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Philip Seymour Hoffman fans mourn, tout his talent

Tuesday - 2/4/2014, 10:50am  ET

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The scene outside Philip Seymour Hoffman's apartment shortly after it was first reported that the actor was found dead. (WTOP/Jason Fraley)

WTOP's Film Critic Jason Fraley is in Manhattan and reports from the scene

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HILLEL ITALIE
AP National Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- He was only 46, busy as ever and secure in his standing as one of the world's greatest actors.

There were no dissenters about the gifts and achievements of Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose death Sunday in New York brought a stunning halt to his extraordinary and unpredictable career.

An Oscar winner and multiple nominee, Hoffman could take on any character with almost unnerving authority, whether the religious leader in command of his every word in "The Master," a trembling mess in "Boogie Nights," or the witty, theatrical Truman Capote in "Capote."

Fearless in his choices, encyclopedic in his preparation, he was a Shakespearean performer in modern dress, bringing depth and variety to charlatans, slackers, curmudgeons and loners.

"Hearing that Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away came as much as a shock to me as to anyone else I'd imagine," says Anton Corbijn, director of "A Most Wanted Man," one of two films (the other being "In God's Pocket") starring Hoffman that premiered last month at the Sundance Film Festival.

He was not only the most gifted actor I ever worked with," Corbijn added, "...he had also become an incredibly inspiring and supportive friend."

Friends, peers, family members and his countless fans were in grief after Hoffman was found in his Greenwich Village apartment with what law enforcement officials said was a syringe in his arm.

The two officials told The Associated Press that glassine envelopes containing what was believed to be heroin were also found with Hoffman. Those items are being tested.

The law enforcement officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak about evidence found at the scene, said the cause of death was believed to be a drug overdose.

Police will only say the investigation is continuing. An autopsy is planned for Monday, according to medical examiner spokeswoman Julie Bolcer.

Besides his Oscar win for "Capote," the stage-trained Hoffman received four Academy Awards nominations and several nominations for theater awards, including three Tonys. He was equally acclaimed and productive, often appearing in at least two to three films a year, while managing an active life in the theater. He had been thriving for more than 20 years and no one doubted that a long, compelling run awaited him.

Like Laurence Olivier or Meryl Streep, his appeal was not bound by age or appearance or personality. He was not an actor whom audiences turned to for youth and romance. Heavy set with a lumpy build and limp, receding blond hair, he was a character actor with the power to play the lead, in movies that screened in both art houses and multiplexes.

"No words for this. He was too great and we're too shattered," said Mike Nichols, who directed Hoffman in "Charlie Wilson's War" and on stage in "Death of a Salesman."

Hoffman spoke candidly over the years about past struggles with drug addiction. After 23 years sober, he admitted in interviews last year to falling off the wagon and developing a heroin problem that led to a stint in rehab.

The law enforcement officials said Hoffman's body was discovered in a bathroom at his Greenwich Village apartment by a friend who made the 911 call and his assistant.

Late Sunday, crime-scene technicians carrying brown paper bags went in and out of Hoffman's building as officers held back a growing crowd of onlookers.

Hoffman's family called the news "tragic and sudden."

"We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Phil and appreciate the outpouring of love and support we have received from everyone," the family said in a statement.

With a range and discipline more common among British performers than Americans, Hoffman was convincing whether comic or dramatic, loathsome or sympathetic, powerless or diabolical.

In one of his earliest movie roles, he played a spoiled prep school student in "Scent of a Woman" in 1992. A breakthrough came for him as a gay member of a porno film crew in "Boogie Nights," one of several movies directed by Paul Thomas Anderson that Hoffman would eventually appear in. He played comic, off-kilter characters in "Along Came Polly" and "The Big Lebowski." He bantered unforgettably with Laura Linney as squabbling siblings in "The Savages." He was grumpy and idealistic as rock critic Lester Bangs in "Almost Famous." He was grumpy and cynical as baseball manager Art Howe in "Moneyball."

In "The Master," he was nominated for a 2013 Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role as the charismatic, controlling leader of a religious movement. The film, partly inspired by the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, reunited the actor with Anderson.

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