I was so disappointed on Sunday to learn that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died. Of course I didn't know the man, who lived in that peculiar fast lane of money and celebrity and recognition by millions of people he would never know. As one of those faceless millions, I was a fan. I remember watching him in Twister and thinking, "Wow, this guy's really over the top...kinda reminds me of John Belushi." He had an on-screen intensity I liked, but short of that I knew nothing else about him. Didn't know he'd struggled with drugs and alcohol, didn't know he had three kids, didn't know anything other than when he was in a movie, I tended to sit down and enjoy.
Hollywood types have tweeted outpourings of sadness and shock. What a loss, what a great guy, what a great actor, and so on. News people are tsk-tsking over his demise. I'm not sure how anybody who knew him could be shocked that he overdosed as he'd apparently gone on a week-long heroin binge a few months back, though I suppose it's always a shock when the inevitable finale arrives to those who decide that the artificial high is more important than the actual highs of life, the latter in his case being a brilliant career and little children and waking up every morning to a sunny day. Dr. Drew Pinsky -- the newly-appointed media addiction expert -- advises that we must separate the man from the addiction. I get it, Dr. Drew, addiction is a disease, but separating is easier said than done. There seems to be more to it than that, a cultural disconnect for those who choose nodding to living. Admittedly, I can't begin to imagine what such an addiction is like, although I have, sadly, known those rather close to me who have fought and lost the battle with this particular monkey. They weren't famous, nor were they rich with a penthouse apartment and children waiting. They were just young people who played Russian Roulette with heroin, and found the bullet.
When I was in high school and college, drugs were all around: pot of course, LSD, mushrooms, some coke. Heroin, though, was considered "big time." The heavy hitters used heroin and stayed in their own circles, sniffing and shaking and shooting behind the curtain of other more "acceptable" experimentation. We marveled at the celebrity heroin users like Keith Richards and James Taylor, both of whom, miraculously, survived. My friends and I didn't associate with anybody who used heroin. Or rather if we did, we weren't in on their dark secret.
Heroin isn't a dark secret anymore. It's right out there in our faces, the cheap sister to the pharmaceutical industry's opiate trade. Get hooked on Oxy and check the calendar, because sooner or later the money for prescription drugs will run dry and then you'll be forced to the street where heroin is, I'm told, cheaper to buy than marijuana. Kids across this country are using heroin now. Just last week more than a dozen teens in the Pittsburgh area died from what officials are calling tainted heroin. Nobody out there is tweeting about how great they were, how talented, how special. There are just a bunch of funerals going on in Pennsylvania this week. Families are sobbing. Lives are ruined. I have to wonder why so many people are trumpeting the pros and cons of legalizing pot when the great heroin train is thundering along, mowing down god knows how many kids in its path. It's a bit like shouting about sprinkles when a nor'easter in roaring up the coast. Midwest mothers are hand-wringing about a new century Reefer Madness, ignoring the fact that doctors are prescribing their pills, street dealers are making their cash money, and undertakers are making their plans.
Indeed, Hoffman's death is a tragedy, although no more one than those of the Pittsburgh teens. That Phil was, as his Hollywood friends are saying "a supremely talented actor, a great talent, an actor's actor," is irrelevant to me. In the end he was just another guy, dissatisfied with life, sitting on the floor in a darkened bathroom with a needle in his arm.
And the beat goes on.