We Lost a Legend

A few words about Philip Seymour Hoffman

It’s difficult to weave a retrospective on someone’s life 48 hours after he’s gone.

We have no chance encounter to talk up or meandering anecdote that acts as a window to his soul. We know only the characters he played and how they made us feel. How they compelled us in the past. And, now, we are compelled to write about the artist who moved so many.

If you’ve ever peered from shore at a moonlit river, it looks to be calm, serene. But underneath, its unseen depths possess great power. A roiling tumult with immensities unfathomable. That is how we knew Philip Seymour Hoffman the performer. Generous in his portrayal of Truman Capote. Despicable as Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr. Ripley. An ominous current as he challenged our faith in Doubt and The Master. And a tide of emotion in Jack Goes Boating and The Savages. We remember his sonorous tones, whether as villain opposite Tom Cruise in MI3 or patriot opposite Tom Hanks in Charlie Wilson’s War.

His three names are not enough to describe his career and the impact he made. Compassionate, complex, even comedic would befit him. But most of all, he was brave. More than that, he raised the bar on brave character choices. He played roles most would find intimidating, reviling — even appalling. Stories of troubled souls had an advocate in his careful performances, like a shame-worn neighbor in Happiness or the unkempt porn grip in Boogie Nights. His characters were painted with empathic strokes in hues of understanding. He could be dark, but was always brilliant. And this weekend, a great light went out.

Like moonlight carried away on the back of a river, and we are heartbroken.

Photo: J. Vespa / WireImage / Getty Images