Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

A Jan. 19 photograph of Philip Seymour Hoffman at the Sundance Film Festival, two weeks before his death.

Victoria Will

I have two voicemails on my phone left by Philip Seymour Hoffman the week before last. He was calling to offer praise for a young actor he had worked with and whom I was profiling for a magazine. The messages themselves are in many ways unremarkable, but the fact of them is not.

"Hey Leah, it's Phil Hoffman calling," is all he says in the first one, his voice a familiar crunch of pebbles followed by that unmistakable pause. "Uh, I'll call you back in like 10 minutes or so." He called back 10 minutes later as promised and, in the same slightly regretful tone, said a few kind words about the actor in question, then signed off with a whispered, almost sheepish, goodbye. "Okay, if that was our last chance to talk I'm sorry I missed you."

I've listened to those voicemails a couple of times since hearing the news of his death by suspected heroin overdose over the weekend, and felt queasy at my own morbid curiosity in doing so.

Story continues below advertisement

Hoffman was a skilled actor but I don't think that's why he'll be missed. It was his ability to convey and elicit empathy – a certain wounded, unfixable longing to be better – that made him truly extraordinary. His face was less a collection of features than a glimpse into the possibilities of human heartbreak. And so in his funny, hopelessly flawed way he was a person who made other people better.

I have always been uncomfortable with public outpouring over the deaths of the famous. The possessive way so many on social media (and even in the mainstream) feel the need to claim a connection – a modern affliction I've come to think of as the I-once-got-drunk-with-Christopher-Hitchens syndrome. The race to declare the recently dead as "great," their death as "tragic," and the world at a "loss" quickly renders my Facebook and Twitter feeds a repetitive no-comfort zone every time a celebrity I admire dies. Perhaps I should take comfort in the fact that I am not alone, but I don't. Or I can't. I'm not sure which. And in Hoffman's case the usual clichés were accompanied by a supplementary stream of proclamations on the horrors of addiction – bromides that were predictable at best and odiously judgmental at worst (the phrase "such a waste," was being bandied about a lot).

Perhaps, by this measure, I'm a hypocrite for even mentioning the voicemails. They are such a speck of a gesture in the life of a man whose gestures and expressions created whole fictional worlds and moved countless admirers to tears and beyond.

But I was struck at the time by how un-star-like it was for him to contact me directly (most Hollywood stars would have their agents set up the call) and now I am struck by his conscientiousness. It's easy to imagine that people who die the way he did are wildly off the rails, careening around wreaking destruction in their path, when in fact the opposite might be true – the silent struggle underneath the common, everyday decency. I don't know much but I do know this: In one small way Philip Seymour Hoffman was quietly going about his life just before he didn't have one. I will never view a so-called drug-related death the same way again.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies