One of Hollywood’s most admired actors

Philip Seymour Hoffman: July 23rd, 1967-February 2nd, 2014

Sat, Feb 8, 2014, 00:01

Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has died aged 46, was perhaps the most ambitious and widely admired American actor of his generation. Hoffman was found in a New York apartment he was renting as an office by a friend who had become concerned after being unable to reach him. Investigators found a syringe in his arm and, nearby, an envelope containing what appeared to be heroin.

Hoffman was long known to struggle with addiction. In 2006, he said in an interview that he had given up drugs and alcohol many years earlier, when he was 22. But last year he checked into a rehabilitation programme for about 10 days after a reliance on prescription tablets resulted in his briefly turning again to heroin.

A stocky, often sleepy-looking man with generally uncombed hair, he had the kind of rumpled appearance more associated with an out-of-work actor than a constantly employed one.

Hoffman did not cut the traditional figure of a leading man, though he was more than capable of leading roles. In his final appearance on Broadway, in 2012, he put his Everyman mien to work in portraying perhaps the American theatre’s most celebrated protagonist – Willy Loman, Arthur Miller’s title character in Death of a Salesman.

‘Terminal uncertainty’

“Hoffman does terminal uncertainty better than practically anyone,” Ben Brantley wrote in the New York Times, “and he’s terrific in showing the doubt that crumples Willy just when he’s trying to sell his own brand of all-American optimism.”

In supporting roles, he was nominated three times for Academy awards – as a priest under suspicion of sexual predation in Doubt (2008); as a CIA agent especially eloquent in high dudgeon in Charlie Wilson’s War (2007); and as a charismatic cult leader in The Master (2012). But he won in the best actor category for Capote (2005) as the eccentrically sociable and unflappably gay author of In Cold Blood.

Hoffman appeared in more than 50 films in a career that spanned less than 25 years. In the early 1990s he had small roles in Leap of Faith, which starred Steve Martin as a faith healer; and Scent of a Woman, in which he played a prep school classmate of Chris O’Donnell, the weekend escort of a blind former military officer on a New York City jaunt played by Al Pacino, who won an Oscar for the role.

He also appeared in big budget Hollywood films, including Mission: Impossible III (2006), Moneyball (2011), and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013); and critically praised independent films, including The Savages (2007), in which he and Laura Linney, as his sister, struggle to care for their declining father; Synecdoche, New York (2008), Charlie Kaufman’s off-beat drama in which he played a moody theatre director wrangling with his work and his women; and A Late Quartet, about a violinist in the midst of dual crises, familial and musical.

Hoffman had the ability and willingness, rare in a celebrity actor, to explore the depths of not just creepy or villainous characters, but pathetically unattractive ones. He was a chameleon of especially vivid colours in roles that called for him to be unappealing – an obsequious sycophant in The Big Lebowski (1998), a pathetic former child star in Along Came Polly (2004), a chronic masturbator in Happiness (1998), a snooty Princetonian in The Talented Mr Ripley (1999).

Academy Awards

Hoffman was born on July 23rd, 1967, in Fairport, New York, a suburb of Rochester. His mother, Marilyn, is a former family court judge. His father, Gordon, worked for the Xerox corporation.

He became an actor in high school after a wrestling injury halted his athletic aspirations. After school, he spent a summer at the Circle in the Square theatre school in New York and later graduated from the New York University Tisch School of the Arts.

In his acceptance speech at the Academy Awards in 2006, Hoffman thanked many people, but in particular his mother, who attended. He thanked her for raising him and his three siblings on her own and for taking him to see his first play. “Be proud, Mom, ’cause I’m proud of you, and we’re here tonight, and it’s so good,” he said with a smile.

Hoffman’s other survivors include a brother, Gordon, a screenwriter who wrote Love Liza, a 2002 film starring Hoffman as a man living through the aftermath of his wife’s suicide, and two sisters, Jill Hoffman DelVecchio and Emily Hoffman Barr, his longtime partner, Mimi O’Donnell, a costume designer who is the current artistic director of the Labyrinth Theatre Company; and their three children, Cooper, Tallulah and Willa.