Philip Hoffman, RIP

Like so many people I’m saddened by the loss of actor Philip Hoffman who succumbed to an apparent drug overdose this weekend. It’s SOP to sing the praises of anyone after they’re gone, but in this case some singing is warranted. Watching some of the clips of Hoffman in various films last night and today, I was struck by two observations: in several cases, his transformation into the role was so complete, the original editor of Creem magazine in Almost Famous (Who incidentally, did die of a drug overdose) or the trust fund kid in The Talented Mr. Ripley, that I didn’t even know it was him playing the part until now. Second, in those roles and others, his performance was so superb, even as a relatively minor supporting actor, that I remembered them, he drew me in with an authenticity that just popped right out of the screen.

That being said, I have to ponder and wonder, had a Latino ball-player or black musician of equivalent talent been found dead in a luxury apartment, surrounded by half empty packets of smack and pill bottles, with an emptied syringe sticking out of their stiff, cold arm for chrissake, would media be so kind? Because I suspect there would be significant elements in the news and general communities who would shrug it off as “uppity fucking nigger got what was coming to them.”

Hoffman had every resource at his disposal to luxuriously, painlessly, deal with substance abuse, including the king of them all, opiate withdrawal, without suffering the usual hardships middle class nobodies would face and none of the horrors inflicted on the poor. Hoffman could have been on all kinds of maintenance, had his physical symptoms medicated out of existence by a suite of drugs administered safely by addiction specialist MDs, enjoyed the luxury of having every thought and whim of self-pity catered to by an entire staff of psychologists, and then, buoyed by celebrity and fans, he could have cashed in with a best-seller autobiography and eventual film about his courageous battle that would have garnered global hero praise on the Dr. Phil and Oprah circuit. Hoffman is one of a tiny group of lucky people who are uniquely positioned to make more money off a long-term smack habit than it cost over the years.

Heroin is diacetylmorphine, a drug with two deadly attributes — aside from the obvious risks. It quickly produces tolerance in regular users, they’re able to use more and more, so when they quit and then relapse and quit again, over time, it’s not uncommon when an OD results. I’m also told the margin between the effective dose, what the user needs to achieve the desired high, and the lethal dose that will stop heart and lungs dead in their tracks, is much smaller for heroin than it is for many other street drugs. Put those two things together and deadly overdoses are an eventual certainty. But he was clearly an experienced user, 46 years-old at that, he should have and probably did know better.

I’m not glad Hoffman died, not a bit, there is no lesson here — at least there are a lot worse way to go than high as a kite on a drug that is said to heavenly — nor is there any more dishonor in dying in that manner than when an adrenaline junkie dies from an illegal BASE jump. But just like a jumper, and assuming he didn’t inject rat poison or antifreeze sold as heroin, or suffer a freak allergic reaction, Hoffman has only himself to blame.


  1. New England Bob says

    I posted elsewhere that I have no sympathy for what he did to himself and I was berated by others who said he was depressed and it is not his fault.

    I still stand by what I said. He had money and fame and talent and wasted it all.

  2. says

    I hear you Bob, it’s not out of malice that we’re saying this, no one who realizes that wants anyone to die as some sort of punishment for success, it’s simply a fact that he wasted it for a few fleeting moments of high when all the help and relief the world can offer was his for the asking.

  3. eoleen says

    I second, third, fourth, etc. NewEngland Bob’s reasoning. He was a junkie, who gave no thought to what he was doing to his family, etc.

  4. maistra says

    I have never commented, but long been a reader of Freethought Blogs, and have enjoyed your posts over the years.

    However, I would like to offer a few thoughts about this one in particular:

    Addiction is a mental illness. This is a very simple fact that people seem to forget when it takes the lives of people too young, or people with loved ones still here. It is a mental illness. It is a mental illness alongside depression, alongside schizophrenia, alongside borderline personality disorder. Yes, Mr. Hoffman must have made a mistake once when he was very young (from what I gather from somewhat uncredible sources, he began young and was clean for a very long time before relapsing). For all we know, that mistake may have been the most fatal mistake of his life. It only takes once. Can you truly argue that Hoffman, the man he became, is to blame for a singular mistake when he was a teenager which led to a lifetime of struggling with addiction? About his money, and what psychologists he had access to- addiction does not discriminate. There are people with much less privilege who recover successfully, and there are people with every resource in the world who never do.

    You probably already have, but I invite you to read the work of your (ex) fellow blogger Natalie Reed on her own struggles with addiction:

    While I definitely agree that had he been a less prominent (and less privileged) man, the media treatment would either be worse or nonexistent, I disagree with playing the blame game. If, as a society, we truly want to help addicts, we need to stop feeding this belief that everything they have coming is their fault, and start educating those who don’t understand the devastating power the illness of addiction can have.

  5. David Wilford says

    That being said, I have to ponder and wonder, had a Latino ball-player or black musician of equivalent talent been found dead in a luxury apartment, surrounded by half empty packets of smack and pill bottles, with an emptied syringe sticking out of their stiff, cold arm for chrissake, would media be so kind?

    Well, Richard Pryor almost died back in 1980 when he burned over half his body as a result of freebasing, but instead of scorn there was sympathy and well-wishes from the media. Pryor for all his success as a stand-up comic and actor did not know how to cope with drugs and fame either, despite having money.

  6. Dhorvath, OM says

    Wow. It must be nice to know how Hoffman felt, what attempts he made towards overcoming a serious sickness, that he never thought about how he was leading others to hurt. I don’t know this, that’s sure, and I have trouble believing that anyone knows what was going on inside of him during his troubled life. What is served by inferring intent and laying blame? Will this make anyone less susceptible to addiction? Will it help any depressed people out of their troubles? Will it heal anyone who loved him faster?

  7. says

    Update: I’m back in business! It was user error (Gasp) there was a new plug in that needed to be installed.

    I wish I could approve comments and post because there are some thought provoking comments awaiting approval. Some point out that addiction is a disease and should be treated like any other, that there’s no blame any more than we would blame an epileptic for having a seizure. Blame is a bit of a loaded word, and I agree that addition is a disease and we treat it very badly, but if I were to play Devi’s advocate in this case, I can point to how we vary widely arbitrarily in how we apply the term disease.

    We don’t blame an epileptic for having seizures, but we might blame an epileptic for killing themselves if they had been treated for epilepsy and warned of the consequences, and then died after having a seizure while touring down a toll road at 80 mph on a motorcycle.

    We don’t blame addicts for being dependent: except some would do and have done exactly that when the addiction is cigarettes and the cause of death is stroke or heart attack.

    The point that addiction is a disease and no chooses it is well taken and one I’ll think about. I ask that another useful point to think about is that we don’t always apply the term disease equally and we don’t even apply it equally to all addictive substances that come with risks.

  8. says

    He was a junkie, who gave no thought to what he was doing to his family, etc.

    Right. That’s why he went into rehab, quit the drugs and stayed clean for twenty years; because he didn’t give a thought to it.

    Incidentally, this is the point where you realize that you’re a fucking moron.

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