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Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Untimely Death Brings Welcome Insight Into Drug Addiction

Philip Seymour Hoffman's Untimely Death Brings Welcome Insight Into Drug Addiction

I vividly remember the cautionary tale “A Monkey on My Back” that scared the shit out of me in high school. That film persuaded me that it was dangerous to try heroin, so I never did. Then I watched a beloved chum with whom I played whist and smoked pot at Bronx High School of Science succumb to heroin addiction and die. So it was never a temptation. But clearly, while I overindulge on food and wine, drugs were never my thing–I dropped acid three times in the 70s and did recreational cocaine at a few parties in the 80s, but I have left unused prescription vicodin in the medicine cabinet and hate to take anything stronger than aspirin.

When I first met Hoffman at the Telluride Film Festival at a Sony Pictures Classics “Capote” dinner, he made a point that he didn’t drink. He was lovely and approachable, ordering sandwiches at a local lunch place and enjoying the freedom to wander the festival. Having read that he went to rehab last year, I saw one photo at the Sundance Film Festival, where he was promoting “A Most Wanted Man” and “God’s Pocket,” and thought, “He looks so sad.” I finally tracked down that photo (above).

Like everyone else, I’ve been sampling clips from his movies and thinking about how dark and tough many of his roles were. The movie he directed himself, 2010’s “Jack Goes Boating,” written by Robert Glaudini, was one of the most depressing of his entire oeuvre, about sad and lonely working class people incapable of enduring intimacy. And I keep thinking about Todd Louiso’s “Love Liza,” a little-seen indie about a grieving sad sack who holes up alone refusing to see anyone, huffing gasoline. The 2002 Sundance jury I was on that year awarded Best Screenplay to Hoffman’s brother Gordy. (Clip below.)

And I’ve been deep-diving into stories that might shed light on Hoffman’s death (the New York medical examiner needs to do more tests before declaring its cause). As four people have been arrested by New York police in an apartment stocked with heroin a mile from his home, I’d like to share several stories that helped me to understand what Hoffman went through in the last year–after 23 years of sobriety. I can’t help thinking that Hoffman’s partner Mimi O’Donnell had to separate herself and his three kids from him, much as Michelle Williams did with Heath Ledger, as both men wrestled with their demons alone. 

The New York Times’ David Carr knows from addiction–see his memoir “The Night of the Gun”–and talked with Hoffman over the years. This beautifully constructed Medium story –called “The Wrestler”–shows us that fighting addiction is a day by day struggle no matter how long you think you’ve licked it. All it took was some painkillers to throw Hoffman back into the belly of the beast. The Atlantic weighs in. And Slate’s Seth Mnookin explains the science of drug recovery. 

Actor Russell Brand–who is a terrific writer himself– posted a moving account in The Guardian of his own drug battles a while back that is relevant. UPDATE: And “Charlie Wilson’s War” writer Aaron Sorkin adds his two cents in Time. These are the pieces to read–not something harshly moralizing like this screed from The Daily Beast’s Michael Daly. Yes, as anyone who reads their friends’ posts on Facebook and Twitter can attest, this death lingers. 

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