Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death on Sunday has left his family, friends and fans absolutely stunned and deeply saddened. Although Hoffman did reveal his previous struggle with drugs, many say they were not aware that Hoffman had a current drug problem, and millions of people around the world were shocked to find out that he had ever been involved in drugs at all. That’s most likely because Hoffman had been clean for 23 years. With decades of sobriety under his belt, the actor was the last person on most folks’ minds when thinking about a “typical” celebrity drug addict. Yet, he died with 70 bags of heroin in his apartment and a needle in his arm. Why? What went wrong?
Hoffman was no Amy Winehouse; in and out of rehab, battling consistent relapses with very little time in between drug binges. No, Hoffman was a craftsman; an actor’s actor; an artist to whom some referred as a genius. His public persona and appearance was not indicative of someone struggling with addiction. He was a devoted father of three, an Academy Award Winning actor and by all accounts, a stand-up guy. He wasn’t a “partier” who flirted with the tabloids. He kept his nose to the grindstone, honing his craft over many years of outstanding performances.
When most fans thought of Hoffman, they undoubtedly thought about their favorite film of his; not about drug abuse. Social media has been awash in tributes since Sunday morning and many people say his performance in Capote was one of the most inspired and accurate portrayals of a historical person ever recorded. Others have been saying he was one of the most talented actors of all time; certainly one of the most talented of his generation.
How could someone like Hoffman, who was such a celebrated talent; who had fame, riches, a beautiful family and success; who had been clean for 23 years, die with 70 bags of heroin surrounding him? It seems so incongruous but yet, it has happened. Now, his breathtaking talent has been stolen from audiences everywhere; his life cut tragically short by a relapse that seems as though it could have been prevented.
The story seems, in a way, all too familiar. The celebrity beats their addiction and is clean for a time, only to die the first time or shortly after they relapse. It happened to Corry Monteith. It happened to Amy Winehouse. Now it’s happened to Hoffman. It’s been reported that relapses are particularly dangerous because the person’s body is no longer used to the same amount they would inject when they were using regularly. With this diminished capacity to handle the same level of drugs, their body is completely unprepared for their “normal” dose. The person, often not realizing this, uses their typical dose, and it is way too much for their body to handle. This severely reduced tolerance is what ends up killing them so quickly.
Addicts in recovery also say that the compulsion to use drugs never goes away no matter how many years have passed in which they were clean and sober. Often, when they relapse, they end up “bingeing” even more so than they would have when they were using regularly. This may partially explain why such an excessive amount of heroin was found with Hoffman’s body.
Hoffman had been clean for 23 years and in addition to the 70 bags of heroin found near his body, a drug used to help heroin users kick the habit was also found, which makes his untimely death all the more heartbreaking. All his fans can do is sit and wonder why they have been robbed of this great talent; this larger-than-life genius who through the years made them laugh and cry; the man who entertained and inspired them. Why did Phillip Seymour Hoffman give up all those years of sobriety for a temporary high? That’s the tragedy of addiction: there are no easy answers.
By: Rebecca Savastio