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In Memoriam: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a man of remarkable talent and profound spirit


Actor and director Phillip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)  |  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The root of Hollywood has been shaken as celebrities and fans heave a collective sigh over the loss of one of the most talented actors of the century.

Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away Feb. 2, leaving in his wake a remarkable trail of beloved characters who, admirers argue, can never be matched. At 46, the Oscar winner is best remembered for his chameleon-like abilities to portray even the most unlikable characters with charismatic empathy.

UH students may have unique remembrances of the actor, as his work includes diverse films like 1998’s cult hit “The Big Lebowski”, 2006’s “Mission Impossible III”, 2011’s “Moneyball,” and most recently, the latest installment of “The Hunger Games.” Hoffman’s talent was unquestionable based on these films alone. And yet, his immensely successful career took him to even greater heights with dramas like “Cold Mountain,” “Charlie Wilson’s War,” and “The Ides of March.” But perhaps Hoffman’s most memorable role, as evidenced by his Academy Award win for Best Actor, is 2005’s “Capote,” in which he portrayed the “In Cold Blood” author.

In the days leading up to his death, Hoffman spent time with his three young children and had dinner with friends. According to witnesses, nothing seemed out of the ordinary for the actor. But when he was found in his NYC apartment after failing to pick up his kids, it was apparent something was missed. An autopsy was completed Feb. 5 with inconclusive results, though reports suggest the actor’s known struggle with addiction was the main cause. Hoffman had entered rehab to seek treatment in May 2013 after having a relapse. When interviewed about his experiences, the actor was quite candid.

“There will be another film, there will be another relationship, or I’ll die and then I’ll be dead. But if I’m alive, I know life is going to keep throwing things at me,” he told The Guardian in 2011.

In my own experience, before I began to connect the dots of his unyielding skill, I considered him reservedly as the sweaty, smelly, profusely dramatic former child-star Sandy Lyle from Ben Stiller’s rom-com “Along Came Polly.” This was my first discovery of Hoffman, and he was so convincing to my 10-year-old self that I came to believe Hoffman and Sandy were synonymous. From that point on, Sandy was confusingly popping up everywhere he didn’t belong: in the suit of a hauntingly brooding Truman Capote or in a canoe as a curly-locked preacher befriending Jude Law and calling himself the rock journalist Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous.”

This is what makes it so difficult, as it was with the death of Heath Ledger, to disentangle oneself with million-dollar characters and look at the person beneath them. I think we, as fans, as critics, as an audience unable to cognitively leave the theater, tend to forget that the perfection we pay for in the form of a ticket sometimes comes at the highest price for those on the other end of it. When a celebrity dies, especially actors, I first find myself saddened by the people they once portrayed and the people they would have in the future. It’s only once the news settles in that their humanity is hurled at those who are watching — the reality of a family left behind, a tragic flaw the cause of it.

In a statement, Hoffman’s family said they were “devastated” by the loss “of our beloved Phil,” calling his passing “sudden.” Michelle Williams, the mother of Heath Ledger’s only child, is said to have paid a visit to the family to offer her support. Dozens of celebrities and friends also expressed their remorse with gratitude for his life.

This serves as a reminder that however he died, Hoffman’s way of living is what will remain for the rest of us. When we’re left asking questions, reaching for the unfinished script for the last production that will remain stalled, the best means of goodbye is looking back at your 10-year-old self and seeing how that actor affected you. Sandy still makes me laugh, because he’s just as alive to me as he was when I first saw him. He’s just as ridiculous, self-absorbed and oddly endearing.

In a 2008 interview with The New York Times, Hoffman spoke of the future. With his own words, he signed his legacy:

“In 80 years, no one I’m seeing now will be alive. Hopefully, the art will remain.”

Opinion columnist Alex Meyer is a creative writing freshman and may be reached at [email protected]

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