As I sat stunned, reading a news flash that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died Sunday, I struggled for a moment to remember some of his performances.
That's a compliment.
It's not that his performances weren't memorable. He created characters that will stay with us for decades: the cult leader in The Master (2012), the hardscrabble CIA agent in Charlie Wilson's War (2007), the ice-cold campaign manager in The Ides of March (2011), rock writer Lester Bangs in Almost Famous (2000), a manic storm chaser in Twister (1996) and, of course, the magical combination of confidence and fragility that was his Oscar-winning performance as author Truman Capote in Capote (2005).
After I saw Capote, I called my mom to tell her about the fantastic movie about this author she had turned me on to, and the incredible performance by the guy who'd played him. Hoffman had really become Capote, as he became most every character he played, which is why it was sometimes hard to remember the roles he played — though any great performance of a character his size and build had to be a suspect.
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Even visiting such blockbuster fare as The Hunger Games and Mission Impossible series, he made his moments great, earning a reputation as an actor's actor and a great guy to work with. And he did have a distinctive persona, lovably schlubby, which was brilliantly satirized in a recent Saturday Night Live skit with him and a bunch of other actors auditioning for the lead roles in 50 Shades of Grey.
And in a stage world where scads of actors have played Willy Loman, Death of a Salesman's lead character, Hoffman distinguished himself in the role, earning one of his three Tony Award nominations.
"If you missed him as Willy Loman," Steve Martin tweeted Sunday, "you missed a Willy Loman for all time."
Now, we will miss a lot more.
At 46, Hoffman seemed to have several decades of great performances left in him, solidifying his place as one of the truly great actors of his generation. But he had a problem. According to numerous accounts, Hoffman struggled with drugs and alcohol as a young man, enjoyed a long stretch of sobriety, but recently had been treated for substance abuse. Preliminary reports say his death was an apparent drug overdose.
On Facebook, a friend of mine quoted a lyric from Neil Young's The Needle and the Damage Done: "I watched the needle take another man. Gone, gone. The damage done."
Philip Seymour Hoffman will go down as another talented person we lost way too young. And for those of us who have enjoyed and marveled at his performances, we will never forget him.