This is neither a news story, nor a tribute to a fallen actor.
This is a eulogy for an American actor who aspired to great heights and focused on the things true to his heart: the art of acting and his family.
As we remember Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014) who passed away last Sunday in his Greenwich Village apartment from a now confirmed heroin overdose, let us not focus on his passing, but rather on the impact Hoffman made on us moviegoers and how the vivacious spirit he embodied on screen affected each one of us. Instead of being in the spotlight for scandals like other celebrities, Hoffman was famous for his acting prowess. Through Hoffman’s film and theater roles and the small glimpses of his private life, we see a man who was attuned to his surroundings but who also selflessly placed other people’s concerns before his own.
The number of invited peers who attended Hoffman’s private funeral at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in the Upper East Side of Manhattan on Friday, Feb. 7 — including filmmaker Spike Lee and actresses Meryl Streep and Amy Adams — only confirmed the strong bonds of friendship and love they had with him. To see the joy Hoffman brought to people’s lives, one only needs to look at photos taken of him with his longtime partner, costume designer Mimi O’Donnell and their three children, Willa, Tallulah and Cooper — what radiates is love and joy.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was born in Fairport, New York. He began acting in high school after a neck injury forced him to quit wrestling and later earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from NYU. Hoffman first appeared in an episode of “Law & Order” in 1991 and soon branched into film with films such as “Scent of a Woman.” He later gained recognition in the late 1990s and early 2000s for his bravura performances: as Sandy Lyle, shouting “Let it Rain!” every time he took (and missed) a basketball shot; in the Ben Stiller vehicle, “Along Came Polly”; rock critic Lester Bangs in the acclaimed “Almost Famous”; and Brent in the Coen Brothers’ cult classic, “The Big Lebowski.”
“Without a doubt, my favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman role is Brent, in ‘Big Lebowski,’” Portlan Beckman, a graduate student in PLNU’s Masters of Education program, responded via email. “He is a relatively minor character, but his disposition and mannerisms seem to be very on point. Plus, ‘Big Lebowski’ is an epic movie.”
Hoffman’s first of four Oscar nominations came for his spot-on performance in “Capote” — for which he won Best Actor — as the flamboyant and meticulous novelist. His subsequent Best Supporting nominations were for his roles as CIA agent Gust Avrokotos in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” Father Brennan Flynn in “Doubt” and Lancaster Dodd in “The Master.”
According to Rick Moncaukas, PLNU Television Studio Operations Manager, his favorite Hoffman role was in “Doubt.”
“He seemed so natural in the part,” Moncaukas responded via email. “I liked him as a priest and would have liked him to be MY priest (were I Catholic) . . . I remember his scene in ‘Doubt’ where he is together with other ‘men of the cloth’ and they are drinking, talking, smoking cigars and generally having a great time talking as a group. This is contrasted with the women, who eat in silence and are overseen rather severely by Meryl Streep’s character. He seems so ‘natural’, so ‘human’ in his role as the priest. I really enjoyed his character.”
Aside from his major performances, Hoffman also took on small supporting roles in Hollywood and independent films, whether it was the sinister villain in “Mission Impossible: III” or life-trodden, emotional characters in “Moneyball,” “The Savages” and “A Late Quartet.” In addition to his film roles, Hoffman participated in live theater, most notably for his performances in “Death of a Salesman” and “Jack Goes Boating,” which he later adapted into a film.
Audiences will be able to view Hoffman’s last film roles as they become released: “God’s Pockets” and “A Most Wanted Man” — both of which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival this January — and the last two installments of “The Hunger Games” franchise.
As we remember Philip Seymour Hoffman, let us focus on Hoffman as a human being. Hoffman’s friend David Bar Katz, who discovered his body, wrote in Hoffman’s funeral program: “Like a collapsed star, a teaspoon of you weighed a thousand tons,” it read. “I won’t ever memorialize you, you beautiful beautiful beast, because even in your absence you’re so much more here than I am . . . for the rest of my life I’m going to be looking towards the door waiting for you to walk in.”
Similarly, Portlan Beckman stated, “I think we, as a society, oftentimes distinguish people by their flaws or defects, but we all have defects and flaws; as it pertains to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s case, I will remember him for being a talented entertainer.”