Philip Seymour Hoffman died in February from a drug overdose. The Beast won.
Hoffman made a name for himself as a great character actor playing everything from a bumbling rookie cop in “Nobody’s Fool,” a bewildered old-school baseball manager in “Moneyball,” a frenetic storm-chaser in “Twister,” to the grandiose Truman Capote in his Academy Award winning performance in “Capote.”
Hoffman was sort of raised Catholic — baptized, first Communion, confirmation — in Fairport, N.Y. But he got away from the Faith pretty quickly, flirted with an evangelical church, then settled comfortably into a contemporary “spirituality” that requires no conversion, no change of heart, no change of life.
At some point, the Beast of addiction got hold of him. He slipped into heavy drug use then managed to break away for a few years. But the Beast doesn’t let go easily. Hoffman started using again. He died alone in his bathroom of an unintentional overdose of a little bit of everything.
|Mimi O'Donnell comforts her daughter, Tallulah, center, as she stands with her other children, Willa and Cooper, as the casket of their father, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, is put into a hearse following his funeral at St. Ignatius Loyola Church Feb. 7. CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters
He was 46. He left behind three kids and a former wife.
I’ve been a sucker for good acting since I was a kid when I fell in love with Fourth of July broadcasts of Jimmy Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” I grew up on the old movies in black and white on television. They were the movies from my parents’ generation and I’m an old-time traditionalist: Jimmy Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart.
But I like the new guys as well. And I liked very much the roles Philip Seymour Hoffman took on. He succeeded because he was a good actor. It certainly wasn’t his looks; a traditional leading man he wasn’t.
Two things I didn’t know about Hoffman until it came out in the end were his Catholic roots and his drug addiction.
There was a funeral Mass for Hoffman at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in New York City, a popular parish for those in the entertainment world.
A few people took exception to that funeral Mass. They wondered if it is proper — if not scandalous — for a funeral Mass to be celebrated for a life that ended in addiction, for a man who put addiction ahead of his family and for a Catholic in only a marginal way.
It’s easy to understand the complaints. But the Church doesn’t hold a funeral for ransom. A funeral Mass isn’t a reward for personal holiness. It’s for all of us flawed, imperfect souls. Most of us are lucky enough that we are not celebrities. Our sins are private, not public, and we’ll be buried accordingly.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was a good actor with a flawed personal life that couldn’t outrun the Beast.
I don’t buy the claim that addiction is no one’s personal responsibility. People gather in church basements every week — people without the resources Hoffman had at his disposal — for mutual support to beat back the Beast. They reached their own level of the bottomless pit and had that moment of conversion, that moment when they could admit their addiction, admit they were powerless over it and surrendered to a higher power.
Even if they have been sober for 30 years, they know the only thing that matters against the Beast is if they go to bed sober that night. Nothing else is guaranteed, especially the next day’s sobriety.
It’s a brutal war that people fight against a powerful enemy. Too often they try to fight it alone. And end up dead in a bathroom with a needle in their arm.
I’m glad there was a funeral Mass for Hoffman. That’s what we do. Funeral Masses are for the saints and sinners and those they leave behind. And they are for those who met the Beast face to face. Even if they lost.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.