P / P Introspective: The Death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and the Plights and Patterns of Artists

I wrote this the day I heard about Seymour Hoffman’s death. It’s part one of a culmination of some things I’ve been thinking about for months. -je


February 2, 2014

A week before Phillip Seymour Hoffman was found dead, I was sitting in my room watching an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s current web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. There was one particular episode where Jerry is having coffee with David Letterman, and he talked about how he felt life was very repetitious. He expressed that he’d been satisfied with his life for a long time and a big reason why he liked having children was because, “it was something to watch.” I know that sounds emotionally barbaric, but I understood what he meant. Seinfeld’s name is the title of the most successful television show of all time, and he’s never had any bad press, so when I saw the news about Hoffman’s death, I immediately thought, “He had nothing to watch.”

There is one more instance, beyond that little quip that kept me from being surprised by Hoffman’s death. A couple of years ago, I saw a simple photo some paparazzi shot of him while he was getting into a cab in NYC. The look on his face was just short of miserable. He looked so sad to me, and I never forgot his blank and sullen expression as he looked into the lens of the camera.

I think the entertainment industry is one of the only industries that could push a young man or woman to consider the end of their lives very early on, not necessarily by suicide, but by way of a broken heart. Performers are pushed to give so much. Their bodies, words and actions are their tools and this can make one hyperaware of themselves. It is easy to become confused about who you are if you don’t keep tabs on yourself. I think it’s easy to slip into a pattern of self medicating if there is no safe spiritual or emotional outlet a perfectionist personality can cling to.

Nonetheless…death is everywhere, and even with all the success in the world, loneliness, depression and genius can simply take you out.

People like Hunter S. Thompson and Kurt Cobain seemed to have planned their suicides years before they enacted them. Thompson drew an elaborate drawing of a statue he wanted built for his sending off, and how he wanted his death to be celebrated in the event anything should happen. Kurt had diaries from his early years expressing that he knew he would take his own life. Hoffman didn’t seem to show any signs of planning his own death, accept for that look on his face…a look only perceptive entertainment news junkies like me would notice.  His unkept beard, weight gain and parading around in old trench coats between films were signs of acute depression as well. Some journalists reported that he’d gotten a bad batch of drugs, and they acted adversely to his body chemistry, and he died.

From what I’ve seen, over time, drug use does not aid artistic inspiration, but it deteriorates the mind. Rich men can buy new hearts and lungs, and they can work out to attain more muscle mass, but when their minds fade, they check out long before their bodies do.

I don’t have much more insight than that.

Nonetheless, let us be sympathetic to all of the brilliant and eccentric postmodern artists we have lost. There are people who are hurting in the world, and instead of rewarding our heroes with accolades, money and bugging them for polaroid photos, we should approach them as we would want to be approached, and try to create a genuine human exchange…even if it is only for a moment.

You never know. The pedestal of American celebrity can also be an isolation tank for the spiritual and emotional human experience.


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