Crazed In the Kitchen: Philip Seymour Hoffman--What Does Addiction "Look" Like?   

Monday, February 3, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman--What Does Addiction "Look" Like?

Like a lot of people, I was shocked to learn that Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an apparent drug overdose yesterday. I had no idea that he had struggled with addiction—relapsing last year after staying clean for over two decades. Because Hoffman had somehow managed to achieve and maintain both critical acclaim and a (relatively) low public profile, his was a celebrity death that many of us never saw coming.
Photo credit: www.tvweek.com

So, I spent some time yesterday thinking about Hoffman and why his addiction and death surprised me so much. Other public figures have succumbed to addiction and, while their deaths felt tragic and unnecessary, they weren’t this much of a shock to me. I guess I think first of Amy Winehouse. She was inarguably an incredibly talented singer who had achieved great commercial success and critical acclaim. But her struggles with substance abuse were as well-known as her beehive and eyeliner. I was sad to hear of her overdose death, but I was not shocked.  

So what was it about Hoffman’s death that left me standing frozen, mouth agape, staring in shock at a tiny TV at the gym?

I think it was that my impression of Hoffman was that he was one of the few in his field who were not only wildly talented, but also widely respected by fans, critics, and fellow actors alike. He didn’t seem to be in it for the celebrity, the parties, the fancy houses, the vacations, or the babes—and he somehow kept his private life mostly private. I’ve been known to check out celebrity magazines and websites, and I rarely saw him discussed or photographed there. He seemed to be a down-to-earth guy who took his craft very seriously.

In short, he didn’t “look” to me like an addict.

And in realizing that, I realized that along with my shock I was a little ashamed. Because in my mind, I “knew” what addicts look like. I mean, I knew enough to know that they don’t always look like the scruffy, strung-out homeless guy on the corner. But I figured that they were obvious, like Amy Winehouse. And, of course, this isn’t true. Anyone, anywhere could be wrestling with any number of demons and seem—on the outside—to be just “fine.” This goes for celebrities, but also for the rest of us “regular” people too.

So I guess the lesson I’m taking away from all this is to try even harder to be gentle with people. The slow driver ahead of me in the fast lane, the distracted grocery store clerk, the unfriendly receptionist at the pediatrician’s office: It could be that they are all just jerks—but it’s unlikely. And while it’s also unlikely that they are all heroin addicts, it’s quite possible that they are facing some struggle I can’t begin to know. And who knows, maybe the kindness I show them will be paid forward to someone else.

8 comments:

  1. A poignant retrospective on a talented man. Thank you for your insight and gentleness...

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  2. I have no idea who this man is, but he looks sort of familiar. We've been called to a particular area of my city several times for drug overdose deaths and almost all of the people we've found stooped over dead in the Jack in the Box restroom or nearby alley were white, middle class young people who were probably pretty innocuous normally. While I can't get on board with not being mean to the slow driver in the fast lane, I do love the idea of being nice to everybody else!

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    1. Apparently heroin use is on the rise lately as more and more people who previously abused pain pills are finding it easier and cheaper to obtain. Scary stuff.

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  3. Yes, yes and yes. My feelings exactly. Something about his death felt closer to home because he seem like an everyday person.

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    1. Exactly. And it turns out, there are increasing numbers of "everyday" people turning to heroin. Scary.

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