What Philip Seymour Hoffman Taught Me

The news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death was delivered to me by my 17 year-old son. Fascinated with the entertainment industry, our son keeps quite current all things related to film, stage and screen. Usually his reports are given at lightning speed, the excitement in his voice difficult to contain. On Saturday, however, he spoke in somber tones.



“Mom. Philip Seymour Hoffman died. They found him in his apartment.”

And then later, “It was drugs. . An overdose.”

As the story unfolded, my son provided updates and details…”He had three kids. The police found a lot of heroin. Bags of it in his apartment…”

And of course, the inevitable opinions began to pepper Facebook and Twitter. Some people were respectful, and others lauded Mr. Hoffman’s great talent, calling him one of the best actors of his generation. Still others bemoaned the epidemic of substance abuse that plagues not only Hollywood, but every neighborhood in this country.

Finally, I began to read some comments that expressed irritation …people who were weary of the praise for Hoffman’s giftedness. They cited weakness. Lack of character. Selfishness. “He left three kids behind without a father.”

That’s when I started really hurting. Because I really don’t think that Philip Seymour Hoffman wanted to leave his kids without a father.

And I began to wonder…If Philip Seymour Hoffman had a different disease, like diabetes or melanoma (both of which can be caused, in part, by an individual’s lifestyle and choices) would we “blame” him?

Addiction is disease. A really horrible, life-long, chronic disease. I’ve seen it tear apart families, destroy careers and annihilate hopes and dreams.  I’ve celebrated as people have gained a measure of victory over it, and cried when they experience a relapse. I’ve listened to parents sob as they confront a child and watched as families deal with the courts and jail and fines…and utter disappointment.

Addiction poses a constant threat to health. Alcoholics Anonymous encourages its members to take “One day at a time.” And yet, “sometimes,” confided one young person, “It’s really more like one minute at a time.” 

And while I know and love so many who have been injured and angered through addiction, I also know I can’t possibly imagine the torture this disease inflicts upon those caught in its grip. And Philip Seymour Hoffman, with his brilliance and brokenness, reminded me that throwing stones in speculation only bruises and belittles.

I’m thankful Philip Seymour Hoffman inspired so many people through his great gifts as an actor. I’m also thankful that he  was honest about his disease. He said once, in an interview,  ” I’m afraid I’ll be the kind of actor who thought he would make a difference and didn’t. Right now, though, I feel like I made a little bit of difference.”

And finally, I’m glad that the Hollywood and Broadway communities are recognizing him for his immense talent. Hopefully that will provide some measure of comfort to his family as they wade through unspeakable grief.

One minute at a time.