That’s what Derek Thompson calls Philip Seymour Hoffman:
It’s not clear that there were roles Philip Seymour Hoffman could not do. He had so many lives within him—and more, undiscovered and unseen. Those are the lives, aside from his own, we’ve now lost. “For me, acting is torturous,” Hoffman told the New York Times in 2008, “and it’s torturous because you know it’s a beautiful thing. I was young once, and I said, That’s beautiful and I want that. Wanting it is easy, but trying to be great—well, that’s absolutely torturous.”
Christopher Orr notes how Hoffman “took on roles large and small, in films high-, middle-, and low-brow, and he excelled regardless of the occasion”:
Writing my end-of-the-year prizes a month and a half ago, I included among them “The ‘Philip Seymour Hoffman Makes Any Movie Better’ Award,” for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It was jokey commendation, of course, but not really a joke. Of the nearly three dozen performances of Hoffman’s that I have witnessed onscreen, I can’t think of a single one that failed to elevate the film in question.
Dana Stevens contemplates the roles Hoffman might have played:
Accomplished as he already was, Hoffman’s career nonetheless had a distinct feeling of being nearer its beginning than its end—he was the opposite of an artist in decline. It’s easy to imagine him performing into his 80s, challenging himself and surprising us in ever-different ways as he grew older, playing Winston Churchill or Falstaff or Captain Ahab or King Lear, directing and producing both for the stage and the screen, mentoring younger actors. That we’ll never get a chance to watch that lifelong creative flowering makes me want to destroy a roomful of furniture with the cold, methodical rage Hoffman’s betrayed jewel thief displayed in Sidney Lumet’s final film, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. It’s a bravura moment that seems to cite the famous room-destruction scene in Citizen Kane, but with a performance that, in some ways, surpasses Welles’. For years to come—as long as I’m still around to watch movies, which right now feels like a very lucky position to be in—I’ll see other actors playing roles that should have belonged to Hoffman, and feel his loss anew.
Alyssa collects her thoughts:
“A lot of deaths feel sad. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s feels like a robbery,” my friend, Time’s television critic James Poniewozik wrote this afternoon on hearing the terrible news that the actor was dead at 46, leaving three young children. His death was reportedly due to a heroin overdose. Hoffman had sought treatment for addiction in 2013 in response to his relapse after more than two decades clean.
It’s a sadly perfect sentiment. Some artists’ deaths, like that of Heath Ledger’s, seem preposterously tragic because of the extreme youth of the people in question. Their passings force us to make accountings of what might have been possible. But like Roger Ebert, who died last spring, Philip Seymour Hoffman was an established part of the movies for as long as I’ve been watching them in any sort of serious way. We didn’t have to wonder what might have been, when the ways in which Hoffman acted as a blessing to every movie he was a part of is so abundantly obvious. The idea of a year at the theater without seeing Hoffman show up as a shaman of a music journalist, an irascible CIA agent, the founder of a new religion is almost incomprehensible.
Hoffman’s death hits close to home for Jeff Deeney, a former addict:
There is a particularly chilling aspect to Hoffman’s death that only another recovering addict can feel. He had 23 years clean, and then went back out. Just two weeks ago, I celebrated ten years off my own crippling drug habit. Sometimes I feel convinced that I’ll never relapse and experience that kind of pain and insanity again. Recovery programs warn that this kind of thinking can be dangerous. The addicting substance is characterized as “cunning, baffling and powerful.” It sounds like a cliché until someone with more than two decades clean, with a beautiful family and a career that is the envy of the world trades it in for a glassine envelope of dope and a set of works.
A collection of 14 clips from PSH’s films are here.