mifune in Roshomon is beyond compare. He was the best of actors, like Scofield--my very favorite--and Day-Lewis). I just stood there and gaped, captivated, even though he was just being loud and obnoxious in a group scene at the close of the third act of a silly movie that only needed to tidy up to an ending. I wasn't surprised when he started getting role after role. The way he affected my heart--I knew he'd be a big deal. I have had the privilege of talking with two of these actors (one is a personal friend), and I know how difficult fame can be (trust me, hanging out with a famous person will blow your mind--people gape, literally, mouths ajar. Photographers wait for you at the airport, paying off chauffeurs. People you don't know hand you drugs because you played a dealer on t.v.). Going through New Orleans today I turned on NPR. Fresh Air was playing all past interviews with Philip Seymour Hoffman. It was almost too sad to listen to him. By God, he did some great work. Just his voice for Capote (which wasn't even my favorite take on Capote--I thought Toby Jones and Infamous were far better--the script was much more accurate) just his voice was an astonishing study.
Why did we love him so? There are and were better actors. There's DeNiro, there's Day-Lewis, there is Hugh Jackman in Prisoners, which was a brilliant performance.
Because he seemed related to us. Because he was, like us, utterly accessible. You could so see yourself taking a road trip with him and him not making a big deal of you farting. Or maybe--the first time he meets you--taking a fry from your tray without asking and even if he wasn't famous or you didn't know who he was, pushing it towards him so he could take another.
My prayers for his poor family, his three children, his co-workers who admired him and have said very kind things about him, and his more devoted fans who must be devastated. I hope his children are shielded, somehow, from the truth and for God's sake, given their privacy. Please, please... don't buy People. They are going to feature photos they shouldn't. They always do.
It all holds for me my ultimate conviction that besides child sexual abuse, the greatest evil on this earth may be heroin, it is what runs in Satan's veins and he gives it freely to those who are hurting. I cannot watch Trainspotting twice. I can't bring myself to read the book. I can only remember those addicts in Victoria station begging--inches from businessmen's faces--for shillings. They were totally gone to another realm. Art, love, gestation of affection had long since vanished for them.
We are all reeling because we loved his work. Many families, though, lost someone to heroin yesterday. I doubt the beggars I saw in 2002 are still with us. Hopefully this public loss will do some private good in the form of a dialogue about this most insidious form of addiction. Hopefully we will take the time to care for someone who has chosen this path, even though it seems to be a waste. Hopefully we will buy them a meal. Hopefully we will see them and ardently pray for better, less they lay on the bathroom floor, shorts and t-shirt, needle in arm, laid bare for all the masses to gape and admittedly, to grieve.