What do you do when you lose the best actor of our generation?

Unfortunately, in the six years of writing this blog, I’ve done more “farewell” blogs than I would like to.  I’ve lost friends.  I’ve lost associates.  I’ve lost people that I’ve never met, but who influenced my life daily.

And yesterday, we all lost someone who I consider to be the greatest . . . absolutely the Jackie-Gleason like greatest . . . actor of my generation.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was my generation’s Brando, Pacino, De Niro . . . you know, those guys whose last name is awe inspiring all by itself.  He was an enormous talent, making us laugh (I still chuckle just thinking about his “Make it rain!” character in the sloppy comedy, Along Came Polly), and making us cry (people doubted his ability to tap into the pathos of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesmanbut he found a well deeper than most actors could ever even dream about).

Look at the versatility . . . from his breakthrough minuscule performance of a sniveling prep school kid in Scent of a Woman to his Oscar winning performance in Capote.

And I have no doubt we would have seen him back on Broadway soon enough.

But we won’t.

Because yesterday, Philip Seymour Hoffman, at the just-getting-good age of 46, who graduated from Tisch just one year after I arrived on campus, passed away.

He died suddenly, tragically, and also, like a character in a Eugene O’Neill drama . . . symbolically.

Rumor has it that he died with a needle in his arm.

It’s heart-crushingly sad.  And honestly, I couldn’t give a crap about the performances that we’ll be deprived of by Mr. Hoffman’s passing.  I’m more concerned about the children of Mr. Hoffman, who will be deprived of their father.  And what about his zillion friends, many of whom are in the Broadway industry, who will miss the “amazing man,” that they all say he was after working with him on shows like Salesman, Long Day’s Journey, and True West.

It also makes me incredibly mad.

People like Philip shouldn’t be dying.  And drugs like the ones found in his West Village apartment, that in some cases can be purchased online . . . are snuffing out lives way before their prime.

A few months ago we lost the barely-out-of-puberty Cory Monteith to an overdose.  And remember Heath Ledger.  Whitney Houston.  Amy Winehouse.

And we could keep going back . . . what about Chris Farley, Kurt Cobain, Lenny Bruce, John Belushi, Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley . . .

Want more?

How about Amanda Bynes, Lindsay Lohan, or Justin Bieber.

Oh wait.  They’re not gone.  Thank God.

But they could be.

Philip explained that himself.  After he first kicked his habit in his early twenties, he said this about why he did it:

You get panicked . . . I was 22 and I got panicked for my life, it really was, it was just that. And I always think, ‘God, I have so much empathy for these young actors that are 19 and all of a sudden are beautiful and famous and rich.’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God. I’d be dead.’

Unfortunately, just one year ago he admitted to falling off a 23 year old wagon.  And yesterday, the beast of addiction tragically bested him.

What are we going to do to help those that get caught up in the dramatic cyclone that is fame and success in the entertainment industry?  (The NBA and the NFL have introduction seminars for their rookie players to help them enter their high dollars and high stakes world, maybe we should as well?)  What are we going to do to rid our cities of heroin bags labeled with cutsey names like ‘Ace of Spades’ and ‘Ace of Hearts’ that were found in Phillip’s apartment?  What are we going to do . . .

I’m going to start by making a donation to The Actors Fund.  They help those battling addiction in our industry.  And you can help The Actors Fund as well with a donation.

And if you have a friend or family member that’s battling this disease, help them get help.  Because blogs like this shouldn’t exist.


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  • Sue says:

    It is tragic. This article offers hope. Worth reading to the end.


  • June says:

    Eloquent and beautiful tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman. Thank you Ken. Not to dismiss his enormous talent, but am saddest for those 3 adorable children who will have to live with the ugliness of his passing.

  • Jo-Ann says:

    This is such a tragedy. Thank you for your words of remembrance. So sad for his family and friends, as well as all of us who enjoy his work.

  • Michelle Fisher says:

    I have just read this article upon coming from a wake. My friend Andrew died of a heroin overdose as well. He would have been 43 this past Saturday. He was handsome, hilarious, intelligent and kind. A father, a son, a husband and friend. No one chooses to be an addict, but death’s fickle finger of fate has no care for an addict’s character, or circumstance. I am sad for the loss of Philip, Andrew, and all who leave us this way.

  • Bill Rough says:

    Beautifully expressed, Ken, with love, and an absolutely appropriate tone of anger. I will miss the insights this man brought to me in so many different ways. Such a scary road on which to be launched. We want to grab Justin, etc. and say D**n it! Look! Please! Watch! Understand! Stop it… while you can. It gets harder. Thanks.

  • Aaron Siler says:

    With drug addiction so prevalent with the pressures of being a professional actor I think that AEA and SAG should be involved more than they are. What about a mandatory seminar about drug addiction and random drug testing for members that make more than $80k a year? How about penalties for those that have a problem and are not enrolled in a rehabilitation program?

    It is bad for the theatre and movie industry when someone so talented dies from a drug overdose.

  • Michael L. says:

    Thank you for this blog, Ken.

    Our 27-year-old son has been struggling with a drug addiction for 10 years, primarily heroin and oxycodone. We have repeatedly sent him to rehab, both short and long-term, yet he hasn’t been able to curtail the physical and emotional dependencies.
    For two months now he’s been on a methadone treatment plan, and for the first time in memory, we hope he may have a chance at a “normal” life. He’s really trying … but we know those urges will always be a part of his life.
    He lost two friends to overdoses Christmas week, which was another wake-up call (of many this past decade).
    Last year a doctor told us that all heroin addicts end up OD’ing…
    I feel terrible about what happened to such a gifted actor – and so sad for his family — we obviously know their struggles first-hand.

  • anita simons says:

    Well said, Ken. Sadly Mr. Hoffman will not be the last loss due to drug overdose. Until most people, including those in control of our health care and justice system, realize that drug addiction is a DISEASE, nothing will change. I am a board member of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing) which seeks to reduce the stigma associated with addictive illness and to increase access to treatment and recovery services for individuals whose lives have been damaged by addictions. There is something that may have saved Hoffman’s life and those before him – other than treatment. Naloxone was approved for use in 1971 and has been used in emergency rooms and ambulances for decades. It is non-narcotic, non-abusable and works within minutes to restore breathing in people overdosing on opiate drugs such oxycodone, hydrocodone and heroin. If you have an addict in your family or circle of friends, please make sure they are aware of this and ask a physician for a prescription to keep on hand for use by the addict and those around him/her. For more information check out: http://www.anewpathsite.org or Drug Policy Alliance at: http://www.drugpolicy.org/

  • Marina Barry says:

    Thank you Ken for saying so eloquently so much of what we all feel. RIP Philip.

  • Ed Katz says:

    Great post, Ken.
    Sorry why you had to even write it but so well done!
    We all must be thankful for the gifts we have and do our best to help those who are tempted to self-destruct. Your idea is a great start.

  • Michael H. Arve says:

    I had the honor of having worked with Philip when he was a teen-ager. (The Shipping Dock Theatre – Rochester, NY) I stage managed A BREEZE FROM THE GULF in which he played a fictionalized (somewhat) Mart Crowley (Boys in the Band)at 17 he already had the chops. I still remember, vividly, his searing performance. He also played Willy Loman at Fairport High School in his senior year. I also saw him do it in NYC. Of course as a teenager the performance was not as mature, BUT it was the best Willy Loman I had ever seen done in Rochester. I shall miss him.

  • C says:

    This is such an important and profound letter Ken and it is a so helpful to donate to The Actors Fund. Perhaps we each can be a bit more viligant too and not respond saying we can not reach drug users if we notice desperation .It’s the mental health fabric in our society which needs revamping . As neighbors we can try more . I recently went to a young man’s funeral and his father charged that the whole congregation
    should be more mindful of each other
    going forward. It might nit be possible but maybe it is . Philip Seymour Hoffman gave everything he had in his mind and soul to his characters . Maybe more playwrights can give their very most now to in honoring this timeless
    artist who valued his craft on off broadway too . The shock and palpable loss of one of the theatre giants will haunt every one of us .
    He wasn’t afraid on the stage . Too bad he wasn’t more afraid of drugs . There was no one like him . His legacy is in his work and words.
    That’s what he would hope for . Ken opens us up to the clearest and most reverent respect he can write about ever . We all feel grateful for this.
    Too many deaf ears till too late .

  • Terry Holzman says:

    Thank you for that post, Ken. I have nothing to add that hasn’t been stated. Your donation to the Actors Fund is a good idea. Let me offer another suggestion.

    Actress and recovery advocate Kristin Johnston is committed to starting NYC’s first sober public high school called SLAM — Sobriety, Learning And Motivation — (slamnyc.org) because, tragically, there is no such school in NYC and kids are dying. She’s been lobbying for years and keeps getting turned down.

    To honor her friend, Phil Hoffman, she’s starting a letter-writing campaign to collect testimony of WHY a recovery high school in NYC is desperately needed. She will personally present these letters to the new Chancellor of NY schools, Carmen Farina.

    Your readers can send a letter in support of a sober public high school (as well as donate, if they’d like) to: SLAM, 332 Bleeker St., NY, NY 10014. Put “SLAM Letter-Writing Campaign” on the envelope and address the letter inside to Ms. Carmen Farina.

  • Zanne Hall says:

    Sad tragic loss. And Lenny? I think the government’s hounding had more to do with ending his life than the drugs.

  • Libby Krall says:

    Thank you for these amazingly said words! We have lost so many talented shining people and sadly you are right–there will be more to come…………..something has gotta change.

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