The Niagara Falls Review

It’s crucial not to judge

- Liz. braun@

Celebritie­s are public figures who generally work hard to maintain a private life, but death tends to slam all the public doors shut.

It’s strictly a private affair for the friends and family left behind.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a hugely successful actor, and as such, was public property — for better or worse. Thanks to his work, a large audience of followers developed feelings of attachment and ownership about him. Double that for New York City, where people could see him on stage at the theatre or stand next to him in the grocery store. Now, since death belongs to the private realm, that’s left a lot of people on the public side wondering what to do with their emotions. They tweet condolence­s. They write letters. They bring flowers and gifts to a makeshift shrine outside the building where Hoffman lived.

A friend writes of Hoffman, “Now I understand what I used to think were crazy overblown reactions to other celebrity deaths. I’d go to his funeral if I could. And I’d send a casserole to Mimi.” ( Mimi O’Donnell was Hoffman’s long- time partner and the mother of his three children.) I know what my friend means — you just want to do something.

People are passionate about this. It’s almost as if a friend had died. There has been an outpouring of grief and shock, and messages by the thousands sent to his family. But there’s still no way ever to find answers to all the questions that everyone has.

Most people only l earned of Hoffman’s addiction issues when they learned of his tragic death. It’s completely bewilderin­g.

But Hoffman is just the latest celebrity to die because of addiction.

In last few years, drink and drugs have contribute­d to the deaths of so many well- known performers — Cory Monteith, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger among t hem. Cocaine, heroin and alcohol are thought to be the usual culprits, but prescripti­on drugs are rapidly becoming the leading cause of overdose death. In the U. S., some 80 to 100 people a day die of drug overdoses.

In years past, overdoses from prescripti­on or illegal drugs have claimed the lives of notables such as Marilyn Monroe, John Belushi, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

Those deaths — for celebritie­s or anybody else — are shrouded in mystery, shame and misunderst­anding, and more’s the pity. Like poverty or depression, addiction is one of those things that looks entirely controllab­le from the outside looking in — Stop it! Pull your socks up! Etc. Nothing could be further from the truth, but it’s very difficult to get that message across.

This is not about willpower. And it’s crucial not to judge.

Hoffman had addressed his struggle with drug addiction, telling CBS in 2006 that he had at times abused “anything I could get my hands on. I liked it all.” And after 20 years of sobriety, he checked himself into rehab in 2013.

Not much has changed since Nancy Reagan’s essentiall­y futile, “Just say no,” anti- drug campaign of the 1980s. Hoffman’s death has shone a light on the recent spate of tainted heroin deaths i n places l i ke Pittsburgh and Rhode Island. Heroin use is said to have doubled in the U. S. in the last five years and drug deaths in general have increased wildly over the last decade. ( A report from NBC news says heroin use is tied to the increased use of prescripti­on opiates and the new rules that make those prescripti­on drugs more difficult to get.)

What happened to Hoffman happens to people every day. The reason why remains unanswered, and is perhaps unanswerab­le. Is it naive to think that Hoffman’s death might eventually do some good in the realm of addiction research or public education? Probably.

In t he meantime, l i ke my friend, I’d go to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s funeral if I could.

And I’d send a casserole to Mimi.

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