Today was unusual, since I didn’t turn on my computer until after two o’clock in the afternoon. I started to go through the usual motions, checking my e-mail and such, but when I went onto Facebook, I was startled to see at the top of my feed an IMDb headline that read: “Philip Seymour Hoffman Found Dead in New York”.
My first thought was, Wait – that’s not the Philip Seymour Hoffman. Not the talented, electrifying thespian who I first witnessed in Bennett Miller’s feature-length film debut Capote and then in such diverse fare as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, last year’s Catching Fire and even Mike Nichols’s recent Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman. It couldn’t possibly be him. But a glance at the article’s blurb, which contained the words “Oscar-winning actor”, quickly confirmed what my brain couldn’t (or wouldn’t) register. Hoffman, who just yesterday I noticed was gearing up for his sophomore directorial effort with the Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams-starring Prohibition-era drama Ezekiel Moss, had died.
I jumped over to Twitter, both because I needed to say something and because some part of me was still in denial, still hoping that this would turn out to be some cruel, elaborate hoax. Of course, it wasn’t. My timeline was overflowing with reactions that felt simultaneously predictable and heartfelt – expressions of disbelief and sorrow, condolences, links to obituaries and clips, praise for an actor who so consistently lit up the screen with memorable, dynamic performances that towards the end, it was almost easy to take him for granted. I thought about a line from 2012’s The Master, penned by director Paul Thomas Anderson and spoken by Hoffman with his signature gravitas: “If you figure out a way to live without a master, any master, be sure to let the rest of us know, for you would be the first in the history of the world.” And I cried.