Why You Should Care about the Death of Philip Seymour Hoffman

The death of any person diminishes all of us. The death of public figures confront us with who we believe ourselves to be.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic death represents more than just another celebrity succumbing to substance abuse. His death and the way we respond tells us volumes about ourselves.

We should care very much about Hoffman’s death.

My wife told me first with a note of shock as the news scrolled across the screen of her iPad. She said, “Philip Hoffman is dead!?”

“Who?” I replied. I thought I heard her wrong.

“Philip Seymour Hoffman that actor you like,” she said.

I felt like was I punched in the stomach.

I have always appreciated his work. An “everyman” kind of actor he could inhabit a wide variety of roles and transform the very way the viewer perceived him.

Choose any one of a number of his roles from a manic tornado chaser in Twister, a villain in Mission Impossible III, a Catholic priest in Doubt, a cult leader in The Master, and a brilliant author in Capote. Nominated numerous times for Oscars and Golden Globes he was recognized as one of the finest actors of his generation.

Now he is dead too soon.

It is easy to be fascinated by the morbidity of the story and the sensationalism of a person dying with a syringe still stuck in his arm. Approximately 50 envelopes with a substance resembling heroin were in his apartment as were empty envelopes, 20 used syringes, and multiple types of prescription drugs.

It is even easy to stir up a bit of self-righteousness. One’s mind can go down the paths of the excess of success, the enablement of stars, the privilege of wealth, and the lack of morality. You could make a list if you were so inclined.

You might even think he had it coming given the choices he was making.

Yet, there is more to this tragic death than a morality tale.

Like the entertainers that moved from village to village in the middle ages, presenting morality plays based on biblical stories, the tragic deaths of entertainers should challenge us to look at ourselves.

Stand up before you the now dead bodies of those recently departed. Imagine them in their film or television role. Listen to their voice as they belt out their latest hit. It is a stellar cast.

Heath Ledger. Michael Jackson. Amy Winehouse. Cory Monteith. Lee Thompson Young. Paul Walker. Philip Seymour Hoffman. The list goes on and on and on for decades.

We watch them perform and we willingly suspend our disbelief. We know they are not that character or even that persona they present on the stage, but we allow them to take us places in our imagination. We even allow them to help us think we are someone else.

Our insatiable desire to be distracted, to suspend the disbelief of our lives, and to imagine we can be someone or some thing or any thing else, feeds the morality play that is the entertainment business.

All of us have addictions. Maybe they are not illegal and maybe they do not carry the threat of dying with a syringe sticking out of our arms, but we do have them.

We should care about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman because he is altogether too much like us. The morality play of his death calls us to look at all the things we do to escape from what we face in life every day.

Pray that none of us makes the choices he made. Moreover, pray that each of us pays attention to our own lives and learns from the ways we try to muffle the pain and silence the voices in our heads.

There are always better choices than he made and most of them involve asking someone for help.

Ask for help if you need it. Be available for help if someone needs it. Learn from this tragic loss.