Philip Seymour Hoffman: 1967-2014: A Shining Talent, A Tragic End
He was an Oscar-winning star with scene-stealing roles in more than 50 films, but in the downtown Manhattan neighborhood he had called home for years, Philip Seymour Hoffman was simply one of the locals: the rumpled cyclist pedaling through the West Village; the dad walking his three children to school; the actor poring over scripts or having a drink at one of his favorite low-key bars. Still, as expert as he was at blending in, he did draw attention when he turned up at the Barrow Street Alehouse after returning from a 10-day detox for heroin addiction last spring. “I remember he had just gotten back from rehab, and he ordered ‘one half of a beer,'” recalls a neighborhood friend. “The bartender said, ‘Phil, a beer is three bucks. You can’t splurge for a whole?’ Then it hit us that he was trying not to drink by drinking only ‘half.’ But that’s not how it works, unfortunately. He just couldn’t fight the demon.”
Sadly, the 46-year-old actor, who was revered by peers and fans alike for breathing complex life into indelible characters on stage and screen, lost his decades-long fight with addiction on Feb. 2. Found unconscious at 11:30 a.m. in the bathroom of his rented fourth-floor apartment by a friend after he failed to show up on time that day to pick up his children, Hoffman died of an apparent drug overdose, with police officials confirming he had a syringe still inserted in his left arm. Scattered around the apartment were more than 50 envelopes of what appeared to be heroin – many marked with an ace of spades or ace of hearts. (Police sources say the markings signify brandings from drug dealers.) While authorities continue to investigate the source of the heroin, Hoffman’s family and friends were left reeling. “This is a tragic and sudden loss,” his family said in a statement. “We are devastated.”
While his former costars, including Nicole Kidman and George Clooney, paid tribute to the man Kidman called “one of the greatest actor’s actors of all time,” condolences poured in for Hoffman’s longtime girlfriend and fellow Labyrinth Theater Company member Mimi O’Donnell, 46, and the couple’s children Cooper, 10, Tallulah, 7, and Willa, 5, who were living in a separate apartment at the time. “My heart is torn asunder for Mimi and their kids,” says Hoffman’s friend Adam Nelson. “Phil was starlight. The gold standard.”
He was also troubled. Locals in his West Village neighborhood observed the actor during both happy and seemingly darker private moments. “He’d go over to Oliver’s restaurant with his son Cooper. They’d have lunch, and you’d see them talking and laughing for hours at a time,” says the neighborhood source. “Then, come nightfall, you’d see Phil back at Oliver’s, hunched over the bar, alone, looking like an entirely different man. He looked very dark and depressed.” A second source says he witnessed Hoffman stumble into his apartment after late nights out, “needing to be helped into the building.”
But in the days leading up to his death, friends and locals saw little signs of distress. Attending Sundance last month to promote his film A Most Wanted Man, he was reluctant to do interviews, and some industry insiders said he appeared disheveled. But others saw only a consummate pro. “He seemed great. He was just a regular guy, which is what I’ve always loved about him,” says photographer Victoria Will, who shot what would become one of his last portraits. “I saw him last week, and he was clean and sober, his old self,” David Katz, the friend who found Hoffman’s body, told The New York Times. Just the night before his body was found, he was spotted at a neighborhood restaurant, Automatic Slim’s, where he and two friends dined on guacamole and burgers. His friend had a beer; Hoffman drank only a cranberry soda. According to the bartender, “He seemed fine.”
While his death came as a shock, Hoffman had long been blunt about his struggle with addiction, acknowledging that he had first undergone rehab as a 22-year-old New York University grad. “You get panicked … and I got panicked for my life,” he told 60 Minutes in 2006. In 2011 he told The Guardian, “I had no interest in drinking in moderation. And I still don’t. Just because all that time’s passed doesn’t mean maybe it was just a phase. That’s who I am.” Last May he shocked many in Hollywood when he revealed that after 23 years of sobriety, he had fallen into heroin addiction after first using prescription drugs. He spent just 10 days in a detox program before resuming a busy shooting schedule that included roles in a now-defunct Showtime pilot, Happyish, and the final two installments of the blockbuster Hunger Games franchise.
Raised with three siblings in the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y., by his mother, Marilyn, a family court judge who split from his father, businessman Gordon, when he was young, Hoffman fell in love with the theater after seeing All My Sons at age 12. By his 30s he was beginning to rack up Tony, Emmy and Oscar nominations in a wide range of performances (including an Oscar win for 2005’s Capote; see box), but he remained deeply self-critical. When people praised his work, he said in 2006, “I’ll be, like, ‘Thank you,’ but I won’t say the second part, which is, ‘You’re wrong.’ It’s not always healthy.” Adds Matthew Warchus, who directed his Tony-nominated turn in 2000’s True West: “I think the tortured part comes from him not settling. The audience benefits. But the artist himself, it’s a mixed blessing to have those standards. Nothing is easy.”
As hard as he was on his own work, he was supportive of others’. “He could do anything he wanted to do, and last spring he directed an Off-Broadway play in our 90-seat theater,” says Labyrinth director Danny Feldman. “He was always excited.” On the set of the 2007 dramedy The Savages, “he kept to himself, but he was warm,” says Jason Hayes, a hairstylist on the film. “You definitely knew he was a sensitive soul.” One constant throughout was his affection for his kids. “They’re all he ever talked about on-set,” says Hayes.
Deeply committed to his children – who inherited his famous red hair – Hoffman was a fixture at the Chelsea Piers athletic complex in N.Y.C., where he turned up every Saturday for his son Cooper’s basketball practices. “He was not a drop-off parent,” says Ryan Berger, a fellow dad who had seen him just 24 hours before his death. “He was committed to what his son was doing.”
Now, as those who loved Hoffman say goodbye and those who admired his work mourn what might have been, there is only sadness at the loss of a “really bright person, a family man who made so many good choices,” says Warchus. “That’s the hideous part about addiction.” Adds Michael Ohoven, producer of Capote: “For somebody so intelligent and with enormous willpower to succumb to such a terrible disease, I can’t even grasp it. All I can think about is that he’s sitting up there and giving one of his dark, big chuckles.”