Philip Seymour Hoffman, Genius Lost

You get used to heroin if you’re a native to Baltimore. Even if you’ve never used the drug yourself, the scars of Baltimore’s unmentionable love affair with heroin become gaping eyesores.

You see these scars up and down North Avenue, especially on the eastern end at Gay Street, where throngs of people in various stages of recovery line up to get their methadone at Turning Point clinic. The ones who haven’t made it to recovery yet are in front of Lexington Market, panhandling in mid-nod. Heroin has put people in some of the most shameful positions, even nodding over young children on a bus.  There’s strong chance a family member, an in-law, or even a co-worker is or has been an addict in Baltimore.There are statistics to back up the anecdotes, too; Dan Rodricks wrote today that two years ago, one out of every thirteen people were estimated to be addicted to heroin according to city health officials.

When artists of renown die, it is natural for those who knew of their work to feel a strong sense of loss, and is amplified when they die young. Paul Walker’s death last month hit me in this manner, having been a fan of The Fast and The Furious saga since the first movie. But that Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the greatest actors of the modern era was found dead with a needle in his arm and seventy bags of dope in his apartment Sunday, is not just a tragedy of the highest order–it is the grand theft of a priceless treasure that will never be duplicated.

This one hurts.  I knew of Hoffman’s acting prowess as a lover of movies, and revered him as one of the best villains I had ever seen in Mission: Impossible III and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I remember him vividly in Red Dragon, and was in awe of how his roles in Doubt and Charlie Wilson’s War confirmed him as one of the great masters of his craft. But to know that his end came at the end of a needle–the needle that has erased countless lives and talent here in Baltimore–is truly heartbreaking.

Tom Junod honors Hoffman in a manner that I humbly defer to:

He often played creeps, but he rarely played them creepily. His metier was human loneliness — the terrible uncinematic kind that has very little to do with high-noon heroism and everything to do with everyday empathy — and the necessary curse of human self-knowledge. He held up a mirror to those who could barely stand to look at themselves and invited us not only to take a peek but to see someone we recognized. He played frauds who knew they were frauds, schemers who knew they were schemers, closeted men who could only groan with frustrated love, heavy breathers dignified by impeccable manners, and angels who could withstand the worst that life could hand out because they seemed to know the worst was just the beginning.

Rest well, Phil.

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