Philip Seymour Hoffman: The imperfections that made him so adorable

In the right role the star of so many great movies was worth a dozen Tom Cruises

Grace Dent
Monday 03 February 2014 16:22
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman

The death of the very fine actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is a sad affair. Not, it might be said, as entirely shocking as the mawkish hoards of social media might suggest. Hoffman was hardly a vision of rude health. He was 46 when he died, and had always looked around 46, even when he was 28.

With Hoffman there was the suggestion that this wasn’t a man strictly in adherence to the big screen’s demands for honed living. And it was this imperfection, his waxing and waning waistline, a face that perpetually suggested a life in transit and a certain cerebral adriftness, which made him so completely adorable.

In the right role Hoffman was worth a dozen Tom Cruises. Up he would pop, often spivvy, with his puppy fat and shock of pale ginger hair. He was the king of the flamboyant but uptight one-liner and the passive-aggressive zing. He brightened up Hollywood by playing the loner, the pervert, the sad-hearted anti-hero or the scoundrel with whom we wobbly mortals could identify.

He died, it is said, with a needle in his arm. He had spoken about heroin addiction before and about his attempts to turn his back on this most destructive and seemingly delicious of hobbies.

I’ve read a few times over the past day or so how Hoffman “lost his battle” with drugs. To me the word “battle” sounds incongruous and unhelpful. If drugs felt remotely like a war, nobody would take them. By the time one has taken heroin on and off for decades - like Hoffman and millions of others have - it doesn’t feel like a battlefield. It’s more a comfy pair of pyjamas laid out on the radiator by Mum.

You can use rehab to try shocking people into stopping heroin. You can try mentoring them into stopping. But how you stop people creeping back for the clandestine cuddle that ends up killing them is still a mystery. If Hoffman couldn’t be stopped, what hope is there for the rest.

Philip Seymour Hoffman dead: A magnificent and versatile screen actor whether in the lead or as a memorable cameo

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