While this past weekend brought the deliriously exciting events of the Superbowl for those of us in the Pacific Northwest, it also brought the very saddening news of the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the best movie actors of the past 20 years, at just 46 years old. Hoffman’s portrayals, regardless of the role, always seemed to reach deep within to find the heart and soul of the character. He made each character’s motivations seem natural — he clearly understood the person he was playing. One wonders, in retrospect, if that depth of connection with his characters came at the expense of fully understanding himself; why else would such an inherently intelligent actor allow himself to dally with such a stupidly dangerous drug as heroin?
It’s doubtful now that we’ll ever understand what went on in Hoffman’s mind as he injected himself for the last time — but Neil Young delved into that same issue in 1972 with “The Needle and the Damage Done,” from his classic album, Harvest. He’d seen one too many musicians destroy themselves with heroin:
I watched the needle
take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done.
And made the song’s final line its most resonant:
But every junkie’s like a setting sun.
It’s a great, heartbreaking song, and an all-too-fitting epitaph for the heartbreaking loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman — who brought beauty to even the most offbeat and seemingly unlikeable characters but who couldn’t put an end to the ugliness of his addiction before it could put an end to him.