Public life, public death?

Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Phillip Seymour Hoffman

We learned this weekend that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an apparent drug overdose in his NYC apartment.

Personally, I learned this by flipping to CNN on Sunday afternoon.  I really like Hoffman as an actor and so when I saw the “Breaking News!” headline I paused for a few moments to get more details.

This, apparently, is what CNN counts on.  I confess, I was lured in by the shiny headlines and the dazzling screen graphics.  But I didn’t have to watch long before I realized that CNN had virtually no actual detail about Mr. Hoffman’s death.  They didn’t even have a reporter at the scene yet, although this didn’t stop them from vapid speculation.  I expected they would cut to another news story until they could obtain further factual detail.  My expectations were, of course, wildly miscalculated.

Perhaps in the interest of full disclosure I should admit that I have been known to enjoy my fair share of celebrity gossip.  A few times a month I spend (waste) money on the cheap weekly “entertainment” magazines that I can enjoy for 30 minutes over a steaming cup of coffee on a lazy Saturday morning.  Who is dating whom?  Who vacationed where?  WHAT were they wearing???  It is all this nonsense that I use as an escape from the daily grind and I make no apologies for it.

But Hoffman’s story this weekend was obviously very different.  This is not some tripe about a ten pound weight gain or loss, with accompanying photos.  This was endless and invasive coverage of the final details of a man’s life, spun into the gritty sound bites that make up current media productions.  It didn’t matter that details were scarce – those that could be scraped together were repeated ad nauseum.  Those that were missing were replaced with empty platitudes.

Though saddened, I managed to ignore the coverage on Sunday (distracted as I was by the monumental disaster that was the Superbowl – but I digress).  However, I jumped into the interwebs today – to the New York Times, no less – only to find gory headlines about Hoffman’s death and how he was found in his bathroom with a needle in his arm in an apartment stuffed full of heroin.

Ugh.  Was it really necessary that I know this?  How could I help but picture this grisly and tragic scene?

Philip Seymour Hoffman was an actor, and automatically we tend to take possession of actors, and of all public figures, really.  It’s inevitable and understandable on many levels.  These people make obscene amounts of money to entertain us and if we consider their private lives as fodder for that entertainment, part of me figures it comes with the deal.  You can’t have your cake and eat it too, sort of thing.

But really, do we own so much of a public figure that we deserve a front row seat not only to their lives but to their deaths as well?  We’ve bought and paid for the tickets but in what universe does this count as part of the show?

Mr. Hoffman obviously had his private struggles as we all do.  As much as we like to think it does, being rich doesn’t keep the demons at bay.  Whatever happened to him to lead him down the path to drug relapse, after apparently many sober years, must have been extremely difficult to say the least.  Obviously too difficult to overcome.

But his last moments should stay private.  For God’s sake, the man has small children.  He has family.  They should be able to Google his name one day to find movie links and tributes and photos of their lost loved one, not flashbacks to the worst day of their lives.

It really got me thinking:  why is this considered news?  Why wasn’t it enough to simply report his death?  Who decided to push on, relentless, to expose the weakest and most vulnerable and most private part of this tragedy?  Whoever it was should be ashamed of themselves.  We should all be ashamed of ourselves, for reading it.  For feeding this monster.

(Apologies for the negativity… this story just kind of sickened me.  In mourning we should celebrate someone’s accomplishments and not their tragedies.  Just a thought.)


2 thoughts on “Public life, public death?

  1. In a way, I think we dehumanize celebrities as the media turns them into caricatures to be gloated about and mocked. That we fail to see those boundaries of human kindness when they die is unhappily, no surprise. There is a prurient delight that some people experience in seeing the talented or wealthy or fortunate people fall. The thought of his children and family is enough for me to quickly lose interest in the graphic details of his sad demise.


    1. I agree Michelle. Every time it comes on the news I just feel wrong for watching it and I have to turn the channel. It’s terrible because I think he was an incredible actor and I’d love at some point to see an homage or tribute to his talent, but it will certainly call back to mind the grisly details with which the media seems obsessed. Not a very nice reflection of our society at all!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s