My mom called me yesterday in tears. She was distraught and heartbroken over the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman at age 46. Philip and his girlfriend had 3 children together. Evidently she asked him to move out 3 months ago as a tough love gesture since he was using heroin. He was found dead and alone in his bathroom with the needle still in his arm.
We civilians love celebrities for different reasons. Watching them act out and tell stories on the screen, they help lead us (and don't fool yourself -- for better or worse, they do lead us) through our lives: advising us, inspiring us, often simply distracting us, and sometimes, they are cautionary tales.
The stock always goes up on any upcoming film when one knows that Philip Seymour Hoffman is in the cast. He's earned the reputation of an actor who chooses only the best scripts and the most accomplished directors.
Regardless, he's no Tom Hanks or Reese Witherspoon. America's Sweetheart he's not. I was sort of purplexed by the outpouring of love for the man. Frankly, many of the characters he's played are far from likeable.
1999's "The Talented Mr. Ripley (image from E! Online)."
His accused child molester Father Brendan Flynn in
2008's "Doubt" was chilling.
But he could also be savagely, brilliantly funny.
He stole 2007's "Charlie Wilson's War" from Tom Hanks as the
take-no-prisoners, genius, multi-lingual CIA agent Gus Avrakotos.
OK, so he was a brilliant actor. So, why did we love him so?
I've thought about it, and I think his death strikes such a deep cord because Philip, more than any other actor I can remember (ever) bravely showed his brokenness onscreen. His pain, his sorrows, his losses -- well, they were written all over his face.
Overweight, chain-smoking, he appeared a good 20 years older than his 46 years at his death. But he wasn't interested in fooling everyone into thinking what a cool, together guy he was. He looked us right in the eye through his characters and shared his pain. His brokenness was on display for all to see.
He was so freaking honest in his roles. It was shocking sometimes, truly, as in "Boogie Nights" and "Before the Devil Knows Your Dead" -- to the point that you almost had to look away.
He reached out to us across the screen and shared it all with us, without shame. Yet he never took the easy route by making himself the clown or the victim. We knew he was brilliant and that he had been around the block a few times, and life was taking a toll. He was simply, completely real. How could we not love him for that? Such honesty and lack of guile in show business is a rare, rare jewel.
So, I believe, that's why we mourn. In an era when nearly every word that comes out of actors mouths is pre-screened, buffed and shined by publicists and stylists for our viewing protection, he said screw it and told the truth with his eyes, his words, his face, and even his frumpy body.
These would be reason enough to love him, but there was one last thing: his playfulness.
He didn't show it often in his roles, but on the rare occasion when this big, broken man shared his impish grin with us, we had to smile too. It gave us hope. As long as Philip found the courage to laugh, then we knew we could find a way to laugh with him -- we merely had to dig deep to find it.
He was, in a word, brave. And that's not a word I expect to apply to a Hollywood celebrity again anytime soon.
So, when we heard that this broken man whom we had grown to know and care for had died, alone and with a needle in his arm, mourning the absence of his 3 young children as only a hopeless, relapsed heroin addict can -- it's unbearably heartbreaking.