I can honestly say I have never seen a Phillip Seymour Hoffman movie. I will see one of his roles when I finally get around to seeing Catching Fire shortly, but all I've seen of the man is awards clips and heard/viewed an interview or two. I saw a couple of different clips from 'Capote', and I was convinced he was a short, flamboyantly gay man and when I saw and heard him interviewed a few years later, I was amazed at the man's ability to transform himself so much more than the lines of dialogue into a convincing portrayal of someone completely different from himself.
It is a gift.
Which is why so many are stunned at the news that he died of an overdose, that he succumbed to the demon known as heroin. Some are quite vocal at the sadness of it all, how he was sober for so long, others scoff at the notion that he had so much and threw it all away. Unfortunately, it's not quite as simple as that.
I'm the daughter of an addict. His drug of choice was alcohol. He was lucky, because when he hit rock bottom on a night in December, 1974, he realized that HE had to change. And change he did. Quit drinking, quit smoking and turned around his health. When he was drinking, he was an angry man with a legendary Irish temper. Sober, he was passionate about books, exercise, and his two daughters.
I have written many times over the years about my dad, how much I admired and loved him. It is because I saw the change in him, how hard he worked to overcome his personal demons and how he maintained sobriety for over 17 years when he died.
Basically, he traded addiction to alcohol and booze to addictions to healthy eating and exercise. To support his family, he worked as a bartender as a second job. That's a job where it's really easy to succumb to temptation, but I know the disconnect that one makes with the wares they ply as just being 'things', and I'm pretty sure that's how he did it. He avoided attending baseball and football games, two types of events he did a ton of drinking in his prior life. We went to a few hockey games, but that was something he'd never done prior to my fascination with the sport-so it didn't have the same pull.
Sobriety looked effortless, but a couple of things made me realize that a lot of work went into it. When I was in high school, a customer gave him some chocolate covered cherries as a tip. Nothing was said about the brandy that the cherries had been soaked in. He took a bite of the first one, tasted the booze and the next day, the box was brought to my Mom's for us to enjoy. The second was when I worked for Hess, I had a dozen NFL pre-season game tickets and called him to go with me, the then fiancé, and a couple of co-workers and friends. Dad was an avid football fan and he adamantly declined. "I cannot put myself in that situation."
Like I said, he made it seem effortless, but it was always an effort for him.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are others with addictions in my family. The difference is that they don't see it as a problem. I was recently told of a conversation my sister had with another sibling's daughter 'Why can't all of you get along?' It is doubtful the daughter realizes the scars her parent's addiction has left on every sibling relationship. Some of us are not willing to put up with an alcoholic in denial. Yes, I know I should feel bad and have some understanding, but I don't want to put myself in the line of that person's fire. Maybe that will change if the person wants to make the effort to confront their addiction and find the strength to beat it. Maybe not-I just don't have the answer.
That addictive personality exists in everyone in my family. Some of us are lucky in that they're channeled into positive things, but others just don't want to accept that they have an addiction. To be honest, that probably describes a good many people walking the face of this planet, addicted to something, but it's the luck of the draw whether it's watching a soap opera fanatically, exercising, porn, drinking, or shooting up heroin. What sucks is that some people have that inborn drive to conquer whatever demon they face, others have the desire, but not the strength. Some don't even have the desire to change. I've seen all three-and the second two deserve a lot of sympathy.
I guess having a front row seat to a success and a few failures with addictions makes me ponder Hoffman's sad fate. He made an effort for a long time to beat one of the nastiest drugs in existence. It is no small feat to beat heroin, and he did for years. I don't know what changed that he relapsed, but from the glimpse my dad gave into his alcoholism, maybe Hoffman wasn't so strong or self aware of his triggers. Maybe he had some sort of stressor that weakened his resolve. Whatever the case, what worked for him didn't work anymore and he was back on that drug and it did him in.
It may be easy to armchair quarterback this one, but it isn't black and white.