Philip Seymour Hoffman, Drugs, and the Romanticism of Hollywood DeathsJoanna Mazewski
A few months ago Glee actress Jane Lynch, who herself is a recovering alcoholic, described her co-star Corey Monteith’s drug overdose and death as a “tragic reminder of the rapacious, senseless destruction that is brought on by addiction.”
This past weekend, Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman died in a similar, painful fashion. Just like Corey Monteith, Hoffman battled addiction and substance abuse for years. He managed to stay sober for 23 years, but this last relapse ultimately took his life.
For many of his fans though, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was the “cool” antihero of his generation.
Now here we have a man, who at the pinnacle of his career, leaves behind his immense talent, his three children and family, and many unanswered questions. Why did he choose his addictions over his family? What control did his subliminal mind have in taking over his conscious, his body, and his behavior? Was it a lifelong struggle? Was it the pressure and excesses of Hollywood? Or was it a combination of both?
These are the same questions we can ask about other famous artists whose lives were cut short by their addictions but were nonetheless romanticized by our culture. Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, River Phoenix, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse and many other celebrities still remain immortalized and idolized to this day. So many Hollywood stars have a long history of drug addictions and while many make it to the other side of the tunnel — namely Jack Nicholson, Robert Downey Jr., and Drew Barrymore — there are those who of course, do not. I can’t help but wonder why Hollywood and the industry have this culture of looking the other way when it can, despite the devastating consequences. And why we choose to celebrate and honor rather than do more to educate and enlighten.
Apparently it’s not Hollywood or the media’s job to portray the reality and authenticity of the dark side of addictions, whether it be drug- or alcohol-related, right?
It’s easy for our kids to hear the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death and just takeaway the fact that he was an acting legend, a true artist who fought and struggled with his demons, while the media sanitizes and buries the underlying issues of addiction. Actor Jared Padalecki recently got himself into some trouble on Twitter after calling Hoffman’s death “senseless” and “stupid.” He later retracted his earlier statement by saying, “I didn’t mean PSH is stupid or that addiction isn’t a reality. I simply meant I have a different definition of ‘tragedy.'”
Padalecki’s statements might not be politically correct but they do ring close to Jane Lynch’s “senseless destruction” comment about losing a life too short to addiction. And while some might call these struggles an addiction, others might call it a disease, and there will still be those few who will call it self-inflicted.
Pop singer and former Disney starlet Demi Lovato, who herself has had a high-profile battle with drug addiction, also weighed in on Hoffman’s death and how the entertainment industry glamorizes drug use, tweeting: “I wish more people would lose the stigma and treat addiction as the deadly and serious DISEASE that it is. Drugs are not something to glamorize in pop music or film to portray as harmless recreational fun. It’s not cute, ‘cool’ or [admirable].”
While Hoffman’s mastery in his films was impossible to ignore, so will be his fatal cause of death. Hollywood is all about telling a story, and every story must have that romantic ending or “feel good” resolution that we try to copy and create offscreen in our own lives. Yes, Philip Seymour Hoffman was an actor and a public figure, but he was also a human being, a father, and like millions of people in our country, a man who struggled to fight off his addiction-related demons. I just don’t see how his demons are any different than the ones Roman Polanski or Woody Allen have dealt with in their lives, too.
For me, perhaps Hoffman’s most memorable onscreen character was his performance as music journalist Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s 2000 hit Almost Famous. His most famous line from that film resonates even to this day:
“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.”
But you really want to know what’s uncool? It’s not Corey Monteith or Philip Seymour Hoffman or the handful of seventies rock stars who died of drug-related overdoses before their time but have been nonetheless immortalized as music Gods for generations to come. It’s Hollywood and the media’s message and their way of turning the most talented artists into tortured martyrs.
And while Philip Seymour Hoffman will remain to be remembered as a respected actor in his profession, I will not remember him as a martyr, a tortured soul, or even a drug addict. He might have been heroically uncool on the big screen, but his offscreen script told a totally different story. And this story is ultimately one that his three children will have to live with for the rest of their lives. It’s Hollywood’s evil, little, romanticized secret that we tend to turn away from time and time again.
Photos via PacificCoastNews.com
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