Philip Seymour Hoffman: 1967-2014

PSHI wasn’t planning on posting this. Actually I was planning my next blog to be another Best Picture review. Instead I post this because of how shocking it is. And of how much I admired him and his works.

Philip was born in Fairport, New York (just outside of Rochester) on July 23, 1967, one of four children to family court judge Marilyn O’Connor and Xerox executive Gordon Hoffman. His parents divorced when he was 9. Hoffman’s past-time in high school was wrestling but switched to acting after a neck injury caused him to quit. Talent was noticed at a young age as he was selected at 17 to attend the 1984 theatre school at the New York State Summer School Of The Arts in Saratoga Springs. He graduated from Fairport High School in 1985 and attended the Circle in the Square Theatre’s summer program. He would go on to attend New York University’s Tisch School Of The Arts and graduated with a BFA in 1989. Soon after he had a bout of alcohol and drug addiction which we would attend rehab for shortly after and eventually overcome.

He made his acting debut on television acting in a 1991 Law & Order episode. His first film role came in 1992’s Scent Of A Woman. Minor roles in film continued for Hoffman over the next few years. In 1995 he joined the LAbyrinth Theatre Company where he staged and performed in numerous productions. However his breakthrough came in 1997 when he had a scene-stealing supporting role as Scotty J. in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. Hoffman would act in three more Paul Thomas Anderson movies: 1999’s Magnolia, 2002’s Punch Drunk Love and 2012’s The Master. Over the next few years, Hoffman’s reputation as an actor would grow with more excellent performances in independent films like The Big Lebowski, Happiness, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and  State And Main. He also showed he could act well in popcorn films like Patch Adams and Almost Famous. In theatre, he would earn a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in 2000 for playing Lee in the readaptation of Sam Shepard’s True West.

Further excellent performances continued for him in films like Love Liza (which was written by his brother Gordy), Owning Mahowny and the TV miniseries Empire Falls. He also continued to do come off well in box office fare like Cold Mountain and Along Came Polly. Theatre accolades would continue with his second Tony nomination coming in 2003 for his supporting performance in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. However big critical acclaim in film. kept on alluding him until 2005’s Capote. There he was to play Truman Capote in a biopic directed by former Tisch classmate Bennett Miller. He was even said to act in character even after scene shooting ended.  It was there where Hoffman won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. And Miller received his first and so far only Best Director nomination.

Things became better for Hoffman commercially as he would play villain Owen Davian in Mission Impossible 3 months later. In 2007 he received Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor in the independent comedy The Savages and Best Supporting Actor for playing Gust Avrakotos in Charlie Wilson’s War opposite Tom Hanks. It’s his role in Charlie Wilson’s War that would earn him his second Oscar nomination. Hoffman would return as an Oscar nominee the following year in the Supporting Actor category again as Fr. Brendan Flynn in the film adaptation of the Broadway play Doubt opposite Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.

Hoffman would continue acting in film, both independent and commercial. He would also continue acting and directing in theatre. He wouldn’t get too much notice or acclaim over the next two years but his work continued to be consistent. He would again steal scenes in 2011’s The Ides Of March and Moneyball as frumpy Coach Art Howe. 2012 was another big year for Hoffman as it would be acclaim in both his theatre and his film acting. On stage he blew Broadway crowds away during the summer with his performance of Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman and played controlling yet charismatic religious leader Lancaster Dodd in The Master. 2013 would give him more exposure to the commercial movie crowd as he entered into the Hunger Games trilogy as Plutarch Heavensbee in 2013’s Catching Fire. He had already finished playing Plutarch in the first Mockingjay film and had just finished most of the shooting for the second as of February 1st.

Outside of acting, Hoffman shied away from the spotlight. In 1999, he statrted dating Mimi O’Donnell. It would prove to be a permanent union and both he and Mimi had three children. He was open about his past alcohol and drug abuse from which experienced upon graduating from Tisch. He said of his experiences: “I abused anything I could get my hands on and I liked it all.” He recovered successfully and would describe himself as a teetotaler from his past experience but a relapse would eventually happen. In May 2013, he openly confessed to abusing heroine and prescription pills and checked himself into a rehab clinic for ten days.

On Sunday February 2nd, Hoffman was found dead by playwright and friend David Bar Katz in the bathroom of his Manhattan office apartment. A hypodermic needle was found in his arm according to the police. Heroin was also found in the apartment. He was 46 years old.

I hate to bring up the topic of tabloid gossip at a time like this but that topic is unavoidable. Especially when a famous actor dies in such a way. There’s no question in the weeks and months after, there will be a lot of questions about this. There will be some journalists who will want to interview Mimi O’Donnell or close family relatives about this situation. Cast mates of past movies will also be questioned. Even the rehab clinic Hoffman has been attending since his relapse will face its fair share of journalists. I myself am shocked to hear of that. Years ago I read his IMDB profile and it said he does not drink alcohol because of his past experience with alcoholism. I was happy feeling that there was an actor that can be free from scandal. I never knew about his relapse. This is especially surprising since you normally hear about such deaths of actors hugely in the public eye. And Philip was the opposite. He was mostly private, rarely attended A-list events, had friends who were mostly in theatre rather than in the Hollywood business, had an unmarried relationship to the same woman since 1999 and raised his kids quietly. I guess we’ll only know the whole story in the future.

One thing to say is I don’t want to focus on the surroundings of his death. Even though I feel like asking ‘What happened,’ I’ll keep my mouth shut for now. One thing I will say is that I will always admire Philip Seymour Hoffman for the actor that he was. I’m able to separate myself from actors as actors and actors as people. Whenever I admire actors, I admire them for their acting jobs. They’d have to give me a good reason for me to admire their lifestyle. Anyways Philip Seymour Hoffman was an excellent actor. He really knew how to embrace the character both physically and emotionally. He was more than a top character actor, he knew how to make the roles multidimensional. I’ve seen many of his performances and he never let me down once. He always delivered.

I’ve always considered Philip to be one of the best actors of my generation. I also must confess I was secretly predicting and hoping that Philip would  be the next Tom Hanks. It just showed how naive I was to the present acting system. There was a time when an actor had the ability to be both a master of their craft and a top box office draw. That was common form the 30’s to the 60’s. Then there was a time in the 70’s when the big money-winning movies and the serious films had a gap between them that really widened in that decade. With that came a bigger gap between the on-screen craftmasters and the money-winning A-listers. That was especially noticeable in the 80’s. The reason why Tom Hanks was so beloved was that he was one of those rarities who was able to deliver in their craft and bring in top box office dollar.

I felt that Philip had the potential to do just that. I just wasn’t aware at the time of the types of actors that were able to win over the box office dollars. Turns out it’s back to being a looks thing again. Especially in the wake of the Twilight movies. I should know that 5′ 10″ and slightly pudgy won’t make you an A-lister. In fact one New York journalist summed up the physical appearance of Hoffman as: “a stocky, often sleepy-looking man with blond, generally uncombed hair who favored the rumpled clothes more associated with an out-of-work actor than a star.” That was just his nature. He was more interested in being an actor than a star.

Like I said Philip never let me down. Whether it was a role in a popular popcorn movie or if it was in a serious independent production, Philip always delivered. Even his co-stars would vouch for that. I believe that’s the legacy Philip will leave behind. Character acting performances that he didn’t just play but embodied and he knew how to grab your attention. I will always admire him for that.

Rest In Peace, Philip Seymour Hoffman. And thank you for captivating us over the years.

WORK CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Philip Seymour Hoffman. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Seymour_Hoffman>

Cory Monteith’s Death All Too Common

Cory Monteith hit the big time with the TV series Glee but his death last week at the age of 31 ended it all.
Cory Monteith hit the big time with the TV series Glee but his death last week at the age of 31 ended it all.

I’m sure all of you know the news by now, especially Glee fans. Star Cory Monteith was found dead in a Vancouver hotel Saturday night. He was 31. I know because I live in Vancouver so that news hit fast. Toxicology results came immediate: it was an overdose of alcohol and heroin. It was a shock to many. Problem is this tragedy is way too common in the history of entertainment.

The arts and showbiz are known for great lives being cut short due to substances or their own personal demons. They go far back to such greats like composers Mozart and Schubert who never made it to their 40th birthday. They include poets like Edgar Allen Poe, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Dylan Thomas…the list is lengthy. They include artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock and Frida Kahlo. Actually it was right after the release of the 2002 film Frida that I made the comment: “A tortured soul makes an artist.” Young showbiz deaths include singers like Sam Cooke, Mario Lanza, Marvin Gaye and Amy Winehouse. They include rappers like Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. They also include actors like John Gilbert, Marilyn Monroe and River Phoenix.

Also unique about celebrities and artists is that quite often their young death can add to their mystique as an artist. Many people feel know of Jackson Pollock’s struggle with alcoholism and that it led to him to paint his feelings out. Many people are awestruck by the personal troubles of Kurt Cobain who sang out his troubles: troubles that eventually led to his suicide. Marilyn Monroe’s mystique of being the Hollywood beauty whose fame and fortune couldn’t save her from her personal struggles has added to her legend since her suicide. James Dean epitomized the popular 50’s belief  ‘live fast, die young’ upon his death in a high-speed car crash. Even Tupac Shakur’s knowledge that he would die an early death because of his bad attitude but still went for it anyways also mesmerizes fans to this day. Sometimes an entertainer dying young of natural causes like Bob Marley from cancer can leave us in amazement about what they did in their short life. Early deaths linked to a particular profession create a mystique too. We know of the ’27 Club’ of rock musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain who died at the age of 27. We also see how some of the greatest divas in history like Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, Judy Garland and most recently Whitney Houston failed to reach their 50th birthday. Even early deaths of the biggest of the big like Elvis Presley at 42 and Michael Jackson at 50 capture our intrigue.

The most recent celebrity to be amongst entertainers and celebrities who died a young death was Cory Monteith. Cory was a young actor who had been in the business since he was 22. He was mostly cast in minor roles but received a big break in 2009 when he was cast in the lead role of Finn Hudson in the TV series Glee. The success of the musical TV series took off instantly with huge fanfare and hit records of song they performed on the show. There was even a Glee tour and a 3D concert movie. Things appeared to be going very well for Cory. He appeared to be handling fame well, was in a relationship with fellow cast member Lea Michele and appeared to have overcome a lightly-publicized substance problem within a month earlier this year.

Then the news hit in the evening of July 13, 2013. 31 year-old Cory Monteith was found dead in his room at the Fairmount Pacific Rim Hotel in Vancouver. An autopsy was completed in less than 48 hours. Cause of death was ruled to be a mix of heroin and alcohol. It was ruled to be an accident. Cory became yet another young celebrity who died an early death to drugs and alcohol.

The big question was did celebrity have to do with it? I’ll admit that on the day of his autopsy results released, I posted on my Facebook status:

On the subject of Cory Monteith’s toxicology results, you hear of celebrities past who died early deaths of drugs and various substances and you’d think the next generation will learn the lessons and avoid it, only to see them make the same dumb mistakes!

However if you read stories about him, you will hear that Cory had problems with alcohol and marijuana since he was 13. It should be too surprising knowing he was raised in Victoria when that happened. BC is known for its substance abuse problems. Since then he attended 16 different schools until dropping out at the age of 16. Cory continued to fuel his drug habit by stealing off of family and friends until his family staged an intervention when he was 19 and attended a rehab program that was successful in helping him recover. However his problems would come and go. One news source said his problem would actually disappear when he was in Hollywood but would recur when he was in BC. This may be true or not but one thing’s sure is that his death at the Vancouver Fairmont would make that statement look right.

I’ll admit I was erroneous in my Facebook update but it was nevertheless an easy assumption to make. When I was younger, it appeared that celebrities dying young deaths from drugs and alcohol would serve as a lesson to the younger stars that it’s not worth it. Boy was I naïve. The last ten years has shown us a lot of stories of young celebrities, especially the likes of Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, who kept on getting themselves into substance problems again and again. I even remember a quote from actress Barbara Eden just after Lindsay Lohan’s DUI arrest in 2007. I don’t remember the exact words but it went something like: “I feel sorry for those young girls in Hollywood. You just can’t simply do some coke. You have to do a whole lot.” It left me with the impression that stardom is still something people feel is worth putting your life at risk for. Even with all these gossip blogs of other celebrities dealing with their substance issues you’re left with that impression. It’s because of all that in which Cory’s death from that lethal mix of heroin and alcohol led me to think it was showbiz again doing its thing. However I’m willing to agree that it has more to do with Vancouver as I’m very familiar with its drug abuse problems. I see it almost every day.

Whatever the situation, or however it happened, Cory was nevertheless a life cut short. Apart from his celebrity, he left behind a mother, father and a brother having to deal with this. His father had an additional dealing as he was not invited to Cory’s viewing. Lea Michele has to deal with her boyfriend gone. The official Twitter accounts of top Glee stars like Lea, Chris Colfer and Kevin McHale have not had a tweet since July 13th: the day of Cory’s death. Lea however has had an official statement wishing for privacy at this time. The future of Glee also remains in question.

Cory Monteith may have shocked all with his death coming at a time of fame and fortune. However a young death is a young death. One can’t help but be left wondering what could’ve been, celebrity or not. I remember a quote from Stevie Nicks when she talked about her cocaine addiction and how she said part of her wanted to die but part of her made her think if she died young, people would say: “That was stupid of her,” and it made her recover. Did that ever cross Cory’s mind?

WORK CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Cory Monteith. Wikipedia.com. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cory_Monteith>