Unless you have been off social media for the last few days you will know that the famous and talented actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died after what seems like a drug overdose. I call him famous and talented because he was both. Famous because he has appeared in some of the best movies of the last twenty years and talented because even in the movies that weren’t so great he made them worth watching.
Famous and talented yes…but so much more too.
Cory Monteith, Heath Ledger and now Philip Seymour Hoffman. Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. All artists in their own right who have left behind a body of work bursting with genius and who we are only left to imagine the art they would have continued to make.
Often when we lay to rest a celebrity especially one who has made an impact for their talent most of the tweets or Facebook posts and blogs will mourn the loss of a talent that was cut off far too soon. We’ll talk about the movies they made or the albums they created; we’ll talk about the seminal performances that made people sit up and question how art is created.
Then we’ll talk about the reason they died. The drug overdose, the heart attack, the suicide. Experts will be brought in to explain why celebrities become addicted, how they weren’t able to handle their fame, how addiction is a disease that is rife in Holywood.
All true perhaps.
But what if Philip Seymour Hoffman wasn’t an actor? What if he had a regular job and wasn’t well known? What if he mopped floors for a living? We wouldn’t know about his death and he would be just another sad statistic. Except his family would have known. His partner and kids would have known. When celebrities die we tend to emphasize the loss they will be to their art, to the acting world or to the music business or wherever.
Is that how we place value on each other? How much talent we have in our particular section of the world we find ourselves in, but nothing more? How many oscars or grammys we’ve won? How highly critics think of us? Is there more to us than what we achieve? Is being a good parent or spouse any less important than accolades and plaudits?
What truly defines us?
Let’s celebrate the talent that Philip Seymour Hoffman undoubtedly had but let’s mourn the loss of human life to an ugly and spiteful disease more. Philip Seymour Hoffman was much more than a truly great actor; he was a human. In some ways we have robbed him that of that by only talking of him in terms of what he achieved as an artist. His life would have been equally as precious if none of us had ever heard of him.
I don’t know what led Philip Seymour Hoffman to overdose but I do know that addiction can often arise from a place where we aren’t content or we search because we struggle with who we are at the deepest levels. Which is not an actor, or a singer or a doctor, teacher, lawyer, athlete, cleaner, writer.
But a person.
We’re all so much more than anything we do or how well we do it. Our lives are important because we are alive. Our lives are precious because there are people who love us for simply being who we are. I know that the kids of friends wouldn’t care what their father or mother did as long as they are there to pick them up when they fall. I could do anything else than I do now and I know my wife would still love me.
You might call this grace. I call it being at peace.
And unless we start holding our celebrities up for being humans first and foremost we’ll all be tweeting about someone else sooner or later.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not at peace with that.