Philip Seymour Hoffman death: It's crucial not to judge

Liz Braun, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:43 PM ET

Celebrities are public figures who generally work hard to maintain a private life, but death tends to slam all the public doors shut.

It's strictly a private affair for the friends and family left behind.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a hugely successful actor, and as such, was public property — for better or worse. Thanks to his work, a large audience of followers developed feelings of attachment and ownership about him. Double that for New York City, where people could see him on stage at the theatre or stand next to him in the grocery store. Now, since death belongs to the private realm, that's left a lot of people on the public side wondering what to do with their emotions. They tweet condolences. They write letters. They bring flowers and gifts to a makeshift shrine outside the building where Hoffman lived.

A friend writes of Hoffman, "Now I understand what I used to think were crazy overblown reactions to other celebrity deaths. I'd go to his funeral if I could. And I'd send a casserole to Mimi." (Mimi O’Donnell was Hoffman's long-time partner and the mother of his three children.) I know what my friend means — you just want to do something.

People are passionate about this. It's almost as if a friend had died. There has been an outpouring of grief and shock, and messages by the thousands sent to his family. But there's still no way ever to find answers to all the questions that everyone has.

Most people only learned of Hoffman's addiction issues when they learned of his tragic death. It's completely bewildering.

But Hoffman is just the latest celebrity to die because of addiction.

In last few years, drink and drugs have contributed to the deaths of so many well-known performers — Cory Monteith, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger among them. Cocaine, heroin and alcohol are thought to be the usual culprits, but prescription drugs are rapidly becoming the leading cause of overdose death. In the U.S., some 80 - 100 people a day die of drug overdoses.

In years past, overdoses from prescription or illegal drugs have claimed the lives of notables like Marilyn Monroe, John Belushi, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

Those deaths — for celebrities or anybody else — are shrouded in mystery, shame and misunderstanding, and more's the pity. Like poverty or depression, addiction is one of those things that looks entirely controllable from the outside looking in — Stop it! Pull your socks up! Etc. Nothing could be further from the truth, but it's very difficult to get that message across.

This is not about willpower. And it's crucial not to judge.

Hoffman had addressed his struggle with drug addiction, telling CBS in 2006 that he had at times abused “anything I could get my hands on. I liked it all.” And after 20 years of sobriety, he checked himself into rehab in 2013.

Not much has changed since Nancy Reagan's essentially futile, "Just say no," anti-drug campaign of the 1980s. Hoffman's death has shone a light on the recent spate of tainted heroin deaths in places like Pittsburgh and Rhode Island. Heroin use is said to have doubled in the U.S. in the last five years and drug deaths in general have increased wildly over the last decade. (A report from NBC news says heroin use is tied to the increased use of prescription opiates and the new rules that make those prescription drugs more difficult to get.)

What happened to Hoffman happens to people every day. The reason why remains unanswered, and is perhaps unanswerable. Is it naive to think that Hoffman's death might eventually do some good in the realm of addiction research or public education? Probably.

In the meantime, like my friend, I'd go to Philip Seymour Hoffman's funeral if I could.

And I'd send a casserole to Mimi.

Twitter: @LizBruanSun

Liz.braun@sunmedia.ca

 


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