Philip Seymour Hoffman's Death and Our Lack of Grace

Philip Seymour Hoffman did not die with grace. And we seem determined to make sure no one ever forgets.

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Up the street from Philip Seymour Hoffman's apartment in the West Village is Barbuto, a restaurant which serves the best roast chicken in the City. Hoffman, the restaurant says, was a regular. I saw him there once. I finished my chicken at the bar, triple-checked if I had my phone, keys and wallet, walked out of the restaurant, and turned left. He was walking in.

I told my mother about this on Monday. "It was only that one time," I told her. "He probably had the chicken. It's good."

Barbuto, its garage doors, its magical kitchen, a few seconds on a West Village sidewalk, and possibly its delicious chicken are the few tenuous threads that I have to this man and his death. I'm lucky in that I'm not a friend or a family member who has to live in a painful reality where Hoffman, a fixture in their lives, doesn't exist. I'm not even a die-hard fan. Yet, I still found myself wanting to quantify my relation to this man and this national event.

I felt/feel guilty and dumb for sharing this. And guiltier knowing that I've made fun of and snarked on people (you probably are related to one), "fans" if you will, who take national tragedies and parlay them into an opportunity to air their "unique" feelings.

Yet, I kind of understand the selfish, human desire of why people do it. 

Obituaries are, for the most part, written to capture the beauty and art of someone's life. The news stories we share are to get the facts straight. And Hoffman's tragic death, we're told, can be used for good if it opens up a conversation and an improvement of how we deal with addiction. It can save lives.

What I still have trouble understanding is where the lines are drawn in what we share. And the way we've treated Hoffman's death doesn't offer any answers.

This morning, we have a story of officials confirming that Hoffman withdrew $1,200 in six separate transactions from one ATM the night before he was found dead.  The security footage from his bodega will probably surface in the coming days.

That came on the heels of a story about how Hoffman told a complete stranger that he was a heroin addict. That followed eye-witness accounts from people in show business saying that he "seemed out of it," going back and trying pluck anything he may have said and cram it into a mold that fits this jagged narrative of mortality.  This came after a picture of Hoffman at Sundance started circulating and news agencies dared us to spot the addiction, to see creeping death on the margins:

And of course, there was the report of Hoffman being found dead with a syringe in his arm. Peppered in between those ugly benchmarks were reports of his family finding out about his death at the same time as we did and other macabre details.

At what point does the lesson-learning stop and the ghoulish rubber-necking begins? Do our stories about the horrors of addiction need an image of a desperate and determined Hoffman hammering away at an ATM to get the message across? Or do the stories about how many bags of heroin were found in his apartment or the syringe in his arm round out our bony stories about heroin overdoses? And do I have any right pointing fingers when here I am sharing my silly restaurant story?

Philip Seymour Hoffman did not die with much grace. And unfortunately, it seems like we're more than happy to make sure no one ever forgets.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.