As I write this, it’s been announced that Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead at age 46 in his Manhattan apartment with a syringe in his arm.
I expect that there will be the usual reactions to celebrity passings. The sadness of a death that could have preventable…the lament of being cut down so young in his prime and of future work that might have been done.
There will inevitably be the epitaph of a life lived as a cautionary tale. A commentary on drugs and the danger of addiction.
But, what is often missing from these visceral and superficial observations is broader inquiry. For example,
What makes Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing noteworthy?
People die every second of every minute of every day. Why is his death announced with any more gravity than the passing of your Aunt Millie? Do we have some kind of cultural hierarchy or caste system that acknowledges celebrities lives as having a different value than our own?
I don’t think so.
I think people will make a big deal out of this because they feel a connection to his work.
He moved people. He helped them feel something, and people associate that loss with that memory. They may have never met the man, but they have a strong opinion about his work.
There’s a lesson there.
I don’t know if art makes one immortal, but it builds connections to people. It creates conversations and exposes people to other ways of seeing the world.
It makes the world a better place.
As an artist, I recommend that you get past the obvious lesson of the ravages of addiction and the trappings of the celebrity lifestyle, and use this opportunity to be introspective about what you are doing.
What am I putting out into the world?
How am I connecting with people?
How do I make the world a better place?
I don’t know if Philip Seymour Hoffman ever asked himself these questions. I know that he was a true artist, and that as an artist he had to face dark nights of the soul and if he didn’t ask these questions, he asked questions that were very similar.
Yes, he died tragically and young. But the very nature of life is terminal.
You have a finite amount of time to get something done.
To make a connection to the world.
To impose your meaning on what can be a meaningless world.
To help make this place better than what you found it.
Going beyond the cautionary tale, life is always short – make the most of it while you are here and follow the actionable example of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s life.
be a life long student.
do the best work you can
to the very best of your ability
work constantly and
make each new project better than the last one.
Let’s not use this moment as a simple lecture about drugs, let’s use it as an unfortunate inspiration.
Thanks for reading.