By Elana Katz
As a sophomore in high school and self-proclaimed theater geek, I loved Arthur Miller’s plays. I remember the first time I read All My Sons and A View From The Bridge, but Death of a Salesman was my absolute favorite. Even now, I love the way Miller captures human suffering within the context of the American family. When Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman took to the Broadway stage as Willy Loman, I did not hesitate to see the 1949 play come to life.
Mike Nichols’ 2012 revival of Miller’s Death of a Salesman was impeccably conceived, especially in casting Hoffman as Loman. New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley reviewed the play, which premiered at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, describing it as “an immaculate monument to a great American play.”
Despite some of Brantley’s issues with the play, he was impressed with Hoffman’s acting abilities.
“Mr. Hoffman is one of the finest actors of his generation … beyond dispute,” said Brantley.
As a member of the Death of a Salesman audience during the play’s limited 16-week run, I undoubtedly agree with Brantley’s conclusions. Hoffman’s embodiment of Loman and command of the stage showcased his undeniable talent. His beautifully harrowing portrayal of father and traveling salesman Willy Loman garnered Hoffman his third Tony Award nomination as Best Leading Actor in a Play. The role and subsequent nomination were just a few of many highlights in Hoffman’s expansive career in theater and film.
On Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, Hoffman was found dead in an apartment in Greenwich Village. According to CNN, law enforcement sources report that the cause of death was a heroin overdose. Hoffman was outspoken about his struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. In a 2011 interview with 60 Minutes, Hoffman explained that he would use “anything [he] could get [his] hands on. [He] liked it all.”
When asked about why he decided to get sober Hoffman replied, “I was 22 and I got panicked for my life, it really was, it was just that.” In the last year, despite attempts to remain sober, Hoffman succumbed to addiction once again.
Hoffman is survived by his long-time partner Mimi O’Donnell and their three children, who reside in Greenwich Village. The pair met while working on a 1999 play, In Arabia We’d All Be Kings. Hoffman served as the director and O’Donnell was the costume designer.Hoffman’s family released a statement shortly after the death was announced to public sources.
“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Phil and appreciate the outpouring of love and support we have received from everyone. This is a tragic and sudden loss and we ask that you respect our privacy during this time of grieving,” said Hoffman’s family.
A wide variety of members of the Hollywood communitytook to Twitter to share their thoughts about the actor. Breaking Bad alum Aaron Paul tweeted, “We lost one of the greats today. Philip Seymour Hoffman RIP my friend. You will be missed always and forever.” Others included Lena Dunham, Joel McHale, Albert Brooks and Susan Sarandon.
While his death was tragic and untimely, Hoffman’s career in theater and film was full. Hoffman’s breakout role in Hollywood was as Chris O’Donnell’s classmate, George Willis, Jr., in the 1992 film Scent of a Woman. Following Scent of a Woman, Hoffman continued to take minor yet critical roles such as Phil Parma in 1999’s Magnolia and Lester Bangs in 2000’s Almost Famous. In between films, Hoffman starred in various stage productions, such as Lee/Austin in 2000’s True West and James Tyrone Jr. in 2003’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. He was nominated for Tony Awards for his work in both plays.
Then, in 2005, Hoffman broke out as Truman Capote in Capote, a biographical film about the In Cold Blood author. It was this role that garnered Hoffman critical acclaim and won him an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Other film highlights include 2007’s Charlie Wilson’s War as Gust Avrakotos, 2008’s Doubt as Father Brendan Flynn and 2012’s The Master as Lancaster Dodd.
Most recently, Hoffman starred in the second installment of The Hunger Games trilogy. In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Hoffman starred as manipulative and intelligent gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee. Yet again, Hoffman’s love for dense characters was apparent throughout his portrayal of Plutarch. The third book of the trilogy has been divided into two films: Mockingjay: Part I and Mockingjay: Part II.
Though Part I is in post-production, Part II is still in the midst of filming. Hoffman’s untimely death will likely pose a problem for the franchise, especially because Plutarch plays a significant role in the fight against the Capital in these final films.
As Lester Bangs said in Almost Famous, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” It is sound advice from one of Hoffman’s most celebrated roles and an example of the wisdom that will embolden his legacy for years to come.