When the curtain finally fell on the life of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the American actor whose talent outshone his sleepy looks, tousled hair and rumpled clothes, it was a matter of sorrow but not surprise.
The Academy Award winner had said as far back as in 2006 that he had gone to rehab when he was just 22, after persistent drug and alcohol abuse as a college student. In that candid interview, Hoffman, then 38, had admitted that he used to abuse anything he could get his hands on, liking it all.
So on Sunday when he was found dead in the bathroom of his Manhattan apartment and investigators discovered 70 caches of heroin as well as prescription drugs, the conclusion was inevitable that he had died of a drug overdose.
Hoffman was known for his stellar performance in films like Capote, which won him the Oscar for best actor, Charlie Wilson’s War, and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. With his death, the 46-year-old joins the list of stars like Heath Ledger, Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson whose personal demons proved stronger than all the fame, riches and adulation they had attained.
Hoffman’s exit once again triggers the wonder that all such deaths do. What drives men and women, who have everything the average man and woman would die to possess, to self-destruction? Some, when they chase the slippery and fiercely competitive path to showbiz success, seek help in substance abuse for courage, stamina, wish fulfillment, or whatever it is that they search for in the early stages of their career. Some do it in a spirit of adventurous experimentation, some because it is regarded as an essential prop for the artistic and performers, from painters to athletes. However once embraced, drugs and alcohol become an indispensable need and few have the will power or ability to let go of them. And the result is inevitably tragedy, a colossal waste of talent and life.
Hoffman’s death comes a month after the state of Colorado legalized the sale of cannabis for recreational use. Though there are restrictions on the sale — the buyer has to be 21 or above and the drug can’t be consumed in public — there are reservations about the state move. Critics are apprehensive that the drug, freely available, will cause psychiatric problems, especially among the young. The persistent spate of Hoffmans requires greater soul-searching by a society that despite being the largest economy in the world seems to carry an enormous burden of trauma, need and frustration.