Philip Seymour Hoffman, 1967-2014

A remembrance of the great actor from one of the many who know him as “that guy from that movie.”

PSHoffmanGuest writer Trevor Seigler reflects on the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Philip Seymour Hoffman wasn’t a name I sought out in the credits of movies, but he was always a pleasant surprise. Most of the time I saw him in supporting roles, whether as the closeted grip in Boogie Nights or as the bad guy in Mission: Impossible III.

I never saw him on the stage. His presence in my pop-culture awareness was rarely more than “hey, it’s that guy.” I wasn’t a huge fan of his, but I’ve seen many of the films in which he made more substantial with his presence.

A Gift for Making You Care

My favorite is one of his rare turns as a good guy, relatively speaking: Lester Bangs in Almost Famous.

The film, Cameron Crowe’s love letter to his time as a journalist for Rolling Stone, features Bangs/Hoffman as the mentor to the young protagonist. I never read anything of Bangs’ work until last year, when I was given a copy of his posthumous collection Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung as a gift.

He guides Crowe’s protagonist through the snakes’ den of getting too close to the band you’re covering, and councils the young rock writer on how to deal when the band screws him near the end. Finally reading Bangs last year made me aware of his importance and why anyone would seek him out as a mentor. Bangs, like Hoffman, had a gift for making you care.

Bangs’ death in 1982 oddly prefigures Hoffman’s; from what I’ve read, Bangs finally kicked a lot of the drugs he was on, only to overdose on cough syrup. That’s just what I’ve read, to what extent it’s true is in the eye of the reporter.

Just as Hoffman’s death might introduce him to people who had never heard of him, Bangs was a little-known cult hero to rock snobs and aspiring writers before Hoffman brought him to life.

The Work Remains

I feel underqualified to write this obit, but I’m giving it a try because deep down, I admired what work of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s I’ve seen. Because he brought Lester Bangs to life, because he made his villains more interesting than the supposed heroes he was squaring off against, and because he was a husband and a father whose death leaves behind more pain for those closest to him than for his fans ̶even if the grief of fans is more tangible than the grief of friends and family and gets more press coverage.


A low-key guy by all accounts, a fixture of his neighborhood who never put on airs, Hoffman made his name by being more alive onscreen and onstage than many of us will ever have the opportunity to be in real life.

His death leaves a void not just in the lives of his family but in the lives of those with whom he collaborated, those with whom he worked and shared the screen. The work remains, to remind all of us of what we’ve lost.

Email Trevor at tlseigl at yahoo dot com.

14 Comments on “Philip Seymour Hoffman, 1967-2014”

  1. sfosparky #

    Oh my, another actor kills himself with a drug overdose.

    Enough already. The individual had an abundance of treatment options. He had children. He had a career most of the world’s toilers would love to have. He had a partner. He had a nice apartment in New York and wasn’t worried about his next meal.

    I have no sympathy for the individual. He’s just another junkie who got a hot load and so killed himself straightawar rather than slowly by degrees across a period years.


    • Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

      Please read up on addiction and depression before you rush to judgment. It would be nice if family, fame, and money could solve these problems. They don’t, unfortunately. I feel very sorry for Hoffman’s family, and for Hoffman himself.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      Death is coming for all of us, whether rich or poor, successful or unsuccessful, whether we have partners or not or children or not or food or not. We all do good and bad things, and in the end how much of it really matters?

      Yeah, there’s not a romance in poisoning yourself, sure. We shouldn’t praise him for being addicted to drugs.

      But I see no reason to drag this person who affected a lot of lives through the mud, when the universal fact of death connects us in ways that are far more profound than anything that would prompt these sorts of petty insults.

      The greatest opportunity in commemorating death is to extend a universal, connective sympathy.


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      Regardless of your position on the disease model of addictive process (though having a “position” on that is as silly as having a “position” on evolution, since there is a scientific and medical consensus on the issue), I humbly suggest that compassion for people who are suffering — whatever their station in life — may be a better route than condemnation. The rain falls on the just and unjust alike.

      Sometimes, as a helpful thought experiment, when I have wanted to start moralizing about addiction, I find/replace “addiction/booze/drugs” with a different disease and see if the claim still holds water.

      Let’s try cancer. Ready?

      Oh my, another actor kills himself with a drug overdose cancer.

      Enough already. The individual had an abundance of treatment options. He had children. He had a career most of the world’s toilers would love to have. He had a partner. He had a nice apartment in New York and wasn’t worried about his next meal.

      I have no sympathy for the individual. He’s just another junkie cancer patient.

      I’m the first to admit it’s not a perfect analogy. Far from it. And I don’t mean to trivialize either thing by comparing them. But it’s close enough that it does reveal the underlying character of the claim. It’s ridiculous, to be sure, but more importantly it’s heartless.


      • Seminymous Coward #

        I am honestly astonished that you typed that quotation up with the substitution and still hit Submit Comment. Sure, sfosparky displayed an appalling lack of empathy or respect for human life, but trying to outdo him seems like a strange response.

        If you can’t see the moral difference between taking an action, under great internal pressure but still possessing agency, and having an incurable illness, that’s seriously messed up. That implied equivalence or, if you prefer, imperfect analogy is flat-out offensive.

        Addiction is real and terrible, but it’s not an inescapable death sentence that can’t be stopped even with expert care. Acting like it is does a disservice to addicts, and it can only discourage their seeking treatment and demoralize them further. Acting like some cancers aren’t currently unstoppable death borders on mockery of those afflicted.


        • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

          With respect, I’m not sure that’s what I did, and I think you’re overstating the moral horror. The analogy is not directed at people who are suffering or their loved ones, but rather at people who are condemning them. I think that context matters a great deal.

          I admit it’s a rhetorical shock, and I hope you know it’s not meant to give offense—not to you, anyway. But it sometimes takes a shock to disrupt an ingrained pattern of self-righteousness.

          Not that it necessarily does any good. Who has ever had their mind changed by an Internet comment thread?


    • Amanda M #

      In the words of Mario Batali, you seem successful and delightful!


  2. DK #

    I liked PSH as an actor. But the spin is ridiculous. If he wasn’t an actor and famous nobody would be going all “addiction this, addiction that.” Only his family and friends would be sad. The rest of us unpopular kids would just write him off as a junkie who didnt get enough hugs from his parents as a kid cause they shipped him off to a popular kid high school.
    Try this, “journalists”: what “caused ” him to turn to drugs in the first place?
    Let’s try that…oh wait: then we would have to look in the mirror.
    Oh my god, how can i cure addiction!?! its a disease, you know.
    What b s


    • Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

      I… do not understand this comment. But I suspect it says more about you than it does about Hoffman or the media.

      I’m really not understanding the vitriol. I might if Hoffman were a douchebag who went around hurting people on purpose, but as far as I know that wasn’t the case. Addicts can absolutely be assholes. We all know that. But it seems that all Hoffman did was OD. If it was an accident, it’s tragic. If it was suicide, it’s tragic. That would be the case if he were famous or not.

      Now let’s all hug it out and watch The Big Lebowski.


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      Goodness. I’m sorry you’re so angry. Maybe you resent feeling unpopular. But even so, it’s inhumane to “write him off as a junkie,” and being unpopular is not an excuse.

      It’s inhumane to write anyone off as just “a junkie” no matter their station in life. Rich, poor, famous, unknown… it is sad and it makes the world by small degrees more bleak and mean each time we squelch the impulse to compassion in favor of the impulse to… be an Internet commenter. Send not to know for whom the bell tolls and all that.


  3. mezdef #

    I’ll remember FSH from _The Master_ and especially Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead_, both tour de force performances in incredibly well-textured movies. I’m sure I’ll be spending some time going over select pieces of his work in the coming months.

    I don’t have too much to contribute on the drug front, so I’ll do some pondering in his memory.

    It must just be the films I’ve seen him in, but I’ve always thought of Hoffman as someone who played a peerless Jerk/bad/troubled individual. Is it perhaps something about his appearance, body language, speech, or just his general skill at affectation that allows this quality?

    I don’t have time now, but I’d be curious to see what % of films he appears in is as a ‘nice’ or ‘good’ character. There are certain other actors that seem to own the villain characters. Jeremy Irons is one of those cases (based on my viewing at least).


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      I’m so glad someone is talking about appreciating the man’s work! Yes, let’s talk about that.

      One film I want to call out in particular is Mission Impossible 3. I mentioned it on the podcast. I think that PSH gave the bad guy a lot of depth and subtlety by being understated and not going all Al Pacino. (I love Al Pacino, but he’s not exactly quiet. He’s coming out guns blazing.) The quiet sense of menace was very scary and was a perfect foil to Tom Cruise, who always seems coiled to strike.

      It paved the way for a lot of really interesting franchise villains, including, I think, Javier Bardem in Skyfall.


      • mezdef #

        I couldn’t actually recall that particular role, so I went back to take a look and discovered I’d never actually seen MI:3; Amazing.

        I paid particular attention to PSH and it was certainly an understated performance, but it was more than that. He balances a looseness of movement and manor with a matter-of-fact demeanour that is an odd combination. He states everything simply with little emotional register, which would usually be paired with slightly OCD and high-horse type character for a villain. Instead he dresses loosely (floppy hair, no tailored suits, shows a slight paunch), sweats in almost every scene, and visibly stumbles at least once or twice on camera. This is helped by fight choreography that is worlds away from something like the Bourne franchise. It reminds me somewhat of _Fightclub_ choreography, where each punch looks like it has weight behind it, and even kicking takes effort.

        PSH was certainly done a lot of favours by the cast for this performance as the sparseness of the character writing (we don’t actually see all that much of him), the costume design, and the choreography all back up the character he’s inhabiting.

        Overall, an interesting performance, and I can certainly see a line from this to Skyfall.


  4. TBC #

    I admit: I don’t know much about addiction. Mom, a housewife, smoked. Dad, a one-man band pest-control company operator, didn’t. Dad died when the chemicals finally won. They called it MDS, but we knew. He didn’t choose to ingest the poison, he faced collateral damage of his career. And with all respect to this actor’s tragic death and the pain his family has only begun to feel…again, I admit I know very little about the struggle of addiction and how hard it is etc. But am I wrong: he decided one day to ingest substances. That his brain became addicted to. His decision. No, I can’t compare it to cancer. That’s preposterous. And you know it, and just about admitted it, Mr Wrather, for shock reasons (whatever). Fact: most if not all (lucky) megastars like PSH live incredibly lavish, overwhelmingly privileged lives. I apologize to those this offends, but I cannot feel bad about a father of children who lived an extravagant life — by pretending to be someone else, while a camera rolled or an audience gasped — and this grown man DECIDED to trade that life for whatever feeling was imparted through the end of that needle. I’m not talking about the LAST NEEDLE. I’m talking about THE FIRST. That is the difference, and why I am disgusted with the entire thing.


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