Tom Junod’s Cruel Tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman

04 Feb 2014

Hoffman picThe shocking death of Philip Seymour Hoffman of a drug overdose has understandably sent many scrambling to make sense of yet another artist falling to addiction.  Esquire Magazine’s Tom Junod has waded into treacherous waters in his attempt at tribute to this most talented actor.  The result is a shock to the system that I can’t imagine would bring anything but pain to his long-time girlfriend, three children or others who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction.

Junot was not content to applaud the skill with which Mr. Hoffman illuminated some of our darkest behaviors.  Instead, he aimed for cool and edgy at the expense of this tragedy:

“I had two contradictory but complementary responses to the news that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died of a drug overdose at the suddenly tender age of 46 — two responses, that is, beyond how terrible and damn, he was great.

The first was that there was no way Hoffman had died with a syringe still in his arm — no way that an actor who brought such finicky dignity to his portrayal of the most desperate characters had permitted himself to die so ruthlessly unmasked.

The second was that of course he had died in such a sordid manner — how else was Philip Seymour Hoffman supposed to die? There was no actor, in our time, who more ably suggested that each of us is the sum of our secrets…no actor who better let us know what he knew, which is that when each of us returns alone to our room, all bets are off.

The only way that Philip Seymour Hoffman could have died in a manner more consistent with the characters he created would have been if he had died by auto-erotic asphyxiation.”

To equate Mr. Hoffman’s ability to plumb the depths of complex and sometimes morally reprehensible characters with the manner in which he died and find poetry in that is as insensitive as it is tasteless.  This is also a romantic, pretentious conceit not unlike some film noir plot wherein a man smoking-cigarettes-in-the-back-of-a-dark-club-downing-scotch-after-scotch suffers for his art.

Junod’s is the attitude of someone on the outside looking in, perpetuating a stereotype that artists are, by virtue of their chosen careers, somehow twisted.  Junod  then opined:

“Would Matt Damon ever be found dead, with a syringe still hanging from his arm? Would George Clooney essentially eat himself to death? No, for the simple fact they both have way too much to lose.”

I would argue Mr. Hoffman’s three children were way too much for him to lose.

Junod intimates that Damon and Clooney play it safe in their performances or choice of roles and therefore would never be possessed by the kind of demons that have overcome the likes of Hoffman, James Gandolfini or Heath Ledger.

Someone should talk to Robert DeNiro about that one.  Ever seen “Taxi Driver”?  I believe Mr. DeNiro just turned 70 and he appears to be thriving.

Addiction to drugs and alcohol is not a mandatory byproduct of artistry and to offer a theory to the contrary makes the struggles of Mr. Hoffman or others, whether in show business or out, into a party joke.  There is no poetry in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death and no “aha” moment that can justifiably equate his great performances with the manner in which he died.

Mr. Junod continues his romance with the lurid by stating:

“…[W]e pay to look at men who look like us only when they convince us that that they live in psychic spaces that we could never endure…”

That’s why they call it acting.

Having been in this business for 30 years, I can promise there are brilliant actors and writers who are able to dig deep in their work yet still have a home, a family and maintain their emotional health.  By Junod’s logic, any actor playing a hooker or serial killer must live in those zones, too.

It is an unfortunate irony that artists needing vulnerability to well execute their craft inhabit a business littered with enough rejection to require the hide of a rhinoceros.  Yet that struggle is no more painful than someone investing their life savings and 20 years of blood and sweat in a business only to watch it go belly up.

There are men and women in all walks of life who have long suffered through depression and alcohol or drug addiction.  Their lack of notoriety ensures we know nothing of them, unlike the feeding frenzy surrounding the death of a famous casualty of the same disease.

We would do well to spend more time understanding the causes of addiction, or how to intervene, offering support and assistance rather than perpetuating a stereotype and in some untoward way, glamourizing the horrid, untimely death of a gifted person.

I cannot pretend to understand Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death or what trigger drove him to abandon his 23 years of sobriety.  Yet it would be glib to assume that whatever hole inside him that could not otherwise be filled was driven by his art.

I am grateful for the wonderful contributions Mr. Hoffman made in his rich and courageous work as an actor.  I  can only hope that the shock of his untimely loss will wake others to reach out for help and a road to recovery.

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Comments

  1. So well said, Anita!

  2. David Givens Says: February 4, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    You’re right on so many levels. A famous person is unfortunately subjected to the scrutiny of the masses of asses who think they know them by virtue of having seen or heard them. There have been many poor souls who have lost themselves to addictions of one kind or another, and some have been lost while others have made it. None of us knows what demons live in the mind of any one individual, what sets them off, or what can sooth their particular savage beast. I would posit that most of them know help is available somewhere, and we can only hope they reach out for it.

  3. Mr Jarod seems like one of those unhappy people who try to make themselves feel better about their shortcomings by bringing others down. He seems to be one of the special kind that only picks on people that can’t defend themselves.

    Heroin addiction is one of the most difficult to kick. I’ve lost cousins to “hot shots”. It’s sad all around.

    It’s obvious our drug addiction programs in America need to be reworked. Maybe look into programs that Scandinavian countries use? Do they still use another addictive drug, methadone, to try to get people off heroin?

  4. It would be enough of an insult to compare a dramatic actor to an action hero or romantic comedic actor. I wont mention names. Phillip Seymour Hoffman was a master craftsman. He made you feel for the underdog and understand complex human emotions. I dont even know if he did it or it was done to him. I wasnt there. Neither was Esquire magazine….i am sorry Mr. Hoffman is gone. The tapestry is less rich because of his loss. Sending hugs to his family and friends and all those suffering. There is light as there is darkness. Believe it. The Dark night of the soul comes for us all, and is a turning point. See book,The Divine Matrix, G.Braden. interesting to think about. I will remember Phillip Seymour Hoffman!

    • Anita Finlay Says: February 5, 2014 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks so much for your lovely note, m c. It is truly a shame that people like Junod think they are doing anybody a favor by writing stuff like this.

  5. Who? As in cares… Death of a jumkie

    • PSH was much more than a ‘junkie’ and in fact, any one who suffers from addiction needs help and understanding. Heroin addiction has exploded in this country. There are far too many who have lost loved one to drugs.

  6. I have been horrified by the mean-spirited pieces about PSH in the wake of his tragic death.

    A good indication that Anita Finlay gets Junod wrong–scarily wrong–is this smear, which my PRO-PSH friends all posted on FB.

    A shameful and deliberate misrepresentation of his intent. He’s the award-winning journalist and most literate people took him in the spirit he intended it.

    Snarky. The low point here is the bit about his kids. For shame! Junod was not saying that though perhaps it was poorly put. He was not discounting anything about his domestic life

    Further: the point about character actors was this. Some actors who inhabit dark places have perfectly happy and nice lives (Denis Leary playing Tommy Gavin, an alcoholic firefighter devastated by 9/11). Others are addicts whose psyches reflect the roles they play.

    Junod’s point was the he believed Hoffman to be the latter: someone with an orderly life who played those roles rather than someone whose disorder/darkness in art was a reflection of those qualities in his life.

    THAT was his point.

    • Anita Finlay Says: February 11, 2014 at 9:49 am

      I must disagree with you. I do not doubt Junod’s credentials, but that comment about Hoffman only dying more appropriately if he had died of erotic asphysxiation was awful. How do you think his family felt when reading that. And my comment about the kids was correct. He did say that Clooney and Damon had more to lose. What exactly was Mr. Junod thinking. We all can hit false notes without the intention to harm and I will give Mr. Junod the benefit of the doubt, but that does not change the fact that what he wrote was harsh. I can assure you I get his point. My point is there was another way to make it.

    • What ever Mr. Junod’s point, his words and tone read as a biting and very personal dismissal of Mr. Hoffman’s life, character and considerable body of work as a professional actor.

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