Hoffman never showed because he was found dead by two friends later that day in his Greenwich Village apartment, a heroin needle dangling from his arm. With 63 movie credits – six as producer, one as director and one for soundtrack – the guy kicked some serious creative butt in his 46 short years on the 3rd rock from the sun.
“Field of Dreams” is a baseball movie that’s not really about baseball. It’s actually a Phillip Seymour Hoffman story that isn’t really about Hoffman.
It simply asks the question, why?
There’s a great line from the movie “Arthur” in which Dudley Moore says, “Everyone who drinks is not a poet; some of us drink because we’re not poets.”
However, in all too many cases, we tend to lose the poets; Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Charlie Parker, Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger – the list is seemingly endless.
Untimely deaths of artists are so commonplace that we seem to almost expect it as some sort of high risk job hazard.
But what causes this self-destructive behavior, is it linked to creativity?
Is it a chicken versus egg debate – a la which comes first – the artist or the illness?
Or do we just hear about it more often when it happens to them because they are front page news? TMZ, People Magazine, US, National Enquirer, there’s an entire industry that profits from keeping us informed of our favorite artist’s every move.
Albert Einstein collected cigarette butts, emptying them of their tobacco for his pipe. Howard Hughes stories were legendary in his germ free, OCD plagued existence.
What pains these people so greatly as they walk through life seeing the things we don’t? Feeling the things we aren’t attuned to. And where do these self destructive tendencies come from? Maya Angelou once said, “There’s no greater agony than carrying around an untold story inside yourself.”
I know too many artists not to understand what that means.
So much of their “art” comes from an internal, unrelenting suffering, or as Robin Williams once said, “All comedians are tortured souls.”
That might not make sense to run of the mill people. One doesn’t need doom and despair to function as an attorney, doctor or small time blog contributor. But listen to the poet John Berryman as he describes the role pain played in his writing;
“I do strongly feel that among the greatest pieces of luck for high achievement is ordeal. Certain great artists can make out without it, but mostly you need ordeal. My idea is this: The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he’s in business. Beethoven’s deafness, Goya’s deafness, Milton’s blindness, that kind of thing. And I think that what happens in my poetic work in the future will probably largely depend not on my sitting calmly on my ass as I think, ‘Hmm, hmm, a long poem again? Hmm, but on kinds of other things short of senile dementia. At that point, I’m out, but short of that, I don’t know, I hope to be nearly crucified. (Plimpton, 1976, p. 322)
Think about it, hope to be nearly crucified!
I’m close enough to that world to see some of these same struggles within myself and those around me. We can be a troubled lot; intensely independent and confident yet racked with self-doubt. A mix of extrovert and introvert, high levels of energy followed by periods of reclusiveness, naïve and brilliant, aged with wisdom and childlike, pride fighting against humility.
Artists give us our great works; our movies, concerts and music. We get mad at them when they die these needless deaths. Are they nothing more than irresponsible, coddled stars or do they truly feel, hurt and bleed on a level none of us can comprehend?
I would suggest that the real answer is most likely the latter.