Philip Seymour Hoffman, 1967-2014


Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the WASPy Ivy jerk Freddie Miles in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” was found dead today of an apparent drug overdose.

I’d been out all afternoon and heard the news while shooting the breeze at the neighborhood wine shop.

“Ripley” is one of my favorite movies. I watch it at least once a year. I was crushed when its director, Anthony Minghella, died a few years ago, as he also made “The English Patient,” another one of my favorite films. I wondered how many great movies I’d be missing because of the loss.

But the gifted actor Hoffman has apparently died of a drug overdose, and my reaction was quite different. It was the first time in my life I recall feeling angry at the loss of a celebrity — and I mean angry at the celebrity himself. — CC

50 Comments on "Philip Seymour Hoffman, 1967-2014"

  1. It’s funny because I re-watched Talented Mr. Ripely last week and lost an eBay bid for a Pendelton scarf just like the one he’s wearing above. RIP.

  2. Ironchefsakai | February 2, 2014 at 6:36 pm |

    Interesting sentiment, Christian. I kind of agree, though maybe for different reasons. PSH was brilliant, and it’s like he’s done us all a disservice by…self-terminating. But I guess it’s a little much to ask of the dead to be more considerate to the living.

  3. And yet isn’t that how people feel when someone close to them commits suicide (or overdoses on drugs)?

  4. Katzenjammer | February 2, 2014 at 7:17 pm |

    @Christian, if you mean that one’s first inclination is to covet the deceased person’s scarf, that’s true – it’s the first stage of grief.

    That role in Ripley really defined PSH for me; just brilliant. And there was something nice about seeing someone so talented do so well without looking like a life-sized Ken doll. The man had charisma and boatloads of it.

    What a waste; thus Christian’s anger, which I share. And it’s true for me too that I’ve never felt that for the death of a celebrity before. Was at brunch at Sarabeth’s when I found out.

  5. Sad, def but angry no-you never know anyone else’s demons, and someone who using heroin, we can assume had his share-

  6. Agreed. A stupidly squandered life.

  7. Squandered? He was sober for over twenty years, and left some of the most powerful performances during that time. Did anyone see Synecdoche, New York? The man isn’t Burton, he used his talent marvelously, consistently, and kept trying to keep his demons under control.

  8. Andrew Jones | February 3, 2014 at 12:28 am |

    Drug addiction is a disease and to be angry at someone for dying of it is like being angry at someone for dying of a hemorrhage, as Minghella did. It is incredibly ignorant and disrespectful of the man’s memory to belittle his disease as you have above. Do your research before you post a comment, as Philip Seymour Hoffman tried several times to receive treatment for his disease and was sober for many years. While this blog may have Ivy style, it is clear that the author has not received an education of the same caliber, which does not necessarily have to come from an Ivy league school.

  9. Ironchefsakai | February 3, 2014 at 12:45 am |

    I think Christian is angry out of hurt, and loss. Maybe it’s giving the man too much credit (I don’t think it is), but when you’ve got talent like that, you are making yourself beholden to a larger constituency than just you. He was a servant to art and expression, and to humanity insofar as the latter is defined by art and expression–to ignore and endanger that was irresponsible and reckless.

    In any case, I would hope that he didn’t mean to die. It’s true that addiction is a disease, but I am actually very much with Christian on this.

  10. Ironchefsakai | February 3, 2014 at 12:46 am |

    When I say, “the man,” incidentally, I mean PHS–Christian’s got an artistic talent, too, but I wasn’t referring to him there. Though, Christian, be careful of more scrapes with cars, and don’t do heroin–we’ve all got a stake in this blog. ; )

  11. Andrew Jones | February 3, 2014 at 1:53 am |

    So to have a disease, which you concede addiction is, is “irresponsible and reckless”? He did not “ignore” his disease, because as recently as May he sought treatment. If we use your logic, a “servant to art and expression” should not ride in a car, as that may endanger them. I’m sorry, but he was a man who struggled with addiction and to be angry at him for succumbing to that disease is ignorant and shows a lack of education and class.

  12. Southern Loafer | February 3, 2014 at 2:21 am |

    There but for the grace of God go I.

  13. Katzenjammer | February 3, 2014 at 2:32 am |

    @Andrew Jones – you appear not to understand what an “education” is, nor “class”. To go around accusing other people of lacking in either on the basis of a few posts is simply risible. Methinks you’re trying way too hard sir.

    Anyway, I don’t think anyone here meant that they are angry at PSH himself; and by the way, feeling a bit of anger when someone dies of cancer is utterly appropriate and totally normal.

  14. Drug addiction a disease?
    How does one catch this disease?

    Drug addiction is illegal behavior resulting in many cases from despair or weakness of character.

  15. It’s called smack for a reason, doesn’t care if you’re rich and talented. In PSH’s case it’s possibly a loss for our culture and our entertainment. I can’t help but think of his his “wife and his three children, evidently he didn’t, but sly junkies never do.

  16. This is another sad story of what drugs can and does do to people in this world. My condolences to his family. With that said, the term “celebrity” and its attraction is getting very old. He was a very good actor, and it is tragic, but people in this country are losing loved one’s to drug abuse, alcohol abuse, suicide, death by DUI…etc. everyday. People in the armed forces are getting shot at, wounded or killed in Afghanistan every week….and do they get this type of attention when something tragic happens to them…no. I hate that it happened, but talented and famous…or not, I for one am tired of actors, singers, and athletes being put up on some type of pedestal. They are people who are good at their craft, but so are other people whose job or profession doesn’t put their face on television, which is the ONLY difference.

  17. sadly junkies never do.

  18. PSH will be sadly missed. His best performance was probably in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”

    Ripley had some of the best costumes of any movie put to film. I love how Tom Ripley, played by Matt Damon, wears his Gucci horse-bit loafers as a Gatsby-esque symbol of upper-crust social aspirations.

  19. One wonders if it were better not to have the genius if one can avoid the severe weaknesses that seem to accompany it and bring premature death. It may be a question that only each individual can answer for himself–although fortunately, given that genius is so narrowly scattered in this world, most will not have to bother pondering.

  20. Katzenjammer | February 3, 2014 at 11:47 am |

    Meh, I think that the cultural and mostly Romantic connection between “genius” and “addiction/emotional instability, etc.” is mostly a fiction; and a fiction that many pseudo and small talents feel they need to pay homage to and imitate, thus providing a kind of confirmation of the convention.

    Many of the greatest artistic geniuses were not drug addicts and deranged in one way or another; to wit, Shakespeare, Mozart, Bach, Dante, Chaucer, etc.

    PSH’s addiction was almost certainly accidental and not essential. I do think that the endless $ and attention and pressure of fame tends to have a kind of unhinging effect on even the most centered people.

  21. I am very sad about this. I’ve enjoyed much of his shows, the first time I got to see his talent was in Savages. Before the devil knows you’re dead convinced me that he was one of the best actors of our time.

    I have not been on the internet much today, so I only learned about his death from this blog around 4 hours ago, seeing a past year affixed with -2014 could have only meant one thing.

  22. A.E.W. Mason | February 3, 2014 at 1:17 pm |


    Your points are well taken. In the recent book “The Trip to Echo Spring,” author Olivia Laing tries to tackle why so many great writers and poets are alcoholics. She profiles six subjects. When I started reading the book I had great hopes that she wouldn’t fall prey to the tendency to take the romantic view–to believe, as one of her subjects famously opined, that “all wickedness is soluble in art.” My hopes weren’t realized. I don’t think Laing understood that Berryman’s statement on wickedness was made sarcastically–mocking those who believed it. His point was that the morality of duty to ourselves and to others in this world (as opposed to the morality of aspiration) attaches at every level of human ability, intelligence and talent: you don’t get a pass because you’ve won The National Book Award (or an Oscar). I’m sorry to say that in our society Hoffman’s death has become a kind of cliché–as if he is almost a parody of himself. And, frankly, that’s doubly sad, because it’s a distraction from the real horror which was the reality of the addiction he suffered but also overcame for, apparently, 23 long and productive years. It has been said, rightly I think, that the process of the addict destroying himself is usually more difficult to bear for the addict’s family and loved ones. That will probably be the case here, and my heart goes out to Mr. Hoffman’s children and all the others who, no doubt, loved and tried to help him. RIP

  23. @Larchmont – You usually “catch” it via genetic predisposition. Addiction has nothing to do with the content of the person’s character and it would serve us well to remember that just because you and I may be able to drink responsibly, not everyone can. I understand having an angry reaction to what, at the outset, appears to be very selfish and preventable behavior, but addiction is a deeply rooted disease and if PSH was never able to receive proper treatment – regardless if he ever became an actor or not – his fate would most likely be the same.

    The tragedy is that PSH will now be remembered first as a statistic and secondly as a terrific actor (he stole the show in Charlie Wilson’s War.) But hopefully, with each loss we read about, studios will more and more shy away from glamorizing troubled lives and work to get these actors who bring so much joy to our lives the help they need, even if that means sacrificing a payday. It’s proving not to be worth it in the long run.

    That scarf, however, is blameless and still so, so fresh.

  24. With all this talk of whether blame addiction or PSH himself, couldn’t it very well have been that he just got a batch of bad dope or he made a mistake in his dosage? Clearly if he was an addict, he was incredibly high function in terms of his productivity. Maybe he knew how to handle his vice, but he just messed up this one time. All I’m really trying to say is that I don’t pass judgement on him for using heroin. It doesn’t make you a good person, but it doesn’t inherently make you a bad one either.

  25. @Halby

    Saying that some people are born with a genetic predisposition to become alcoholics or drug addicts is no different from saying that some people are born with the spirit of Satan in them. Hoffman was a truly gifted actor. His criminal behavior in no way detracts from his greatness as an actor.

  26. I lost my best buddy to heroin. He said, “When you are hooked on heroin, you will always be hooked. Even when you are off it, you are never really off it. It begs you to return to it..”

    Call that weak, call it illegal, but he called it the best high you will ever have and made no excuses for it.

    As disappointed as I was at the loss, I admired him because he owned it.

  27. Dr Marc Lewis recently published a fascinating book on addiction. Fascinating because Dr Lewis is a renowned neuroscientist and was also an addict until age 31. Now in his sixties the accounts and information in this book give you a rather harrowing (and not apologetic) view of what addiction is like and means to the addict. Memoirs of an Addicted Brain is quite an interesting, and at times, exhausting trip into this world

    However, it is OK to be angry at PSH. Anger at the addict is entirely reasonable, especially when it is the person and the good that is lost, that is the source of the anger. Even the addict hates the addict.

  28. This evening’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross on NPR replays interviews with Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s archived if anyone wants to listen later. Listening to him talking about how he approached characters reinforces the sense of how much we have lost.

  29. That caliber of actor brings us insight into humanity and important historical figures (such as Capote).

    His death brings up many complex issues. I’ve gone back and forth all day regarding writing more.

  30. Ironchefsakai | February 3, 2014 at 10:51 pm |

    I’ll just say that having a disease doesn’t preclude judgment of actions. Mental illness usually doesn’t lead to reprehensible action, but it can–and when it does, it is still no excuse for potential acts of, say, violence.

    Just because PSH physically hurt himself and not others, quite possibly due to a disease (the “contraction” of which was not his fault) doesn’t necessarily absolve him of all guilt or deeds related thereto.

  31. “How’s the peeping, Tom?”…Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr. Ripley was one of PSH’s greatest roles. An overall great, yet underappreciated, movie. Very stylish with a great jazz soundtrack to boot.

  32. Chris, I wanted to let you know that NPR has a pretty interesting piece on just this: feeling angry at the loss of Mr. Hoffman. It’s a little bloggy, but you might be interested.

  33. Yesterday I chatted with my pal at the wine shop and told him how I put up a blog post as soon as he gave me the news, and shared some of the feedback.

    He had an interesting analogy: “If drug addiction is a disease, then getting the disease is like breaking into a lab and injecting yourself with polio.”

  34. Mr. Hoffman was an actor simply not to my taste. And since I never saw him onstage, I can’t make an informed statement about his talent. I will, however, say that I was unconvinced by his “Ripley” character — all malice, no charm.

  35. Rather bizarre comment. You can only judge an actor’s talent by a stage performance, not a film performance? And Freddie Miles is characterized by “malice”?

  36. I highly doubt that we are going to solve the “Is addiction a disease?” argument on this blog and I am not sure how many are even equipped to attempt it. I do know that I feel badly for both Mr.Hoffman and his family. Perhaps we can go back to the Trad vs. Preppy thing?

  37. No, this readership has never been afraid of discussing big issues, because this blog encourages it.

  38. As someone who does work in community mental health, I don’t think the last clause of that analogy is fair. For most at-risk populations, “polio” doesn’t exist in a lab; it’s right at home. No need for breaking in.

  39. Let’s not leave out his part in Scent of a Woman… another great film

  40. Dickey Greenleaf II | February 5, 2014 at 9:31 pm |

    Good bye Freddie,

  41. Vern Trotter | February 5, 2014 at 10:07 pm |

    The addiction to heroin is an incurable, progressive and fatal disease. It is the same with alcohol. The addict is as St. Paul, who wrote “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do- this I keep on doing.” Ergo, the addict says,” the further I am from my last hit(drink), the nearer I am to my next!”

    One is never a recovered addict, one is forever a “recovering addict!” Thus, Mr. Hoffman was clean for 20 years or so. An addict takes it one day at a time and attends meetings where he finds people in the same situation. This is how he survives. Something happened, likely, that caused him to go out and, as Dante says, “abandon all hope!” My ignorant opinion is that it was not an accident.

    There are so few very good actors now, I Believe this is why I am so sad. I am also sad that after his 20 years, he lost his struggle.

  42. Addiction is not a disease. This is the expert medical opinion of the English physician and psychiatrist who writes under the pseudonym Theodore Dalrymple:

    “To take only one point among many: most addicts who give up do so without any medical assistance—and most addicts do give up. Moreover, they do so at an early age. The proximate cause of their abstinence is their decision to be abstinent. No one can decide not to have rheumatoid arthritis, say, or colon cancer. Sufferers from those diseases can decide to cooperate or not with treatment, but that is another matter entirely. Therefore, there is a category difference between addiction and real disease.” (emphasis original)

    In an article on a medical journal editorial about alcoholics and liver transplants, he lambasts the authors of the editorial for vacillating on whether liver disease caused by alcoholism is self-induced:

    “Thus their own data virtually prove that, contrary to received notions of addiction, alcoholics can control their drinking, if motives—including fear—are strong enough… The problem of alcoholism, in other words, lies in the psychological, spiritual, and moral realm. Though the environment may exert a force, one has the freedom to resist it, unlike an impersonal force such as gravity.”

    It’s too bad—but not a tragedy—that Mr. Hoffman chose to end his own life by deciding to abuse a deadly illicit drug. It’s worse that he has been lionized for it. (I do not accuse CC of said lionization, but it’s out there.)

    Incidentally, Mr. Trotter, your quote from Paul’s epistle to the Romans supports my point nicely, and undercuts your own: Paul was speaking of sin—the spiritual and moral realm, as Dalrymple called it. There is nothing sinful or immoral about cancer, or high blood pressure. Our behavior—our choices—can, and all too often are, sinful and immoral.

    Our ancestors understood that drinking, gambling, and the like all involve a choice, a conscious decision. Modern psychobabble has convinced us otherwise. The facts, as outlined by Dalrymple, make clear which view is correct.

  43. Henry – I would add that many diseases are caused by making poor lifestyle choices such as diet, excercise, smoking, etc. In terms of treatment doctors often recommend lifestyle changes along with other treatments. I am not saying that anyone who gets any disease
    Is at fault, but rathe that we should all think about the lifestyle choices that we make and the possible consequences.

  44. @Henry,
    Thank you for introducing me to Dalrymple.
    Here he is on obesity and will-power:

  45. Vern Trotter | February 8, 2014 at 2:53 am |

    Mr. Henry,
    I normally don’t do back and forth and I am glad you read Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels, M.D.) as have I for years in The Daily Telegraph, The Spectator, City Journal, National Review, and others. In fact, right now in my stack of reading material is his article in the winter edition of The Salisbury Review to which I have taken for 25 years or so; I think he and Roger Scruton were founders. Obviously, he is one of my favorites.

    The National Institute On Drug Abuse at The National Institutes Of Health has this to say and is the official policy of the U.S.Government: “addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use….it is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain.”

    Like Will Rogers, ” I only know what I read in the papers!” and what I have observed while sitting in AA meetings on the Upper East Side for years. Normally what Theodore Dalrymple says is good enough for me. Like me, he is a Conservative that stresses personal responsibility which is what he is doing in this instance, in my opinion.

  46. Mary Jo Dropkin, PhD., RN | February 8, 2014 at 1:18 pm |

    Contrary to the comments of one physician, as quoted by Mr. Henry, alcoholism is, in fact, a disease, as noted more accurately by Mr. Trotter’s quote from the NIDA. Drug abuse would not,in fact, have an institute at the National Institutes of Health unless it was a disease. This is a serious disease, as is alcoholism, about which there are many misconceptions by many people. Perhaps because, unlike diabetes and sugar, cardiovascular disease and salt, obesity and fatty foods, etc., etc….there is evidence to date that there is addiction to the substance which originates in the brain. Such conditions, as do all diseases, also involve psychological and social issues; and, many, in fact, as Mr. Trotter noted, involve personal responsibility. A physician could warn a cardiac patient not to eat certain foods or he will die in a short period of time, for example….personal responsibility!

    The addict, however, has powerful tools to aid him/her in keeping the disease in remission. Tools that are available to everyone, and at least here in New York City (where Mr. Hoffman lived), there are thousands of meetings 24 hours a day/7 days per week. Those tools are Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Personal responsibility, which plays a major role, together with AA or NA, have been successful for many; unfortunately, not all, alcoholics and addicts. Perhaps it is the “socially unacceptable” and unpleasant behavior, that crosses all socioeconomic boundaries, resulting from the alcoholic or addict, who has “had too much” that contributes to misconceptions/bias about the disease of addiction. These substances effect everyone differently.

    At any rate, I do not believe that Phillip Seymour-Hoffman should be “sanctified” by the press in any way. Mourning a brilliant actor is certainly appropriate. Mourning an addict who after over 20 years of being clean and sober, lost his way, is very sad; sanctification is inappropriate.

  47. Hoffman’s first role as a preppy creep was as George Willis, Jr. İn ‘Scent of a Woman’

    That was before he played Freddy Miles in ‘Ripley’.

  48. OCBD,

    Yes, there is an interplay between choice and disease. If I choose to smoke cigarettes, I might well get emphysema. I chose the actions that led to the disease, but now that I have it, making different choices will not necessarily cure the disease. Even if I quit cold turkey, I cannot undo the damage done to my lungs.

    Let’s move back a little and assume that my smoking, while negatively affecting my health, has not yet caused emphysema. What happens if I choose to stop smoking? My health will improve, and I stand a much lower risk of emphysema.

    The important thing here is to distinguish between the freely chosen behavior that led to disease, and the disease itself. Once the disease starts, I can’t stop it through the exertion of the will; treatment becomes necessary. I do, however, have full control over whether or not I drink/smoke/overeat/exercise, etc.

    It is in this important sense—choice—that addiction is not a disease. We can choose whether or not to light up, or have a drink, or eat a Big Mac every day, or to go for a walk. We cannot choose to stop having cancer, for example.

    Dr. Dropkin,

    Yes, I know that the NIH, and many other medical organizations, treat alcoholism and other types of substance abuse as a disease. Substance abuse must be the only disease that we can freely choose to be cured of—doesn’t that radical difference between substance abuse and all other diseases strike you as, well, noteworthy, at the very least? I am not saying that choosing not to abuse is easy, and there may be some value to the idea that an addict is never cured, but is always recovering. Yes, there are psychological and social issues involved—again, a category distinction between substance abuse and all other diseases. Will, mindset, and social setting don’t really affect an individual’s susceptibility to cancer, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, rabies, etc.

    Medicine is at least as much art as science, and we would be foolish to think that out current state of the art is correct in every aspect. After all, we’re now finding out that everything we were told about fat for the past 40-50 years is not only wrong, but the opposite of what we should have been doing! Is it possible that psychology, a highly politicized and notoriously indefinite field, could be mistaken about a thing or two?

  49. P.S. to Mr. Trotter,

    I have always enjoyed your contributions here, and I appreciate your measured response. I hope to read your comments for many years to come.

  50. Henry,

    Thanks for the response. I agree with much of what you say on many different topics. The underlying point of my last post was that maybe we should not treat addicts so harshly because many of us make the same bad decisions again and again.

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