Yesterday an addict died, found with the needle still in his lifeless arm. The announcement of his death triggered a global flash flood of emotion and judgment because this addict was Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Academy Award winning actor.
Anyone familiar with his work knows that Phillip Seymour Hoffman was an extraordinary actor. Today, as those who admired his work, as those who knew him still reel in shock, the court of human opinion is in session.
Social media relays the evidence and calls for a verdict before the story fades from headline status.
The accused, one Phillip Seymour Hoffman, is charged with willful self-destructive, self-centered abuse of privilege – to wit, that a brilliant human being and extraordinarily gifted artist did, in fact, profit from his work, both materially and socially, and then did selfishly end his own life, thus depriving his children of a father, his mate of her love, his friends and family of someone they held dear and his craft of one of its finest practitioners.
To date, material witnesses heard by the court have largely constrained their testimony to 140 characters, including hashtags. The victims have yet to appear before the court and the defendant will not testify — not in this, nor any future hearings.
Witnesses for the prosecution allege that the defendant conspired with a massive cartel of selfish addicts to destroy the happiness and well-being of family, friends and society at large for reasons as yet unexplained. The court of opinion record in this case is not being sealed.
To the contrary, it will remain open for ongoing testimony in perpetuity. The children and descendants of the accused may be called upon for testimony decades from now. They will surely have to pay. Such is the price of fame.
But what of the accusers?
The accusers, like TV hosts such as Nancy Grace, will move on to the next moral outrage, shaking their fists for justice and personal responsibility. They will get their “rush” from the approval of others who join the lynch mob. For them that rush may be as sweet and addictive as China White.
What about their verdict?
No one but Phillip Seymour Hoffman will ever know what caused him to inject a lethal dose of heroin into his arm. Can the defendant plead not guilty by virtue of emotional self-defense or insanity? The defendant will not be testifying.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman was a human being and in that broad context, his death is no different from that of the unscrubbed, toothless addict found overdosed next to the dumpster in a ghetto alley. Likewise, no one will hear the testimony of the deceased in the alley. The court of public opinion will render its verdict and move on, while both the accomplished Phillip Seymour Hoffman and the anonymous addict in the alley will be confined to the earth for an indefinite term.
Much will be written about Phillip Seymour Hoffman – not so much about the nameless addicts who die every day. Hoffman’s unrealized potential will be sorely grieved. I find myself grieving not only Hoffman’s unrealized potential, but the unimaginable possibility lost with the passing of the unknowns.
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy mark’d him for her own.
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heav’n did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Mis’ry all he had, a tear,
He gain’d from Heav’n (’twas all he wish’d) a friend.
No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose)
The bosom of his Father and his God.
From “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” ~ Thomas Gray 1750