Leave Philip Seymour Hoffman Alone!

Philip Seymour HoffmanI do wish all the world would shut the fuck up about the “heroin epidemic” that is underway in the United States. Is there a heroin epidemic? No. Heroin use seems to have been on the rise for the last decade or so, but there isn’t anything especially dramatic about its rise. Drug use waxes and wanes over time, just as do all human behaviors that are not physical necessities. But all day long, I’ve been treated to scare articles about how many people are using heroin and how many people are dying from heroin and this new super potent heroin. I want to rip my fucking hair out.

It is sad that Philip Seymour Hoffman has died of what looks like a heroin overdose. He has a long history with the drug. I don’t doubt that there is some amount of psychic pain that is involved with all of this. I also don’t doubt that this had something to do with his skill as an actor. When I recently saw A Late Quartet, I thought that Hoffman’s highly emotional performance seemed pretty close to the surface, as though there wasn’t a great deal of difference between actor and character. But I gather that is true for a lot of actors. Regardless, audiences always seem to want great artists but are intolerant of what they see as their non-productive habits.

Can’t we leave this man in peace? He was a fine actor. But now he is being turned into an unwilling spokesman for the “ain’t heroin awful” campaign. This is, of course, the campaign that seems only interested in “helping” addicts by throwing them in jail. And it is only sad when a junkie dies if he’s famous. The truth is that junkies die all the time and no one gives half a fuck about them. In fact, as I’ve argued at length elsewhere, most people just want junkies to crawl away and die so the society doesn’t have to deal with them. And the legal status of the drug and the treatment of its users bears this out.

What’s going on with Philip Seymour Hoffman is the same thing that goes on with heroin users all over the nation. He is losing his individuality in order to paint him as the face of heroin addiction. But he’s a lucky one. I suspect that in 20 years, he will be remembered for a handful of movies he made. That is as it should be. This media blitz will not last. But that doesn’t make it any less disrespectful. And here I’m not just talking about Hoffman. I’m even more focused on all the heroin users who just don’t matter to anyone in the nation except in so far as it can vote for another “three strikes” law or another “get tough on crime” politician.

I would much rather people just admitted that they didn’t care. After all, would it be any less sad if Philip Seymour Hoffman had died of cancer or in a rock climbing accident? And in my experience, when people start talking about “heroin epidemics,” their solutions are most likely bigger penalties for drug crimes. When I see someone riffing off Hoffman’s death for the purpose of providing greater access to methadone treatment, I’ll be on board. But that’s not what I’ve seen. And I’ve been following this stuff for over two decades.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Leave Philip Seymour Hoffman Alone!

  1. Yeah, the moralizing is awful. I’ve seen site after site comparing Hoffman’s skills as an actor to his addiction, as though being gifted at your chosen craft is a kind of fucking cautionary tale. "He was so mesmerizingly dark in Movie X; that should have warned us he was on smack." Good bleeping Lord. Let a guy die in peace and his loved ones feel sad, already.

  2. Hasn’t the potency and profitability of street-available heroin skyrocketed since the Drug War began? I think I read you on this.

    PSH was crazy good at acting. I’d watch any movie that he was in. Hard to pick a favorite, but maybe his role that stuck out for me the most was as a CIA spook in "Charlie Wilson’s War." The movie is an elaborate apologetic for our murderous shenanigans in Afghanistan, it’s a mess. But then pops up PSH as exactly the sort of shady strange guy you would expect shady strange CIA guys to be. (And, for what it’s worth, I used to know people who had connections with shady strange undercover guys, and they always described those guys as seriously bent.) PSH didn’t meet the shady CIA dude he as playing; that guy was dead. He just imagined himself into the part. He could imagine himself into almost anything. What a gifted guy.

  3. @JMF – I don’t stay up to date on drugs anymore, but yes: our drug war has been a boon to drug users, causing purity to go up and price to go down. This is entirely predictable for a black market. I thought the movie [i]Traffic[/i] did a great job of showing how blind the DEA is to these issues. They just don’t want to hear it. They are certain that what they are doing is good. If you look at the DEA site today, you will see discussion of a drug "kingpin." The word is meaningless–something for politicians to use. But they use it because they are politicians. Drug crimes are political crimes–thought crimes if you will.

    He [i]was[/i] very good. Of course, I tend to think there are an enormous number of great actors. Unfortunately, few ever get the opportunity to use it on film. Every time I see some actor playing a silly villain in a kids’ show, I think they are probably really good. They have probably worked very hard to perfect their Shakespeare and if given the chase, they could do great things.

    I do think there was something raw about Hoffman. Regardless of the part he played, there was a lot of subtext. I loved him as Lester Bangs in <i>Almost Famous</i>. He was also great in <i>Synecdoche, New York</i>. Actually, he was great in a lot of movies. He was in a good position, because he could be supporting in big films and a draw in smaller films. He had the kind of career that most actors want when they go into the field. Regardless, he had a wonderful career that will live on. And I never saw him do a car commercial.

    Why do people do heroin? Because they want life to be better. It is generally not a good way to go about that given that it often does lead to a worse life and sometimes death. But I respect the desire. And in Hoffman’s case, I respect that acting never turned into just another job to be milked for as much money as possible.

  4. That is such a beautifully-writen last paragraph. Not intending to ass-kiss. It’s just really, really good.

  5. @JMF – Thanks. It isn’t complicated. It is just that most people don’t think about drug use seriously.

    BTW: I’m seeing more articles. One in [i]Slate[/i], "For Reformed Addicts, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death is Terrifying." Note the language. "Reformed" implies that drug use is a moral problem. Pathetic. But I might point out that most people who consider themselves "reformed addicts" are 12-step babies who spend their whole lives in terror. And that’s no life.

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