Don’t Make Heroin Hoffman a Martyr

February 4th, 2014

Sadly, Oscar winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has died a very tragic death.  Found with the needle still stuck in his arm that he used to overdose himself with heroin, Hoffman leaves behind three children under the age of eleven.  In fact, his body was only discovered when it was because he’d failed to come to pick the kids up for a scheduled visit.  After his body was found and the news was reported to his estranged longtime partner and mother of his children, she had the unhappy task of retrieving their young son Cooper from the playground and sharing the sad news.

On the surface, Hoffman wasn’t a bad father at all.  Neighbors report him walking his kids to school and playing with them.  Photographers occasionally snapped him sitting courtside with Cooper at Knicks games.  But because of Hoffman’s selfishness, his children will grow up without their father.  That’s the biggest tragedy of all.

Many in the Hollywood community are mourning his death.  On one level, that’s fine and expected.  Hoffman was a very gifted actor, and his numerous portrayals of every type of character imaginable on film, television, and stage will long be remembered.

While it’s fine to remember his many gifts as a performer, I think it’s wrong to treat him in death with a lot of deep admiration.  Some people are making it seem like he walked on water and that he just drowned one day due to some choppy water.  They ignore the fact that his actions leading to his death reveal a very narcissistic and irresponsible person.

We should expect some sort of tribute to Hoffman at the Oscars.  When I say “expect” I’m not advocating it.  Quite the opposite.  It’s just that this is what Hollywood tends to do.  In fact, it wasn’t long ago that the Emmy awards featured a tribute to Cory Monteith.  He was the young star of Glee who, like Hoffman, ended his life with a heroin overdose.  While dedicating time to a young actor only known briefly for a single role, Hollywood in that case practically ignored some truly great television stars that passed away that year.  If he’d died so young from a disease, like ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which sorely needs research dollars, that would be one thing.  The fact that he essentially killed himself unnecessarily makes mere mention of him in a montage tribute sufficient.

I know it’s generally not a good idea to critique someone who died, but I think this situation is different.  The death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman is full of societal issues and questions we all need to address.  For example, I have always had a libertarian leaning.  My feeling is that everything in your personal life is up to you.  You can screw it up if you like.  Where I draw the line is where other people are hurt by your actions.  In this case, it’s the Hoffman kids who are now fatherless.

I don’t think it’s right to pile on the guy.  He’s dead, and it’s done.  But to make him out to be some sort of hero just doesn’t seem right either.

Hopefully, something positive can come from this horrible tragedy.  Perhaps, instead of focusing on his career, we can try to analyze how someone so gifted and talented could mess up so badly.  In doing that, maybe we could help other young people by really showing them the dangers of these drugs before they choose to take a similar path.

Is it right to say Hoffman was a monster?  No.  But it’s definitely wrong to make him a martyr.  Whatever happens, we shouldn’t celebrate a life that ended like this.

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