Why Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death Matters to Me



I recently received a note from someone important to me stating that Philip Seymour Hoffman was a self-interested bum.

Immediately, I could feel my heart pump harder and faster; I felt my throat thicken in defense and anger against the indictment. I don’t normally touch current events or popular culture news; it often gets me into trouble, but this one … I can’t step away from it. His death touched me profoundly, probably because I am still grieving the death of my own mother, and her epic battle with addiction, just five months ago yesterday.

My reaction is primitive; I can’t explain why it was so strong other than to plainly state that PSH was not a bum. He was a depressed, misunderstood and addicted man whose talent knew no bounds and whose demons were equally limitless.

He was an addict. After 22 years of sobriety, he relapsed in May 2013. He was working on getting cleaned up. He was a father of three kids; he did not marry his long-time lover and I suppose to this person who wrote me that note, this means he was a bum. Because he didn’t marry her. I can’t speak to his morality and the choices he made; maybe Ms. O’Donnell, his lover and the mother of his three young children didn’t want to marry him; maybe she saw his temperamental side; maybe she was afraid he would be unreliable and unsafe, so instead of imposing his whims and moods on his children, she chose to protect them and love them by putting them first while allowing her beloved to pursue his craft and live how he chose. She is devastated by this news.

We can’t sit here in judgment and throw horribly weighted and lopsided stones from our glass castles. Let me be clear about this, because this post is getting a lot of traffic: my feelings have nothing to do with his celebrity status. I will miss him because he made every film he was in better, but this has nothing to do with “star power.”

Addiction is a horrible scourge on all of humanity. My reaction to the indictment of his being a bum  — a holier-than-thou, caustic attitude — tapped a nerve that runs deeply within my being. To me PSH represents everyone dealing with addiction; everyone trying to figure out life; everyone who’d love to feel good about themselves in a true and real way, internally, that no external accolade, award, money, fame, power, or talent can provide.

I wish … God how I wish my mother had gotten her ducks in a row. She suffered tragically. She was a beautiful woman with amazing intellect, and a great big heart and vision which were devoted to something other than the world she lived in, but she was a human. She was addicted. PSH was a human. He was not a bum. Addicts are not bums. They are just like you and me. They are deeply troubled and they need our compassion, not an indictment. Compassion is not enabling. All I know is that compassion just isn’t hate.

Thank you.

ps – update: i continue my rant here: Let Me Clear Up Something

About Grass Oil by Molly Field

follow me on twitter @mollyfieldtweet. i'm working on a memoir and i've written two books thus unpublished because i'm a scaredy cat. i hail from a Eugene O'Neill play and an Augusten Burroughs novel but i'm a married, sober straight mom. i write about parenting, mindfulness, irony, personal growth and other mysteries vividly with a bit of humor. "Grass Oil" comes from my son's description of dinner i made one night. the content of the blog is random, simple, funny and clever. stop by, it would be nice to get to know you. :)

23 responses »

    • if they had to understand that would mean that they had to include themselves in the equation of how they treat the addicts in their own lives. compartmentalization and finger-pointing are a matter of survival. i should know; i did it for years when my mother was alive… now only that she’s gone, do i see it as a huge burden for her instead of a choice.

      oh… the things we learn when we learn them. too late? no. i can never say too late.

  1. I am in total agreement with you Molly. I have 4 nephews who were addicted to drugs. Two are in recovery and trying to keep it together. The are two, sadly, are gone. One relapsed and after and argument with his dad, sought the relief from heroine…..he injected and died instantly…..tragically it was laced with fentanyl…..The other was addicted to oxycontin and decided he could not take it any longer and ended his life. They came from great families, loving families that sought treatment and help for them…..just when they thought the boys were doing well these tragedies happened. If anybody thinks their families are immune to it, then they are sadly mistaken…..It scares the sh** out of me, because addiction, especially to heroine, is a beast. It saddens me that PSH decided, as so many others addicted to this awful drug, could not shake the demons…..

    • genetics are huge in this situation; we don’t know his, but i know mine and i am spared from a life of ruin simply because i’m aware of it and it scares the hell out of me. not one sip of wine goes down my throat without consideration for the fact and the respect for my lineage. i am sorry for your losses, AC. anyone who sees this in a tangential light, anyone who feels free to throw stones, really isn’t getting the point. addiction is a very likely 2-degree of separation thing. we all know someone who is silently struggling with something. compassion is NOT enabling.

      • Yes, compassion is not enabling…….many people do not understand it, because they have never been close to it……My family has had more than it’s share of alcohol and drug addiction on, both sides, and there is definitely a genetic component…..I have seen brothers and brother in laws struggle to get the help for their kids, to the point of being ruined financially, so it was not for a lack of trying…..it’s just so sad on many fronts…….Fortunately, I am aware and do not have addiction to alcohol or drugs and I will do everything in my power to make sure it is not an issue for my little guy……that is what scares me the most, not knowing if it will rear it’s ugly head when he gets older……

  2. It’s so very tragic and happens far too often, we get jolted back to reality when it’s a celebrity’s life that is taken , they are no better than any other person struggling with their own demons. It just makes headline news. I’m so sad to lose such a beautiful performer.My heart breaks for his children and his partner.

    • yeah — me too. the whole thing. it’s mind-blowing. the silent struggle is what cuts me. there was no show-boating. no boastful bird-flipping attention-seeking behavior. he was just an addict. not a bum. i am literally, spared from that life… genetically, it could just as easily have been me.

    • thanks, Danny. love and compassion. it clears everything up. i have compassion for the man who said he was a bum, because i know he is hurting too, that is what fuels his ire, but i can’t enable it. i can’t feed his fire, so i back off and let him figure it out. fighting with him just makes it worse and continues the anger against the addict. he is an addict in his own right — to his rage against his own demons. in his mind, it’s better / easier to fight them to learn.


  3. Thinking about my own experience watching people struggle with addiction I think I have gone through the five stages of grief. At first you think it’s a passing phase and your loved one will “outgrow it” or change somehow. Then the anger comes when they aren’t changing and they do things that hurt you, hurt your relationship, and hurt themselves. Then you begin with the bargaining. You try to intervene, you offer to put them in rehab, you beg them to stop, you try tough love, you try everything you can think of. Then you feel depressed and angry with yourself because nothing you do works. You walk around feeling helpless, broken, sad. Eventually you come to some level of acceptance and detachment. You love them, have compassion, but you aren’t as emotionally involved. You have to focus on your own life and wait for a miracle to happen.

    I suspect that people who say things like “what a waste” or “what a bum” probably are angry. I remember a few years back having that same reaction. It’s frustration and fear all mixed in with love and worry. It’s really painful to love an addict. So, I agree, we need to have compassion for the addict and we also need to have compassion for the people who love someone who is an addict. They are living with broken hearts and sometimes anger is all they have to cling to.

    • all i did was live in anger. for 45 years, because of her addiction. the last six months of her life, i started to see it differently; that she was powerless and that it wasn’t a choice and that it took daily vigilance and defiance of a disease that wanted only to hurt her, take her over and ultimately ruin her. as sad as i am that she died the way she did, too soon for me, i am gratified that she died sober. y’know? that’s pretty cool. xo

  4. Beautiful, I wrote something similar yesterday, as I admired PSH’s talent. I never want to be on a side that is congruent to hate. Lack of compassion is that. well done, found you through Kelly

  5. I think a better word instead of compassion is empathy… Compassion says “I know what you are going through as I have been there, let me do this for you.” Empathy says “I do not know your struggle, but I understand you are struggling, I wish to help you, so you can be strong enough to do it yourself.”

    • yes. … and no.

      compassion — co-suffering, is already suffering. i think for people to have any opinion at all about the addiction of another person means they’re already in the game. if they have no opinion, then we’re at apathy, which as you probably know is a non-starter. i would normally be apathetic to a movie star’s travails. but something about PSH reminds me of my mother and i can’t look away and start labeling and hating on the guy. what he’s done and thought of himself pales in comparison to anything deleterious i’d ever consider.

      all this said, your sentiment, just one of connection makes excellent sense. thanks for commenting. 🙂

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