Philip Seymour Hoffman and the Ethos of the Uncool

Philip Seymour Hoffman, the quintessential actor's actor, will be remembered for his work.

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If you ever doubted the kind of impact that an acclaimed actor can have, look no further than the avalanche of reactions to Philip Seymour Hoffman's untimely death at the age of 46. Hoffman wasn't an actor with much of a celebrity profile. He was a prime example of that sometimes overused phrase the "actor's actor." Just a glance around social media today will give you a sense of the rich and varied collection of performances he'd amassed in his career.

That list could go on. The Talented Mr. RipleyScent of a WomanOwning Mahowny. Whether or not you're interested in looking for a silver lining in such tragic (not to mention fresh) news, the idea that Hoffman will most certainly be remembered by his work may be something of a comfort.

One film that has been mentioned repeatedly has been Hoffman's turn as Lester Bangs in the 2000 film Almost Famous. Bangs, the legendary rock critic, becomes a mentor to the film's teenage lead character, guiding him through the tangle of fame and adoration and status that he finds on tour with a rock band.

That this particular performance would resonate especially with the writers and critics and movie fans who will be eulogizing Hoffman's career is not surprising. It's an ode to to the artist's purity, a promise that the good-looking guys may get the girls, but the rest of us make the art that lasts. On paper, it's a beautiful idealist's sentiment. With the full force of Hoffman's gravitas behind it, it becomes something else. Something truer. "The only true currency in this bankrupt world," Hoffman-as-Bangs says, "is what you share with someone when you're uncool."

It's that purity of work that pervaded Hoffman's career, and it's why any of a dozen films or more will be references in your twitter feeds and blog posts today. 

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