How is One Supposed to Feel When Their Favorite Actor Dies?

Jake Nelson
Business Manager

Photo Courtesy: Philip Seymour Hoffman Facebook Page
Photo Courtesy: Philip Seymour Hoffman Facebook Page

I’ll never remember Russell Wilson’s first Super Bowl…that’s not true. But you know what I’m getting at. The game, for a casual football fan, was fantastically boring, a shining display of a dominating defense, a trade show of new tools for Manning haters, and was exactly what Pete Carroll had in mind when he left USC. In other words, it was really, really, really boring football for anyone watching from their couch.

I think that rapid information processing has done incredible things for our world, certainly more good than bad, but there are some serious downfalls.

My Twitter feed makes me laugh quite often. Sometime past 2 p.m. on Sunday I blithely sat on a friend’s couch while reading the musings of bagel scarfing, bed occupying, movie watching hangover victims.

Then I saw it. I think it was from a CNN outlet I follow but I’m not entirely sure; Phillip Seymour Hoffman, actor, age 46, found dead in Manhattan Apartment.

Lester Bangs, Hoffman’s character in Cameron Rowe’s 2000 film Almost Famous was and still is a figure that explained so much of my retrospectively adolescent views.

The most potent scene in the movie, for me, occurs between him and protagonist William Miller, played by Patrick Fugit. The story is about Miller’s character, who becomes a rock journalist for Rolling Stone through a series of fortunate events. About halfway along he’s touring with fictional ‘70s rock band Stillwater and is updating Hoffman (Bangs) about the status of the trip and story. Then this happens:

Hoffman (Bangs): Aw, man. You made friends with them. See, friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on feeling like you belong.

Fugit (Miller): Well, it was fun.

Hoffman (Bangs): They make you feel cool. And hey. I met you. You are not cool.

The rest of the dialogue runs while Hoffman speaks on the reality of art in the world and understanding the differences  between the beautiful and the intelligent.

It’s a masterfully crafted scene and one that highlights Hoffman’s fantastic ability to make us love the sad, lonely and unfortunate ones. The belief that anyone is cool doesn’t really exist, to me, past middle school.

It’s a small concept that undeniably plagues some people well into adulthood and is one that Hoffman undresses in a single sentence. Hoffman referencing his own lack of coolness by telling a young advice seeker (Miller) that he in fact, isn’t cool, in an attempt to give him an important perspective, is nothing if not cool. It’s very cool, simply because cool doesn’t exist, unless of course you decide it’s cool. In that case, it’s definitely cool.

I have to admit that I feel a little awkward about dedicating a column to an actor that I have yet to see the entire filmography of.

I will, however, stand adamantly in my defense of the topic, only because I can’t recall another who’s made me remember sitting through his movies so clearly.

I still remember seeing Doubt with my mother at the Albany Spectrum about as clearly as I remember accidentally drinking that olive oil.

Trust me, it holds pertinence. In a time where crudeness dominates, plot lines are often completely absurd (Along Came Polly), and cheap laughs combined with the right amount of skin make the big bucks (as they probably should), Hoffman was a bridge to both young and old, reminding us that human greatness can be found in the most peculiar of places.

Speaking of human greatness, Russell Wilson is a pretty impressive individual, along with the Seahawks’ defense and the ever-loathed Pete Carroll. Sometime during the fourth quarter of Sunday evening’s blowout I got up and scooped myself a bowl of ice cream, returned to the living room and sat down to eat. Manning threw an errant pass, Sherman was being shown on camera, Wilson was smiling gleefully, and it was all so droll. As I looked down at the blobs of cold running around the bowl, the brownie and vanilla mixing into some mocha-ish conglomerate, I couldn’t stop thinking about how annoyed I was watching this game. I kept thinking that I wanted to Tweet something about this bowl of ice cream going out to Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

It was completely bizarre to me. How was I supposed to feel about it? I had no idea and that was making me upset.

Mid ice cream eat, my mother texted me about how boring the game was and said she felt bad for Peyton. I asked her if she’d heard about Hoffman and she said that my father had mentioned it along with something about heroin being involved. I gave her the more detailed rundown and expressed my displeasure with the situation. To which she replied: “Wow. Sorry. So sad…senseless.” I feel a little odd about semi-eulogizing a man who died by way of a heroin overdose. That is definitely not a typical situation, and one that certainly points to much larger shifts in the drug demographics of our nation, relating to governmental action in regard to the war on drugs, but that’s a larger topic for another time.

Hoffman obviously made some awful choices, but he was also smart, and definitely very lucky.

I texted an old friend and asked her how she thought I should feel about it. She knew where I was coming from: “With all these artists and actors, we never actually know them, but when they’re gone from the earth their work still lives on…we never had the chance to meet these people but once they’re gone they’re no more or no less alive to us than they were while living…we still know them just as much as before.”

There’s supposed to be this thing that every man accomplishes by his mid-thirties, or at least is aware of the fact that he is on the path to that one great thing we’re all supposed to do. I never knew Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

I knew and still know Lester Bangs, Father Brendan Flynn, Sandy Lyle and several others.

There are even quite a few I have yet to meet, but thanks to Hoffman, I still have that opportunity.

I just hope he accomplished whatever it was he set out for. He won’t be dying the second death anytime soon; if you believe it’s cool, if you believe it’s still there, it is. Thank you, PSH

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