Mourning Philip Seymour Hoffman: Dead After 23 Years of Sobriety

I’m not a saint yet. I’m an alcoholic. I’m a drug addict. I’m homosexual. I’m a genius. —Truman Capote

Yesterday I was sitting on the couch in my living room, prepping for the big game by. . . watching films. (I watch a lot of movies, and I was finishing an epic that I had dozed off watching the night before.)

As I was watching the final hour of JFK (three hours and nine minutes is an ungodly length for a movie), I get a text message from another film buff friend of mine.

“Philip Seymour Hoffman died???”

I’m taken aback. “What??” I text back.

Hoffman is one of my favorite actors. Rumors about celebrity deaths happen all the time, so I google his name, incredulous that this is actually happening.

My search confirms it. He’s actually gone.

And then I read the cause of death.

Heroin overdose.

The scene plays out in my mind. The officers arriving at his Greenwich Village apartment, finding him lying on the bathroom floor in his underwear with a needle in his arm, a charred spoon lying nearby. Fifty bags of heroin and numerous prescription pills throughout the apartment.

Then emotion hits—a strange mixture of anger and sadness.

Long-term Recovery

What’s most painful to me, I think, is just how far Hoffman had already come on his journey of recovery. After hitting the party scene hard during his time at New York University, Hoffman checked into rehab at age 22. Over the next 23 years, an alcohol- and drug-free Hoffman rose to fame. In an interview with 60 minutes, Hoffman was thankful that his rise to fame happened gradually. “I have so much empathy for these young actors that are 19 and all of a sudden they’re beautiful and famous and rich. I’m like, my God, I’d be dead.”

It’s hard to believe that with so much clean time, a relapse was just around the corner.

A Hard Relapse

It started in what probably seemed like a small way. Sometime in 2012, Hoffman began using prescription drugs. His use began to affect his work, culminating in Vincent Cassel replacing him for his role in the film Child 44.

Last May, Hoffman’s drug use escalated from prescription drugs to snorting heroin, something he said he hadn’t done for over two decades. Fearing that he would move on to IV use, Hoffman admitted he needed help and checked into rehab.

And that’s the last that we, as the public, heard about Hoffman’s addiction.

But it’s what the public didn’t see that gives us a few more clues about Hoffman’s struggle.

Around Christmas of this last year, Hoffman separated from long-time partner Mimi O’Donnell and their three children, and began living alone in an apartment in Greenwich Village. I can only imagine how the separation and loneliness affected Hoffman.

It is estimated that in the last few months, Hoffman spent about $10,000 a month on heroin and prescription drugs. By this point, his fears had been realized, and he had moved from snorting to injecting. While in Atlanta, filming the Hunger Games sequel, he’d been spotted drunk in a bar.

Unfortunately, these factors culminated in Hoffman’s overdose on February 2.

An Eerie Foreshadowing

Looking back at his past performances, I find myself the most haunted by his portrayal of Truman Capote. Hoffman knew how destructive addiction could be. No doubt he brought much of his own personal experience to that role. Capote is a perfect example of a brilliant man slowly destroyed by drugs and alcohol. It’s haunting that Hoffman’s role would foreshadow his own death.

What Happened?

Man, twenty-three years sober. And all it took was one prescription pill. One pill that leads to more pills, that leads to heroin, losing your family, then losing your life. The reality that recovery is a day-to-day process overwhelms me. You really can’t let up for one second. Call your sponsor, go to meetings, love someone today. Fight every day for your chance to live.

I’ve finally made it to my parents to see the big game, but I’m only half present. As Manning throws yet another interception, my mind is elsewhere. Beyond the tweets about Joe Namath’s coat, my Twitter feed is filled with stories and remembrances of Hoffman.

As the game drolls on in the background, I can’t help but think about how much I hate this disease. Pulling out of the driveway to head home, I turn to my wife. All I can say is, “Addiction is so sad.” She just nods.

The rest of the drive home is silent.

Fond Farewells for a Life Cut Short