I read this article by Matt Saccaro the other day and was struck by its honesty. In the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, I experienced many of the same sentiments Saccaro posits in his article but was unsure and afraid of how I could word them. Honesty, especially surrounding a death, can be daunting. But, sometimes I feel the masochistic need to write things that few people probably want to hear.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman was a drug addict who died, as most drug addicts do, from drug abuse. I cannot feel sad for him. In a country, hell a world, filled with human beings dealing, and in some cases not dealing, with drug addiction, I simply cannot justify investing my own sadness in a person who knew how to get help and chose not to.
I could give the requisite line about having close family and friends who have battled addiction (some more successfully than others), but that would be a micro example in a macro argument.
Over 40,000 people died in 2010 of drug-induced deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control. Of those individuals, how many of them had the resources Hoffman had at his disposal? He obviously knew about rehab and support facilities, having been sober for a good portion of his life following early addiction troubles. Additionally, how many addicts have the financial security Hoffman had? The ability to not work or worry about paying the bills and focus on getting well?
I am going to guess that the answer to those questions is not very many.
Now, I realize that fighting addiction and the conditions that can lead to it (depression, anxiety, etc.) is not simply about having the means to get well. It is also about having the drive to do so. But that should not discount the fact that it is probably much more difficult for a single mother living below the poverty line to find help than it is for a an affluent celebrity with resources and a support system. Yet, when she dies and leaves orphans behind she is a junkie. Hoffman, on the other hand, is a tortured artist.
Junkies die every day and go unnoticed. An actor dies and within a week, and his dealers are arrested. Getting dealers off the street is never a bad thing, but it just seems too apropos, given the circumstances. A perfect transition for the cameras to point at and say “We got them. We got the guys who did this to poor Phil.” But, the thing is, Hoffman did this to himself. What we as a culture, in a haze of celebrity-induced euphoria, fail to understand about drug addicts (in the majority of cases) is they chose to do the drugs.
I have to call bullshit on that tortured artist line, too. I do not want to in any way discredit the psychological and/or mental anguish he experienced. I have suffered both depression and anxiety and know that it is not a joke. However, just because he happened to both suffer from these or other ailments and be one of the greatest actors of our generation, does not in any way increase the potency or importance of his suffering. A tortured artist is a tortured human being, no more and no less. It is extremely unfair to the “normal” folks out there struggling through their own lives to somehow elevate his suffering because of his profession and celebrity. Hoffman had his demons, and he is not alone in that.
All of this was a drawn out way of saying one thing: What he did was extremely selfish. He had three children. Three children who will grow up without a father because of the decisions he made. In my book, that makes him a coward, not someone to be mourned. When a criminal murders a father during a robbery, we respond with outrage and look for ways to make sense of the situation and make sure it never happens again (i.e. call for life in prison/death penalty, more gun control, etc.). When a crazed gunman shoots up a public place, we respond in the same way. Why is it that when a talented actor overdoses on heroin and takes himself away from his children, we idolize him all the more?
We live in a death-centric celebrity-driven culture where dying young and leaving grievers behind is almost a rite of passage. Hendrix. Monroe. Elvis. Dean. Joplin. The list goes on and on. And every time a celebrity dies, our culture explodes with remorse and sadness and heart-wrenching ache at the lost genius, and I have to ask why we do it?
Inevitably this article will draw detractors who will chastise me for appearing insensitive to addiction and its victims. To them, I say this: I am not the insensitive one; you are. Every person who mourns the loss of the actor, the loss of his genius, the loss of his craft, the loss of what he did for you. You are the selfish ones. Hoffman is not the victim here; he is the one who pulled the goddamn trigger.
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death made me sad. It made me sad for the victims. The real victims of this crime: his children, his family, his friends. But I won’t cry for the man, no matter how many great movies he acted in.