Op-Ed: Should Drug Addict Philip Seymour Hoffman Be Celebrated?

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Should Drug Addict Philip Seymour Hoffman Be Celebrated
Should Drug Addict Philip Seymour Hoffman Be Celebrated

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic death over drug use is a sad chapter in the life of the talented actor.

I went to bed angry last night, and it wasn’t because I’d just watched one of the least competitive Super Bowls in recent memory. No, it was all the headlines eulogizing “the master,” “the actor’s actor,” “… the greatest actors of his generation” and so on as reports came through Sunday afternoon and evening on the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Soon afterward, his family issued the obligatory statement, which read in part “… and we ask that you respect our privacy during this time of grieving.”

To that I add, why the fuck should we respect your privacy? Your son, your partner, your father showed no respect to you as he sat in his rented office’s bathroom injecting heroin into his blood stream.  So why should we, the general public, show the respect that Hoffman singularly failed to do?

I get it that addiction is a disease, and that depression is too, but someone like Hoffman had the ability more than most of us do to find help, treatment and a solution to his addiction other than death by overdose. I’ve a low tolerance for illegal drugs, and while I recognize that the war on drugs has been a monumental failure (it didn’t stop Hoffman from acquiring heroin in downtown NYC), what annoys me most about his death is that he had the power to solve it and selfishly chose not to do so.

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For most of us who work 9-to-5 jobs, we’re subject to drug tests upon hire and often again randomly throughout our employment. We can’t just go off and check ourselves in to rehab when we need to or talk to our co-workers, supervisors or managers about our addiction, lest that lead to our immediate dismissal. Hoffman worked in a career where his drug habit had little or no effect on his employment status; as long as he was mostly lucid or not high on set, then no problem!

Here was a guy who had significant financial resources at his disposal, had a successful career, was presumably intelligent and had a girlfriend and three children to love and be loved by. He worked in an industry that tolerated his addictions yet also gave him the ability to seek assistance and solve his drug habits with great pay and plenty of time off.

To his credit, Hoffman had spoken publicly about his struggle with both illegal drugs and alcohol. However, like many a junkie before him he evidently wasn’t able to beat back the demons which culminated in his sad but preventive death yesterday. Apparently his death was discovered when his partner, Mimi O’Donnell, called a friend to go and check on him as he was late to collect his son Cooper, 10, and daughters Tallulah, 7, and Willa, 5. And they are three of the main reasons why I have little sympathy for Hoffman and why I question his mastery.

If being a parent isn’t the most important thing in one’s life, then I think you have no right to have children, and certainly not two or three if you didn’t realize after the first was born that parenting has a profound effect on you — one that makes you want to sustain your life.

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My views on parenthood are most certainly affected by my own father’s death when I was 5  years old, and while the loss of a parent is traumatic for any kid, at least I know that my own father’s death wasn’t caused by him shooting up smack when he should have come to collect me for a grand day out.

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My frustration is amplified by a lot of the reporting regarding his death chalking it up to the difficulties of his profession, as if it’s somehow understandable or almost expected for an actor so talented to join a long line of celebrities dead from drugs. And to that I say bullshit.

Hoffman is one of many throughout the world who would have died yesterday as a result of a drug overdose – either intentional or not — but he is one of the few who had the means, though evidently not the will, to prevent it.

But is this just Hoffman’s problem or is it ours too? How many of us know others similarly afflicted and do nothing? I spent four years filming a television show while rumors swirled on set regarding the cocaine habits of a couple of the Housewives. Yet I did nothing to help them. I am sure today that many of Hoffman’s friends and colleagues are questioning their own actions, or rather inactions, too.

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I referenced earlier what I regard as the failure of the war on drugs, and while the DEA releases annual reports on how many kilos of heroin, cocaine and other drugs they impound, it never seems to dent the supply on our cities’ streets. Jailing users doesn’t seem to be the solution either (other than preventing further unemployment in upstate New York where many New York City drug offenders are sent), but what else can we and should we do?

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While perhaps as a society we can and should tolerate the occasional use of cocaine, I’ve never read anything coherent on why heroin should be available. If it is possible to section people under various mental health acts, should it be possible and indeed preferable to send heroin users to a rehab clinic at the state’s expense? Not jail them, not criminalize them, not fine them but dry them out forcibly if necessary? Something’s got to change, but what?

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