Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Brilliance & Choices

The outpour of emotion never fails to surprise me when a famous actor dies tragically. The tributes to the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman were overwhelming; something he probably could have never imagined.

I suspect his death resonated due to his brilliance on the screen. Whether it was his scene stealing role in “Boogie Nights” or the disturbing portrayal in “Happiness” or his perfection in “Capote”, he never failed to captivate. He also seemed to be a good guy off camera according to many accounts. A close friend was in his company numerous times in Manhattan and spoke glowingly of his genuine nature.

Less talked about before and after his death (at least from what I've heard or read) are the choices he made in his life or the depression he suffered. I and many others didn’t even know he had a drug problem. There were reports about the difficulty of drug addiction or the pressures of the creative world leading to or enhancing substance abuse, but where was/is the talk of choices, addiction or lessons learned? Or the role of mental health?

It was refreshing to read this well-written article recently about Hoffman and mental health. A passage:

“The only way to really deal with addiction is one that is multi-faceted, one that makes us uncomfortable. It is messy and complicated and takes a lifetime of effort. It sometimes involves relapses and second chances and third chances. It involves support, sometimes sponsors. It involves therapy and counseling until whatever the root cause is has been revealed and addressed. It involves consideration of not just the physical withdrawal, but the emotional withdrawal, the social withdrawal, the psychological withdrawal. It requires a mental health system with adequate resources, which clearly doesn't exist. It requires us to do better. It requires support instead of judgement.”

In addition, some of the conversation seemed to excuse or shy away from the behaviour that led to Mr. Hoffman’s death.  I saw this on social media:

"Many people do not understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. Sometimes something recreational becomes an addiction. There are many factors that lead someone using drugs. It is often mistakenly assumed that drug abusers lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop using drugs simply by choosing to change their behavior. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will. In fact, because drugs change the brain in ways that foster compulsive drug abuse, quitting is difficult, even for those who are ready to do so.”

Those are valid points above, although if his downward spiral started with the aforementioned words “something recreational”, that was his choice. We need to make it crystal clear to our loved ones (particularly before the innocence is gone) that one moment of irresponsibility or one bad choice can be the beginning of the end. My mother and several mentors keep “responsibility and good choices” at the top of my mind during my early years. It made a huge difference in my life.

When something tragic (and widely reported) like this happens, my hope is that it can help some of the far too many addicts struggling in our world, yet with little talk of prevention, choices and responsible behavior, the inspiration a lost soul needs may never come to fruition. The writer above was leaning in that direction and I hope she expands on her important points so that more can learn from her experience.

A close friend wrote this to me about “addiction statistics” and her brother:

“They (statistics) are very transient. The statistic I would like people to know would be that only 15-20% of those that go to rehab actually experience full recovery. After Hoffman, who was in recovery for 23 years before relapse, it seems to me that maybe no one is ever in full recovery once they are an addict. So it’s very discouraging for addicts and family when your loved one enters rehab and you know he/she only has a 15%-20% chance of making it.”
“I don't know why we as a society do not fix the paper cut in the beginning. Instead we wait until the wound is completely infected and untreatable; which is the case with my brother. When I look back over the last ten years I see all the signs I missed and explained away all the time, the odd behavior etc. Because he was a successful business man I told myself he was just a little eccentric or just didn't want to socialize much with me anymore because he was too busy. I used to think we were close. I have been overanalyzing this for over a year and a half.”

During the recent holidays in Pennsylvania, USA one of my best friends talked of increased heroin use in the high schools, something that surprised me. How is this happening and why?  We know that just saying “no to drugs” is not enough. Why are schools not educating our kids better in regards to drugs or addiction? Are we as parents doing enough or simply think it can’t happen to our kids? With addiction so prevalent, why do so few get the knowledge or help that they need?

The choices and behavior we display in our early life often start the ball rolling in the direction of responsibility or irresponsibility. It’s crucial that we advise or mentor our young people and loved ones about responsibility, being balanced and the pitfalls of certain industries like entertainment or sports. It doesn’t mean that they won’t end up like a Seymour Hoffman, although in my opinion, it is less likely if children grow up surrounded by informed adults, along with strong counsel, mentors, discipline and love.

Hoffman made a choice to start taking a substance that would result in his downfall.  Paul Walker of “Fast and Furious” fame liked to drive fast cars and chose to be a passenger in one that led to his death. James Gandolfini of the “Soprano’s” made the choice to not eat in a healthy manner, which contributed to his heart attack.

Not only did the aforementioned actors make bad choices, their behaviour was irresponsible. Nothing else was to blame. These points should have been responsibly discussed or written about in the aftermath of their deaths. If not, how do we expect anyone to learn from their mistakes?

Here’s my take on responsible versus irresponsible behaviour from a 2008 article of mine:

A Responsible mistake = One has thought through the consequences of an action beforehand; knows the worst possible outcome and is willing to live with the decision. One's life still can be damaged severely but at least there was serious thought and contemplation about the action. This kind of mistake can always be respected.

An Irresponsible mistake = An action where one just "throws caution to the wind" and gets moved by the emotion of the situation without any regard to the consequences. Acting without thought. People do get lucky and survive this mistake (as you will see in # 2 below) but invariably lives get damaged when irresponsibility rears its ugly head.

Life is difficult.  I do understand that, especially if you choose to live in a New York City for a decade as I did and millions of others do. I’ve seen numerous friends/acquaintances lose control and spiral into the abyss for a variety of reasons, not only drug abuse. Fortunately, most got the support they needed and were able recover. Several are still fighting the demons.

If one leads an exciting or dynamic life, mistakes, bad choices and/or irresponsibility are bound to occur in some form or fashion. An interesting life usually involves taking risks and irresponsibility may rear its ugly head in that case, although it is usually beneficial to success if your actions lean more toward the side of responsibility. One can have all the fun and excitement desired, yet maintaining control and keeping track of the positive outcome one wants is a must.

Mr. Hoffman’s legacy on film will never be forgotten and I’m hopeful that more stories will come out about his early years, the choices he made, the role of addiction/mental health, and the behaviour he displayed before his demise on Super Bowl Sunday.

Another tragic story came out this week about a 37 year old:

Nancy Motes, the half-sister of actress Julia Roberts, was found dead in a Los Angeles home Sunday, the coroner's spokesman said.
"She has a history of some medical issues," Winter said.  "Some prescription drugs were found near her body."

Let’s all do our part (no matter how small) in whatever way we can to inspire, educate, empower, support or mentor our youth and loved ones. It may just be the difference between life and death for an aspiring young person in our inner circle or one following the same path as Mr. Hoffman.

Happy Gswede Monday!

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