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February 02, 2014 2:05 PM Tragic news: actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead

By Kathleen Geier

This is truly horrific news. Sources are reporting that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has been found dead in his Manhattan apartment. He was 46. According to the New York Daily News, he was found with a needle in his arm after using heroin. Last year, Hoffman announced he had completed rehab for drug abuse, including heroin use. He was the father of three children.

In the two years or so I’ve been writing for the Monthly, I’ve eulogized a number of people. But this, along with my Shulamith Firestone eulogy, is among the saddest obits I’ve ever had to write.

I always loved seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman act. He brought a radiant humanity to every role, even the creepiest ones (Happiness). While he won an Oscar — deservedly — for his portrayal of Truman Capote, I think his strongest work was in the films he made with director Paul Thomas Anderson: Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia, The Master. I also particularly enjoyed his performance in the underrated Spike Lee movie, 25th Hour.

Here’s a brief clip from Capote. R.I.P. This is so terribly sad, and a huge loss first of all for his loved ones, but also film and theater lovers all over the world.

UPDATE: Commenter michael7843853 mentions Hoffman’s performance in Almost Famous. I’m surprised I forgot that one. In it, Hoffman playec one of my writer heroes, Lester Bangs, and it was one of his finest hours on screen. Over at Digby’s place, you can watch my favorite scene from that film. I definitely would have posted that one had I remembered it.

SECOND UPDATE: Over at rogerebert.com, a number of contributors pay tribute to Hoffman. I strongly recommend you read each mini-essay — that helps you get a sense of the man’s incredible range and complexity as an actor. My favorite piece, though, is the one by Sheila O’Malley, who’s become one of my favorite writers about actors and acting. Here’s her analysis of Hoffman’s performance in Magnolia:

But when I think of him today, on this sad day, I think of the sincere warmth and kindness and compassion that he brought to the role of Phil Parma, the hospice nurse caring for Jason Robards’ Earl Partridge in “Magnolia”. Phil might have been the most challenging role of all for Hoffman, because it required simplicity, openness, and warmth, and that’s it. When Phil tries to get Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise) on the phone, his persistence, his desperation, his shyness in the face of the web of bureaucracy, brought us even deeper into who this man really was. Phil understands what is important in life, and Phil understands that family, however shattered, is important. There is no backstory for Phil, no opportunity for scenery chewing or explosive anger, things that actors, of course, love. What Hoffman had to bring to the table in “Magnolia”, the only thing, was his caring heart. He did so without wanting to be congratulated or praised for it. It is a deeply selfless performance. He was a member of a chaotic ensemble, filled with characters much louder and more flamboyant than his, and he had to sit there, in scene after scene, still, listening, caring, healing. It’s a mini-miracle, that performance, and it is a reminder that the best acting is often not the showiest, the loudest, the quirkiest, the darkest. The word “brave” is usually used to describe actors who make themselves ugly for roles, who disrobe, who portray the seedier sides of humanity. But showing an audience your heart? That’s the bravest act of all.

Here’s an excerpt from the scene she mentions:

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

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