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Judging Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of my all-time favorite actors. The ability to disappear into a role is a gift, one that has to extract a high price on the human being with that gift.

That’s what I’m telling myself anyway, because he left the stage before he had the chance to star in my book-to-movie.

I wonder what Hoffman is thinking right now. Is he in some Nowhere place, standing off to one side? Does he see the news coverage? Perhaps worry that people like me will never see him in a movie without imagining him on the bathroom floor with a needle in his left arm? Will that taint his legacy, if he even has one after the frenzy over his death is forgotten?

What’s weird is this: Meriwether Lewis also died too young. Maybe by his own hand, or at the wrong end of someone else’s gun.

Whatever anyone says, our American news media has always been sensationalist. The newspapers and pamphlets of 1809 screeched about Lewis’s ‘suicide’ and speculated about the details of his final hours. When they didn’t have information, they filled in the blanks.

Lewis was bigger in his day than Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was a celebrity akin to Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, but he was also a national hero who served his government. Godson of President Thomas Jefferson. A federal employee.

His death was pronounced a suicide without a federal investigation. He was buried without a funeral, in an unmarked grave that was too shallow to hold him. Wild boars found him, though. Parts of him made for a tasty meal.

If he were in that Nowhere place, standing on the sidelines watching what happened to him after he died, do you think he would worry about how he was remembered? A man of mind-boggling accomplishment, shunned for suppositions about how he might have died?

I never saw Philip Seymour Hoffman as Meriwether Lewis. Oh no. He was always my bad guy. When I wrote the words that became the Judge, it was Hoffman’s voice I heard, his facial expressions and ticks I studied. I wanted to create a character that was worthy of his talent.

I’m sorry we’ll never know.

To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis will be available on March 1, 2014 from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBook and Kobo. The amazing tintype photo of Philip Seymour Hoffman is by Victoria Will/Invision/AP.

78 Comments Post a comment
  1. What a sad way to go. I feel for his family.

    February 5, 2014
    • Me, too. That’s got to be one of the hardest things about all this scrutiny…….everyone who cared about him has to experience it.

      February 5, 2014
  2. this is a very sad tale indeed. and interesting parallels you’ve drawn in many ways. i look forward to meriwether’s story.

    February 5, 2014
    • I hope it’s a story he would be proud of. We’ll never know.

      February 5, 2014
  3. Sadly, addiction is a life-long disease. Once it has caught you it doesn’t go away. A recurrence and relapse is always a possibility.
    I found this article particularly insightful: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2014/02/philip_seymour_hoffman_s_drug_death_the_science_of_addiction_recovery_and.html

    February 5, 2014
    • I have a friend who described addiction just like this, Robert. He’s been sober for more than a decade, but there’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t know he could relapse. One of my uncles was an alcoholic and died of cirrhosis. Even when doctors told him he would die if he drank again, it didn’t matter. He was far too young when he died, and he took my mamaw after him. Both died well before their time.

      February 5, 2014
  4. Anticipation can be a wonderful thing.

    February 5, 2014
    • I hope a few people are anticipating this story, Jim. I’m ready for people to read it. That’s for sure.

      February 5, 2014
  5. Both sad tales and we will never know the whole story – of either.

    February 5, 2014
    • Several books have been written on Meriwether Lewis’s death. The theories run the gamut from basic to very colorful.

      February 5, 2014
  6. Powerful words, Andra. I can’t wait to read your book.

    February 5, 2014
  7. Your book was my first thought on hearing the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death. I thought not of his roles, not of the manner of his death, no not even of what his legacy would be. What I thought of first was the character of the judge in your story. Who would play the judge in the inevitable movie adaptation now? How could he leave before fulfilling this most vital role?

    But isn’t that the case with all untimely deaths? The might-have-been and should-have-done opportunities that will never be experienced. Tragedy for both the individual and the world they have left behind.

    February 5, 2014
    • I think Hoffman will be remembered in the long run for his talent, but others who outlast him will do everything they can to ensure they are remembered ahead of him. That’s really what happened to Lewis, in my opinion. For many, his extraordinary life and accomplishments were reduced to “Lewis & Clark went to the Pacific with Sacagawea.” That’s not to say that in some parts of the US, kids are taught more about him, or that people who have an interest in history don’t bother to learn more.

      February 5, 2014
      • What is the saying, that the winners write the history books? Too often that has nothing to with truth or justice.

        And still thinking about the addictions too. We can be addicted to chemicals, to glory, to people… and all can be damaging.

        February 5, 2014
  8. napperscompanion #

    Yeah, Hoffman’s death seems to have touched a lot of us. My son used to be hooked on heroin, so he’s particularly bummed. Thanks for the thoughts. Peace, John

    February 5, 2014
  9. I think the parallels you draw here are interesting. The anticipation for the book is BIG. But what I want to know now is who you’re mind has cast. (As always, looking for the sensationalized story.)

    February 5, 2014
    • Once a few people have read the book, I’d be very interested to hear who they think would be the best actors for the characters.

      I will say that in the case of Lewis, I read practically everything he ever wrote to inform my version of his voice. It couldn’t be as he wrote in the 1800s, or few modern day readers would read it. (I actually had an agent suggest that I write his whole section in 18th century voice. I ignored that advice.) Still, the voice I heard in my head was Lewis’s. I didn’t have any actor in mind when I wrote him.

      February 5, 2014
      • Maybe you can have another contest 🙂

        February 5, 2014
  10. A great actor, a tragic ending and unfortunately not surprising.

    February 5, 2014
    • It’s always a little disconcerting, because most of us think these people have great lives, so much to live for, most everything they want. A powerful reminder that success doesn’t bring happiness. It doesn’t solve our problems. It cannot make us happy.

      February 5, 2014
  11. I was shocked and sad when I heard the news. I too feel for his family. It just goes to show that celebrities are still fallible people just like the rest of us.

    February 5, 2014
    • It is hard to remember that when so many of them try to project otherwise.

      February 5, 2014
  12. Emily Duke #

    I personally do not believe the manner of his death will diminish his accomplishment in acting. Unfortunately, it’s an all too common thing with celebrity. The sensationalism will die down. He will be remembered for his great talent.

    February 5, 2014
    • I’ll always remember his talent, but I will wonder even more what demons fueled it.

      February 5, 2014
  13. Wonderful tribute and segue into your own travels with Merriweather Lewis. The more you talk about him, the more intrigued I become. I confess I know next to zilch about him — I mean, of course I’m familiar with the travels of Lewis & Clark, but the man himself? The tragedy that surrounded his later life? I had no idea. I look forward to having you take me to school, darling — you make it sound so fascinating.
    P.S. I loved PSH as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous.

    February 5, 2014
    • That was a particularly stellar role for him. I really loved him in the movie “Owning Mahowny.” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0285861/ I bet you’ve seen it, given that it’s based on a Canadian banker. It would be really sad to watch it now, though, given that he’s playing a character who’s struggling with addiction of a different variety.

      February 5, 2014
      • Ugh… if we’re talking depressing PSH movies, have you seen Losing Lisa? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0282698/
        I would recommend perhaps having some happy pills for afterward, and stay away from sharp instruments, gas ovens, and pistols.

        February 5, 2014
      • I’d really rather watch him the The Big Lebowski again. We watched it recently. I always laugh and laugh and laugh.

        February 5, 2014
      • Well, there you go, then. Laughing is better than being depressed every. Single. Day.

        February 5, 2014
  14. I, too, wondered at the parallels with your book, Andra, and how very sad Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death is. I do think his legacy will be larger than his death, as has that of Meriwether Lewis. Sensationalism has always been a part of our culture, unfortunately. “The Aviator’s Wife” which I wrote briefly about, covers the type of sensationalism the Lindbergh’s dealt with and how isolated they needed to be to escape it.

    I can’t wait to read your book.

    February 5, 2014
    • I’m sure it will be, Penny. Still, anyone’s legacy is cheated by deaths like these.

      February 5, 2014
  15. Powerful, Andra. Now that you say it, his role as the Judge is obvious. What a loss – to us, to his partner, his children, people in recovery who saw hope in his long sobriety. Wrenching.

    February 5, 2014
    • Being a role model for others has got to be crushing in a situation like this. I know he accepted it. Maybe he even sought it out as an added piece of insurance against a relapse.

      February 5, 2014
  16. “When they didn’t have information, they filled in the blanks.” It has always been so and, if anything, has only gotten worse.

    I simply feel sadness for all of those who are left to deal with the loss and the “why?”

    February 5, 2014
    • It’s hard for me. I wouldn’t want these kinds of details splattered all over the place, my final hours combed through, my every action dissected and analyzed and discussed. I don’t understand why we do this, unless it is that need to understand why.

      February 5, 2014
      • Maybe we should just ask the NSA for all the details.

        February 5, 2014
  17. What incredible food for thought, Andra. And what parallels.
    I cannot wait to find out more about Lewis.
    Over here we heard about a Twitter scam less than 48 hours before PSH died. It broke out on Twitter that he had been found dead, and then it was silenced. Something off there.

    February 5, 2014
    • I read somewhere that he said if he didn’t stop, he would die. That’s almost creepy about the Twitter thing.

      February 5, 2014
  18. tarakianwarrior #

    I will remember his talent, just as I remember those that have gone before him, death by suicide, death by drugs, what lives on in my mind is not the end…but the journey they took. I’ve found that a lot (not all) deeply talented people are tortured souls…some seek an end…some seek madness…some seek…release. I truly hope that Mr. Hoffman has found whatever he was looking for…released? Tortured souls do make some of the best actors…or so it seems.

    As with Mr. Lewis….I’m looking forward to finding all about him.

    February 5, 2014
    • These incidents are always very sad. Plenty of people die like this, and nobody cares, like Jon says below.

      February 5, 2014
  19. One of the sad parts of all of this, people die all the time because of drugs and such. But a celebrity does it and it becomes national news. A life lost to drugs is tragic no matter whose life it is.

    February 5, 2014
  20. I love the segue from Hoffman to Lewis and the insight that provides as to why he would be so obsessed with his own legacy.

    February 5, 2014
    • People who seek this kind of path must at least think about what mark their lives will make on history. It’s human to want to be remembered, however we choose to do it: having children, philanthropy, writing, high-profile leadership positions, celebrity, etc.

      February 5, 2014
  21. Addiction is a sad disease. Too many view it as a weakness in the person, when in actuality, it is a chemical / brain demand for a substance and a genetic predilection to substances/behaviours. Mental illness (into which categroization drug addiction and ‘melancholia’ both fall) is a central nervous system disease. Not a choice. Not a weakness. When our society realizes that someone no more chooses to mentally ill than homosexual, we’ll be on the road to curing more than just mental illness. Xenophobia is a human plight.

    It is horrible that Lewis was maligned in his death.

    And I am noting that the entry about the Trace states, “Scarcely anyone traveled the road alone. Some of the roughest men of the frontier, the river men who traveled south to New Orleans on flatboats then returned north, always amassed in packs when they journeyed on the Trace.” (See more at: http://hnn.us/article/1758#sthash.2tOPO0jP.dpuf) Even though these are modern times, we can see how there are still those who prey upon other. I know you will take precautions to safeguard yourself.

    February 5, 2014
    • This trip isn’t without some risk for me, Cheryl. But so is walking out my front door every day.

      One historian wrote a whole book about Lewis that asserted he killed himself because he suffered from malaria, not mental illness. I’ve read so many books to write mine. Ha.

      February 5, 2014
  22. Worrying about our reputations and/or our legacies is a big fat waste of time which leads to insecurity and self-doubt.

    Just LIVE!

    February 5, 2014
    • I wish there were “like” buttons for comments, Nancy. You make a very valid point!

      February 5, 2014
      • Thanks, Karen. Life is a different ball game entirely when we use an internal yardstick rather than looking to others for validation.

        February 5, 2014
    • That’s why you’re such a great example for everyone, Nancy.

      February 5, 2014
      • Thanks, Andra. It took me a LONG time to get to “here” . . . but it’s worth it to have a firm foundation under my feet that doesn’t depend upon what “they” think of me.

        I am sorry that PSH won’t be able to act the judge in your movie. I expect he would have nailed it!

        February 5, 2014
  23. I agree with what you said about his talent taking a toll on his soul. Sad times and a great talent.

    February 5, 2014
    • It would have to, wouldn’t it? I mean, I can’t imagine spending time of some of the places he had to go to prepare for the roles he took.

      February 5, 2014
  24. I was gutted when I heard this tragic news about Philip Seymour Hoffman. Another young life blighted by drugs…

    February 5, 2014
    • May it send a few more people to seek help. That’s the only thing we can hope for.

      February 5, 2014
      • Yes, I was thinking just the same thing…thanks Andra for this post, I meant to say that before…

        February 5, 2014
  25. One shouldn’t pussyfoot too much around the fact that an addict is fundamentally flawed. Whether they are to ‘blame’ for that or not is a moot point, but the flaw is there.

    February 5, 2014
    • We’re all fundamentally flawed somehow or another. At least, I know I am.

      February 5, 2014
      • A question of scale, I suppose. I have never understood why one despises the village drunk but has sympathy for an addict who is a star at something or other.

        February 5, 2014
  26. He was one of my favorites as well. I wish people I like would take better care of themselves. man the list keeps growing.

    February 5, 2014
    • I suppose that’s just part of life. It has always been so.

      February 5, 2014
  27. Lance #

    I wrote about him on Monday. He was one of my favorites, too. Transcendent talent often comes with internal torment. The good news, and I believe this religiously and intellectually, Hoffman is at peace, now. This is hope. And that’s often all we have.

    wonderful post, A

    February 5, 2014
  28. Hoffman’s death has indeed touched so many of us. My mind immediately went to my niece whom I tried to help. Everyday I learn more about addiction and the mind of an addict. No matter what you say to them, when they are in the midst of their addiction, they are simply not capable of seeing things the way their loved ones do. They can’t reason the way others can and consequences don’t mean a thing. It’s all about the fix right there and now. So devastating for the families.

    Looking forward to “To Live Forever” in March!! Felicidades amiga. 🙂

    February 5, 2014
    • It is mind-bogglingly hard to walk away from a loved one. The guilt. The frustration. I’ve been there. You’ve been in my thoughts on that one, Maria.

      February 6, 2014
  29. angela #

    Nice to read your thoughts, Andra, as well as your fellow readers. I shall forever think of him in Capote, though, his role in Doubt was equally amazing. It was odd, for just a week ago, I saw a picture of him on IMDB and thought he looked like a heart attack waiting to happen… didn’t know of his relapse. He always seemed to carry a sadness in his eyes – author David Foster Wallace comes to mind, too. Men of great depth…and talent. ~ a

    February 5, 2014
  30. I lamented the coroner’s suicidium notice for this fellow.

    February 6, 2014
  31. I can’t understand why I had never heard of him….he sounds to have been an extraordinary man and actor. Sad tale:)

    February 6, 2014
  32. I can’t wait for the book, of course. And having met the Judge, yes! How marvelous PSH would have been. It saddens me to lose the promise of talent so young.

    February 6, 2014
    • I can’t wait for you to read the book, Cam. It needs to be read.

      February 6, 2014
  33. CANNOT WAIT for the book. It sounds so great.

    February 7, 2014

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