The tortured, broken genius

There was something sadly unsurprising about the sudden death of acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, a week ago today.

In my mind, as a man in his mid forties, he had always looked much older and somehow, never overly happy. Over the last number of days, numerous photos have emerged, snapshots in time of a person who had a troubled look about him. Looking on from a safe distance on the other side of the tv screen is a privileged enough position to be in, and far away from the complexities of the inner psyche of any celebrity, but a level of unhappiness, even from that distance is always somehow palpable.

News of Hoffman’s death was first broken by the Wall Street Journal, unconfirmed, around 6pm last Sunday. A fascinating insight by the website salon.com detailed how many minutes it took before the death was confirmed and before it became public knowledge that it was a drug overdose, suspected at that time.

Ever since, the press has been breaking snippets just as quickly as those first few pieces of information. Even on Wednesday past, when researching for this piece, there were three updates to the story in the space of half an hour.

It’s one of the cruelties of the modern era that in cases like this, the whole world can know at the same time, or in some cases even ahead of close friends and family.

Already, most of the news coverage takes us down the tortured genius route. There’s no argument at all about the fact that Hoffman was supremely gifted. Even those of us not overly educated in all things film could see that he was a step above the average Hollywood star.

His death is no more tragic because of that fact, but what is most sad is that all of his fame and fortune were, in the end, quite useless to him.

Hugely insightful, as ever, the writer Will Self put it best in the wake of Hoffman’s passing when he said: “Addiction is no respecter of persons.”

And it isn’t. In the last number of weeks, here in Derry we have seen the impact of drugs and alcohol on some of the city’s youngest people. It’s an absolutely vicious cycle.

It’s important to remember that there are countless deaths every year as human beings find their addiction and issues around it, just too big a hill to climb. Whether you’re a tortured genius in Greenwich Village, or living in poverty in a council flat in Derry, the pain, in its rawest form, will always be the same.

In years to come, Hoffman will be remembered for his genius and the tortured element may not be so discussed but until we all feel more comfortable talking about heroin, needles, drugs, drink and death as the ultimate result, nothing much will change.

Genius or not, it’s not a pretty end to any life.