Late last week, TMZ broke the story that Philip Seymour Hoffman had checked into (and out of) a ten-day rehab program to treat a recent resurgence of a long-dormant drug addiction. The public’s reaction was unanimous. Here we go again. Another out of control Hollywood star careening off the rails, thinking the rules don’t apply to him. Pretty soon he’ll be barricading himself in a hotel room with a couple of PhD candidates in literary criticism locked in the closet. Then it’s only a matter of time before he crashes a series of sensibly outfitted luxury cars, stars in a dubious art film with a prominent queer theorist, and tweets that he wants Meryl Streep to “assassinate his penis.” Like Amanda Bynes and Charlie Sheen before him, it’s clear that Philip Seymour Hoffman is a young entitled brat who can’t handle fame.
The erratic behavior is only one phase of this meltdown. Afterwards, of course we’ll have the steady flow of paparazzi photos. PSH (a nickname pronounced “Fish,” bestowed by the tabloid media) will claim to have been taking it easy at home, but we’ll spot him out at hip wine bars with party animal movie stars like Christopher Walken and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. He’ll post bizarre “selfies” in wigs and costumes on social media platforms at odd hours to “prove his whereabouts.” When Brian Dennehy attempts to intervene, PSH will fire back publicly. Something like: “If ur old ass knos whats best how cum u never wun a oscar?” Maybe he’ll throw some drug paraphernalia out the window of his home. That will come a week or two before the inevitable court ordered return to a rehab facility.
We’ve seen this cycle a thousand times. Attention-hungry stars like Philip Seymour Hoffman can’t stay away from the spotlight. Before you know it, he’ll turn up on morning talk show apology circuit, where he’ll deliver prepared statements of contrition. Then he’ll be off to the late night talk show gauntlet where we’ll expect him to handle snarky questions about the darkest period in his life with gentle humor. If we’re lucky, he’ll release a self-produced video to YouTube that’ll spawn a catch phrase that we can lob back and forth to deflect our attention away from the ever-more-necessary dialogue about mental health. I hope it’s: “You got Capote’d, biatch!”
The churning media machine will report Hoffman’s tragedy, analyze it, and milk each of its sensational twists for advertising dollars. We won’t be able to turn away. Photos of him on the beach will be taken as evidence he has an eating disorder. Pictures of him with a hat pulled low over his puffy eyes in the pre-coffee dawn will signify a late night of partying. Soon voices of dissent will emerge. There will be impassioned pleas for humanity and understanding. Addiction is a disease, they will say. Hoffman’s role as a public figure does not entitle us to scrutinize his every decision. How he spends his time. With whom he consorts. The man deserves control over his own life. He, and not we the spectators, is best positioned to dictate the narrative of his existence.
Tragically, these pleas for decency will add to the cacophony surrounding the life of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Though some minds may be swayed towards compassion, other, previously oblivious rubberneckers will congregate gawk heartlessly at the wreckage of the life of a great man.
Maybe, just maybe, years down the line, long after the words written about him have been buried after pages and pages of content with better search engine optimization, Philip Seymour Hoffman will make his return to the screen. A director known for innovative casting (Tarantino? PT Anderson?) will take a chance on him. He’ll deliver a performance that will validate his recovery in the eyes of the public. But really, his reemergence will signify our willingness to accept his recovery as legitimate, and our own shame at doubting him.
Reports are, the Academy Award winning actor is doing well thanks to his support network and desire to be healthy, and none of this nonsense is likely to happen. I guess my point is, we’re still all the worst. Get well soon, Philip Seymour Hoffman. (And of course anyone plagued with addiction or other mental illness.)