Academy Award winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, 46, was found dead Sunday morning in his New York apartment, of an apparent drug overdose. Last May, Variety reported that he had participated in a detox program after relapsing. Hoffman had struggled with drug usage throughout his life, as have many other actors on the silver screen.
An actor of his caliber should not be remembered for the untimely, unfortunate manner of his death, but rather for his contribution to his art. Actors in Hollywood are often chased and beaten down throughout the course of their careers and criticized for every choice they make. Rather than speculate on the darker sides of Hoffman’s personal life, it is far better to remember the gifted actor with the widest range of talent known to Hollywood in the past twenty years.
Hoffman graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of Arts with a degree in Drama in 1989. He was not extraordinarily good or bad looking. He did not have the physical quirks like those that set Christopher Walken or Willem Dafoe apart from other actors. He became succesful because he had the ambition to dive completely into his roles and the talent to execute them flawlessly.
His striking blonde hair and square jaw was unique and gave him the flexibility to play a range of roles. Hoffman let his characters swallow him whole – he is reported to have retrained his throat muscles to move differently to better fit his character’s emotions.
A consistent face both in the theater and on the independent screen, Hoffman starred in thirteen films from 1991 through 1996, when he was cast in his breakthrough role as Scotty J. in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997). From there he soared, earning great praise for his complex roles in Happiness, Flawless, Magnolia and many other films. With each and every role he brought life and honesty to dark and fragile characters. His role as a depressed loner in Happiness could have been played as a pitiful loser, but he injected such astoundingly real emotion into his voice and expressions that his character stood out as completely and undeniably human.
Hoffman is perhaps best known for winning an Academy Award for Best Actor portraying Truman Capote in Capote. He had also been nominated by the Academy for Best Supporting actor in Doubt and The Master.
Hoffman most recently was in A Most Wanted Man and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. To dwell on how the Hunger Games franchise is going to handle his death would be insulting to Hoffman’s art. One hopes that all of his scenes for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 have been filmed so that his performance does not have to be served the injustice of being replaced by a look-alike.
In addition to achieving an outstanding career on film, he earned three Tony Awards for Best Actor: in 2000 for Sam Shepard’s True West, and in 2003 for Eugene O’Niell’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. He recently won his third Tony Award playing Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in 2012. His directors and co-stars have reflected on the pain and power that characterized his artistic process because he brought so much of himself to the role. As Willy Loman, he shared deep, personal pain and sadness with the audience in a way that is rarely seen in actors of his generation.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was a unique and powerful gem in the acting world, willing to go to any length to portray dark characters while maintaining a truly happy view on life. The success that he experienced before he reached forty is almost unheard of, yet he accomplished it with grace in two different arenas. It is astounding that he was able to play such a myriad of roles that were so deep and complex without hitting a creative plateau: he just kept on rising.
A valued and respected actor, artist, friend and family member has been lost, and he should be given the greatest respect for his wonderful work. Rest in peace, Philip Seymour Hoffman.