In November of 2011 I started working for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brother, Gordy, making $200 a month writing the newsletter for the screenplay competition he runs. We never met in person - he called me on the phone once to tell me I was hired, and everything else we did through email. It was a pretty brisk, businesslike relationship, so we never got a chance to really chat and acknowledge the fact that I was talking to a direct blood relative of my all time favorite actor.
No matter how much I thought about it, there wasn’t really a non-awkward way to bring it up in an email. Okay, I’ll change the Screenplay of the Week heading to Arial Bold, and also in Boogie Nights did Paul Thomas Anderson tell your brother to half hug himself in the background of those scenes, or did he come up with that posture himself while he was preparing for the role? Plus, I imagine everybody made a big deal when they found out they were related, which seems like the logical equivalent of being asked if I’ve ever seen The Truman Show.
Eventually I got my advertising job and resigned my post, because as exciting as it was to be one degree from Philip Seymour Hoffman, it wasn’t exciting enough to make me enjoy wrestling with Constant Contact’s buggy, unintuitive layout system. In our last email exchange, Gordy thanked me for my work and extended his warmest wishes for my future in the industry. In my response I told him it had been a pleasure working with him, and neglected to mention how hard I always laugh at the look on his brother’s face when Bunny Lebowski offers to give The Dude a blowjob for $1000.
One week ago, shortly after hearing the news, I found that Gordy’s email address was still on my computer and spent 20 minutes trying to write him a message. I gave up when I realized there was nothing worth saying to him. I didn’t know his brother any more than the rest of the indie film-going public, and a heartfelt “I’m so sorry for your loss” coming from a former part time employee he’d never met wouldn’t do anything to heal the pain of losing someone so close under such terrible circumstances.
The email wouldn’t be about him; it would be about me. Because for a very long time one of my biggest aspirations as a writer had been to write a script so good that Philip Seymour Hoffman would act in it, and now my fleeting contact with his brother was as close as I was ever going to get to that goal.
I don’t want to know how much heroin was in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s apartment, or how gaunt he looked at Sundance, or what cryptic statements he made before his death. I don’t want to see pictures of his body bag being wheeled out of his apartment. I don’t want to know what brand of heroin killed him.
But I do know these things. I know them because even though I had all these high-minded sentiments about giving this man and his family privacy in death, I still clicked on links about his death that featured tabloid phrases like ‘NEW DETAILS SURFACE’ or ‘HEAR SUNDANCE ATTENDEES’ STORIES OF…” Morbid interest always overrides conscience, I guess.
Philip Seymour Hoffman didn’t chase the spotlight – he didn’t have messy public divorces or run ins with the cops or controversial outbursts to apologize for. The fact that he was an amazing – yes, amazing – actor was the only thing keeping him in the public eye. Maybe that’s why I went looking for the uncomfortable details of his death; it was the only glance into his personal life we ever got.
Some of my friends have complained about all the mourning and remembrances for Philip Seymour Hoffman, the general sentiment being, “He died with a needle in his arm. He got himself hooked on heroin, he fucked up – we shouldn’t be celebrating that.”
I can see see where they’re coming from – Philip Seymour Hoffman absolutely fucked up. Far be it for me to tell anybody how to live their life, but I think it’s a mistake to do heroin, particularly if you have kids. And while I don’t want to speak for the dead, I feel as though Philip Seymour Hoffman would agree. As much as I don’t want to call attention to the stories about his last days, none of them paint a picture of a man who’s particularly excited and proud to be addicted to heroin.
I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but I didn’t love Philip Seymour Hoffman because he was a heroin addict. In fact, I didn’t even know he had a drug problem until a week ago. I’m mourning Philip Seymour Hoffman because he crawled deep into every character he played and always gave a standout performance, even if many of his roles granted him little screentime in which to do it.
What I hope is that in the next several years, long after we’ve all gotten the mourning out of our system, that we talk about Capote, or Punch-Drunk Love, or Mission Impossible III, or Along Came Polly, and leave the unpleasant business of how he died to a short footnote on Wikipedia.
Truman Capps hopes nothing bad happens to Chris Cooper before he gets a chance to read the dozens of scripts he’s sent him.