Philip Seymour Hoffman, considered to be among the finest actors of his generation, died early Sunday morning in his New York City apartment at age 46. Hoffman, who had spoken openly in the past about his struggles with addiction, was believed to have suffered a drug overdose.
Hoffman was nominated for an Academy Award four times – for Best Supporting Actor in 2008’s Charlie Wilson’s War; 2009’s Doubt, and last year for long-time collaborator Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master – and he won the Oscar for Best Actor for 2005’s Capote. He was equally acclaimed for his work in the theater, such as his Tony-nominated performance in Sam Shepard’s True West in 2000; Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night in 2003 and 2012’s revival of Death of a Salesman.
He was most recently seen playing Plutarch Heavensbee in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and just last month was at the Sundance Film Festival in support of two films – the John Slattery-directed God’s Pocket and Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man.
Born in Fairport, N.Y., the second youngest of four children to a Xerox employee and a judge (the couple divorced when he was 9), Hoffman grew up interested in sports until an injury during wrestling practice at age 14 forced him to quit. “I thought, okay, I’ll play baseball,” Hoffman told The New York Times in 2008. “But I’m 14 with a neck brace. I’d see some girl from 10 blocks away, and I’d take it off until she passed me. I was this freckle-faced kid, and I perceived myself as not attractive. When the doctor asked me if I still had pain, I lied. My pact with God was that I would no longer play sports. So instead of trying out for baseball, I auditioned for a play.”
After graduating from high school, Hoffman attended Circle in the Square Theater summer program and went on to attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, majoring in drama and graduating with a BFA in 1989. It was after graduation that Hoffman first realized he was struggling with addiction – he told CBS’s 60 Minutes in 2006, “It was all that [drugs and alcohol]. It was anything I could get my hands on…I liked it all” – and went to rehab when he was 22. “You get panicked,” he said. “And I got panicked for my life.”
His career began with a spot on Law & Order in 1991 and quickly took off after a well-received turn in 1992’s The Scent of a Woman and continuing throughout the decade in films such as Nobody’s Fool, Happiness, and The Talented Mr. Ripley. In 1996 he starred in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight which would begin a fruitful collaboration between director and star, and resulted in Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and The Master. While he was praised for the gravitas and melancholy he’d bring to all of his dramatic characters, Hoffman was equally adept at comedic roles – Almost Famous, The Big Lebowski, and Along Came Polly.
The next decade would bring one acclaimed performance after the next: commercial hits like 2006’s Mission: Impossible III as well as smaller films such as Spike Lee’s 25th Hour and Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages. And then came the nominations: Charlie Wilson’s War, Doubt and Capote. But it didn’t come easy. “Acting is torturous, and it’s torturous because you know it’s a beautiful thing,” he told the New York Times. “I was young once, and I said, That’s beautiful and I want that. Wanting it is easy, but trying to be great – well, that’s absolutely torturous.”
He never lost his passion for the theater, which began for him when he saw a production of All My Sons near his hometown. “The drama nerd comes out in me when I’m in a theater,” he told The Times. “I was changed – permanently changed – by that experience. It was like a miracle to me.” He joined the LAByrinth Theater Company in 1995 and staged and performed in numerous productions.
He leaves behind his long time partner, costume designer Mimi O’Donnell – they met while working together on a play in 1999 – and a son and two daughters. On Sunday afternoon Mr. Hoffman’s family released a statement “We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Phil and appreciate the outpouring of love and support we have received from everyone. This is a tragic and sudden loss and we ask that you respect our privacy during this time of grieving. Please keep Phil in your thoughts and prayers.”