Philip Seymour Hoffman Passes at 46

Three days ago, we lost one of the greatest actors of our time.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, known for his exceptional skills both on the stage and on the screen, was found, on February 2nd, dead in his Manhattan office. According to police reports, he had suffered a drug overdose. He was 46.

The news has struck everyone—both those involved directly with Hoffman’s career as well as all those of us who knew him only through his films—as a terrible loss, not simply of a human life but of an incredible artist.

Hoffman was born in Fairport, New York in 1967. He acted all the way through high school and eventually earned is BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of Arts, where he was one of the founders of the Bullstoi Ensemble Theatre Company.

His first leads role was in an episode of Law and Order, and he eventually debuted his film career in 1992 in “Scent of a Woman.”

Since then, Hoffman has been in more films than I can name here, and the general trend of his career is a spectacular one. He was known for playing characters in the peripherals of human stories—not the heroes and the beautiful antivillains—but the very human, often uncomfortable, characters that would have been lost on any other actor. His films were as far ranging as “Twister,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Almost Famous,” and “The Master” and in each performance he recreated himself. Rather than forcing himself on these disparate individuals, he became them—fully and truly.

He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Truman Capote in the 2005 biopic Capote, was awarded three Tony awards for his theatrical work, and was nominated three times for Best Supporting Actor.

The death was, like so many, unexpected and tragic. It seems unfair to somehow imply that there is a “right time” to lose anyone, but Hoffman, at 46, undoubtedly had a long and fruitful career still on the horizon. Like the loss of any artist, the sting feels peculiarly personal for many who didn’t know the man, only his work. There is a sense of injustice that we feel—selfishly, even—about being robbed of his future.

The event has elicited a chorus of responses from a number of publications, all of which recognize how much has been lost. The New York Times gave Hoffman a one page obituary, calling him “The Man Who Made Unhappiness a Joy to Watch” and Vice, usually known for dead-faced cynicism, published a piece by Oscar Rickett that revels in some of the finest moments of Hoffman’s illustrious career.

Lee Siegel wrote an article in the New Yorker titled, “Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Beautiful Helplessness” that perhaps best articulates what was so incredible about Hoffman as a performer:

“Like all artistic geniuses, Hoffman redefined his art, and the way he redefined it was, precisely, to disappear into his characters instead of playing his life as he was playing his role, which has been until recently the American style of acting. For every role that, in retrospect, seems to reflect his inner turmoil, there were characters he played to perfection who were a universe away from a tormented man.”

He is survived by three children and his previous partner Mimi O’Donnell.