The Russian roulette of narcotic drug use

Super Bowl Sunday was dampened in spirit by the early morning reports of the death of this generation’s greatest actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Whether you enjoyed him in “Capote,” “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Mission: Impossible, III” or a slew of other films, it is a notable loss of another great artist to drug use.

Hoffman, the stage and screen genius, died of a heroin overdose, the same drug that escorted jazz innovator Charlie Parker to an early death, killed rockers Janis Joplin and Dee Dee Ramone, and ended the life of young actor River Phoenix.

Like everyone, I thought, “What a waste,” as I contemplated this man just five months younger than myself, an artist on top of the acting world, winner of the highest awards and accolades, owner of a healthy estate, and father of three young children. What makes people who seem to have everything tempt death by inching up to the line with substances they know to be fatal?

Having worked with plenty of musicians, I think a part of it is that many get used to adulation. When you get mostly positive feedback night in and night out and free beer, food and other substances because you can play an instrument, it plays with the psyche of some who are not well-grounded. I performed with one man who couldn’t function at home with his wife and sons, but began to thrive when we hit the road on a band trip. (His kids hate him today.)

Another hypothesis floated by writer Tom Junod was that the line between character and actor gets blurred by some, though mostly the “character actors” like Hoffman. Junod wrote on Monday, “Character actors like Hoffman and James Gandolfini have found themselves getting more and more leading roles because they are permitted to behave onscreen in ways that George Clooney and Matt Damon never could. But the same permission extends off-screen, and that’s where we see the cost; indeed, we pay to look at men who look like us only when they convince us that they live in psychic spaces that we could never endure ... unless, of course, we happen to be enduring them.”

Whatever the case, it’s sad when anyone — a nationally known talent or a hometown kid — loses their life to drugs. I am not immune to the pain, having lost…

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