Was Philip Seymour Hoffman successful?

Philip-Seymour-HoffmanWhat could have saved Philip Seymour Hoffman? What forces are at play that would compel an Oscar-winning and beloved Hollywood and New York performer to choose the path of self-destruction that he chose?

Here is an individual who by most accounts of success had it all. A fabulous acting career, fame up the wazoo (wherever that is), a partner of 15 years and three children. He had already achieved success beyond what so many in his wake could only fantasize about.

So with all that success going for him, why did he need 70 bags of heroin?

Robin Williams said, “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you you’re making too much money.” Is it like that?

This is not a mystery just about the tragic end of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s life. It’s a mystery for anyone concerned with being successful. Like me. Like you maybe.


We grow up in a land of stories. We’re surrounded and bombarded with stories.

We have well-worn paradigms about what it is to be successful. Many of those things are material. The impressive showpiece house with one or two or three other residences for vacationing. Interiors out of decorator showrooms. Luxury cars to drive. Designer apparel to wear. The best in food and wine to consume. Probably some domestic help to keep it all together.

When kids come along, make sure they’re trophy kids going to the best schools. We want to call our kids “amazing.” They wear our genes.

Ah, the good life.

But it is pretty well-known that while poverty sucks, material wealth comes with a hefty price tag, too. So many wealthy people think they should feel happier than they feel. We are still often swayed by the myth that money should be able to buy us out of misery. Money often complicates life.

Fame often complicates life, too. Many of us long for it and all the doors it purports to open in the myths. Many who have arrived there find there is still much to complain about, just different. For every new success, there is a new challenge awaiting. For every new plateau reached, a new mountain to climb.


Most people who are famous have their public personas managed. Myths are constantly spun about them, often with the celebrity’s approval. When something happens that goes well outside the lines of this public image, like suicide or drug overdoses, it leaves us to wonder who they really were beyond all the hype. Who was Philip Seymour Hoffman really?

We sometimes find out that they are real people just like us. They have their problems, weaknesses, quirks. In many cases, at least for me, they would probably be even more interesting to know as fellow humans.

For those of us who have so much less in terms of financial success, fame, and purpose, we wonder why all his success wasn’t enough for them. In actuality, though, unless we know the person in real time and out of the protective spotlight of a manufactured image, we are not dealing with them. We are dealing with the gaseous cloud of rumor, speculation, publicity, and marketing.

Robin Williams also said, “Reality is just a crutch for people who can’t cope with drugs.”


What could have saved Philip Seymour Hoffman? What could save any of us?

Can an impoverished person feel successful? Can an unemployed, homeless person estranged from loving partnership feel successful?

Success is how we personally define it, and it seems as if all the hyped clichés about making it big are full o’ lies. I think there is much room for improvement in how we the people define and embrace success.

What do you think success is?

5 thoughts on “Was Philip Seymour Hoffman successful?

  1. weavergrace says:

    “For every new plateau reached, a new mountain to climb.” Great message.

    I appreciate your Robin Williams quotes. He has an incredible success story, from Mork & Mindy and cocaine to his more recent dramatic roles. In this case, success is: transforming from a character whom I found revolting, to a character whom I find inspiring. The media can tell us who is and isn’t “successful”, but we must hold true to the values that define success for each of us as individuals.

    • Joshua Bagby says:

      Success as defined by mainstream society seems pretty empty to me. I live in an area that was an orchard paradise when I was growing up. Great wealth came in and transformed everything. They cut down the trees and erected tall buildings. It is now considered a wealthy, success-driven community. To me it has lost the charm and friendliness it once had. While walking downtown I see a lot of withdrawn faces. (Knock, knock, knock, anybody home?)

      I pay less and less attention to much media as I agree less and less with the values and ethics so much of it espouses.

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