Philip Seymour Hoffman and the Complex Sadness of Loving, and Losing, an Addict

I never saw “Capote,” “Magnolia,” or “The Big Lebowski.” But watching Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Boogie Nights” — one of my all-time favorite movies — was enough to make me a fan. It doesn’t take a film critic to know that every movie he ever acted in was brilliant.

So much has been written and posted on Hoffman’s tragic death, and about heroin addiction. And I agree with a lot of it.

For me, Hoffman’s death feels particularly painful because it reminds me of Bruce, the junkie I once called my boyfriend.

I’ve always been more than a little attracted to bad boys. And in my teens and 20s, I needed mine with more than just a faint hint of danger. They were my escape.

Bruce was no exception. I was 25 when we met. One look at his tattoos and a conversation about guitars during his cigarette break and I knew I wanted more. He turned out to be a total romantic, the kind of guy who showed up with roses before a dinner, who wanted to go to all the rock shows I wanted to go to.  

Little did I know that his dating me would contribute to his heroin relapse.

I could go on and on about the time he overdosed and missed seeing me perform, or the month-long rehab stint at NIH (I’m from DC), when I brought him pumpkin pie and we made snow angels on the lawn. Instead, I’ll fast forward to February 13, 2002, one day before Valentine’s Day. Bruce had supposedly been sober for almost three months, though unable to find a job. We had tentative plans to go to dinner somewhere. Hours after I dropped him off at his group house, I left my office with plans to hang out with friends. But as soon as I hit the parking lot, I discovered my car was gone.

Long story short, Bruce stole my car to cop dope in Baltimore. It took cops three weeks to find and catch up with him — after my car had been repossessed he stole another — and I only visited him in jail once to break up with him.

But the damage was done. When I found my car, I also found the belt he’d used to squeeze his arm and pop a vein out, and the maroon bookbag stuffed with orange-tipped syringes. In my trunk, his eyeglasses case was stuffed with three more syringes and brown-speckled baggies of junk. While I shudder now at the memory, at the time I found myself consumed with morbid fascination over the contents of his eyeglasses case.

Which brings me back to Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was found with a syringe stuck in his arm, and something like 50 empty bags of what is believed to have been heroin.

Most people mourn the loss of a brilliant actor. I mourn the loss of a father. I can’t imagine being seven, or even ten, and losing my father in that way. And even as I vacillate between feeling anger toward his “selfish” behavior — as a mom I cannot imagine how anyone could use heroin when they have children — and compassion for him as an addict, I can’t help but reflect on the tragedy of all of it.

Most everyone I know who is an alcoholic or a junkie is misjudged. Bruce wasn’t a super-talented actor, but he was a tremendously talented guitarist, and a truly kind, charismatic person. He was funny as hell, possessing a raw intelligence that begged to be tapped. He was an amazing sous chef who taught me how to roll sushi. He inspired me to write so much music.

Bruce died nearly ten years ago. We weren’t together at the time, but his passing made me so sad. Like Hoffman’s death, Bruce’s death was such a waste.

I’m not sure what the answer is for junkies like Bruce or Philip Seymour Hoffman. I have seen addicts with five, ten, 15 years of sobriety go out. Addiction never truly leaves your psyche; if you’re lucky you just learn how to manage it. And it doesn’t take much to lose everything you’ve worked for. From what media reports are claiming, an encounter with prescription meds was all it took for Hoffman to sink into a full-blown relapse.

Unfortunately, most addicts who die won’t get obituaries on the front page of The New York Times. But hopefully the death of someone with so much clean time will inspire those who are getting help to keep fighting for their sobriety. 

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