Obituary: Philip Seymour Hoffman / Versatile actor had battle with addiction

July 23, 1967 - Feb. 2, 2014

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Philip Seymour Hoffman, perhaps the most ambitious and widely admired American actor of his generation, who gave three-dimensional nuance to a wide range of sidekicks, villains and leading men on screen and embraced some of the theater's most burdensome roles on Broadway, died Sunday at a New York City apartment he was renting as an office. He was 46.

The death, from an apparent drug overdose, was confirmed by the police. Mr. Hoffman was found in the lower Manhattan apartment 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.

Mr. Hoffman was long known to struggle with addiction. In 2006, he said in an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes" that he had given up drugs and alcohol many years earlier, when he was 22. Last year, he checked into a rehabilitation program for about 10 days after a reliance on prescription pills resulted in his briefly turning again to heroin.

"I saw him last week, and he was clean and sober, his old self," said David Bar Katz, a playwright who found Mr. Hoffman and called 911. "I really thought this chapter was over."

A stocky, often sleepy-looking man with blond, generally uncombed hair who favored the rumpled clothes more associated with an out-of-work actor than a constantly employed one, Mr. 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 theater's most celebrated protagonist -- Willy Loman, Arthur Miller's title character in "Death of a Salesman." At 44, Mr. Hoffman was widely seen as young for the part -- the casting, by the director Mike Nichols, was meant to emphasize the flashback scenes depicting a younger, pre-disillusionment Willy -- and though the production drew mixed reviews, Mr. Hoffman was nominated for a Tony Award.

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, brilliantly probing and unflappably gay author of "In Cold Blood," Mr. Hoffman flawlessly affected the real-life Truman Capote's distinctly nasal, high-pitched voice and the naturally fey drama of his presence.

Mr. 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.

Mr. Hoffman 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 theater director wrangling with his work and his women; and "A Late Quartet," about a violinist in the midst of dual crises, familial and musical.

But citing the highlights of Mr. Hoffman's prolific work life -- which included directing and acting in off-Broadway shows for the Labyrinth Theater Company, a New York City troupe, which he served for a time as artistic director -- undervalues his versatility and his 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 colors in roles that called for him to be unappealing.

He played an obsequious sycophant in the Coen brothers' cult comedy "The Big Lebowski" (1998); a former child star pathetically desperate to reclaim his celebrity in "Along Came Polly" (2004), a romantic comedy that starred Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston; a chronic masturbator in Todd Solondz's portrait of suburban New Jersey, "Happiness" (1998); a snooty Princetonian in "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999); a weasely tabloid reporter who gets his comeuppance (he's glued to a wheelchair and set on fire) in "Red Dragon" (2002), an adaptation of one of Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter novels; and in the role that brought him his first renown, he was Scotty J., a shy, overweight, gay boom operator on a pornographic film crew in "Boogie Nights" (1997).

Mr. Hoffman was born July 23, 1967, in Fairport, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester. His mother, the former Marilyn Loucks, is a former family court judge. His father, Gordon, worked for the Xerox Corp. His parents divorced when Mr. Hoffman was young.

In his acceptance speech at the Academy Awards in 2006, Mr. Hoffman thanked many people, but in particular his mother, now known as Marilyn O'Connor, who attended. He thanked her for raising him and his three siblings on her own and for taking him to see his first play.

Mr. Hoffman's other survivors include a brother, Gordon, a screenwriter who wrote "Love Liza," a 2002 film starring Mr. 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 Theater Company; and their three children, Cooper, Tallulah and Willa.

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

His principal works in progress were "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1" and "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2," in which he plays the head game-maker Plutarch Heavensbee. He had largely completed his work on the first film, but was scheduled for seven more shooting days on the second, according to a person who was briefed on the situation and spoke on condition of anonymity because of confidentiality strictures.

The films, directed by Francis Lawrence, are set for release by Lionsgate, the first Nov. 21 of this year, the second Nov. 20, 2015.

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