Of all the stories written about the tragedy of the life of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman being cut short by heroin, the most bizarre has to be the article written by Lee "Sockpuppet" Siegel at the New Yorker. Unbelievably Siegel has actually found an upside to Hoffman's heroin addiction. He claims that it helped Hoffman's performances. I kid you not.
Here is Siegel coming close to glorifying substance abuse: "...the brute, ugly fact might also be that the poison was his elixir." If you think this quote was taken out of context, here is the entire paragraph which almost sounds like a paean to the artistic advantages of battling the demons of drug addiction:
Much will probably be written in the coming days about addiction, and about how much more Hoffman could have done if only he had kept the poison out of his life—and that is true, to an extent. He was only forty-six when he died. But the brute, ugly fact might also be that the poison was his elixir. It could be that Hoffman belonged that small group of artists who have an arrangement with their demons. It is the stuff of myth and folklore: the Faustian bargain, Balzac’s “The Wild Ass’s Skin,” “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” In these half-allegories, the price of remarkable creative vitality is a wasting away of mortality. Or, to put it another way: without the need to flee from pain by transfiguring it, you would not have the energy to endure the suffering, the solitude, and the uncertainty that are part and parcel of artistic expression.
This attitude sounds like, "He died a miserable death but, hey, at least his misery was the cause of our entertainment." While claiming that Hoffman was a great actor who was inspired by heroin addiction, Siegel keeps it "classy" by taking a cheap shot at some other actors:
Like all artistic geniuses, Hoffman redefined his art, and the way he redefined it was, precisely, to disappear into his characters instead of playing his life as he was playing his role, which has been until recently the American style of acting. For every role that, in retrospect, seems to reflect his inner turmoil, there were characters he played to perfection who were a universe away from a tormented man. You watch Brando, and Brando’s immediate heir, Al Pacino, and De Niro and Dustin Hoffman, and all the other so-called Method actors, and you are watching with a double perspective. They are playing what we think we know about them as real people even as they are portraying a made-up person. And, through their accumulated roles, they are not just creating a body of work—they are telling their life story. (This mostly applies to male actors of the Method generation, not to female actors, but that is a different subject for a different essay.)
So what would you recommend, Lee? That these other actors enhance their performances and disappear into their roles by also getting hooked on heroin?
UPDATE: The New Yorker has taken down almost all comments posted at this story. Were they too uncomfortably critical of the author?