I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman play Willy Loman on Broadway, and what I remember most is sheer exhaustion at the play's end.
A great and committed actor, he made you feel like you had lived "Death of a Salesman" with him.
At the curtain call in 2012, the actors were in tears. The theater had been bitterly cold -- a drawback, perhaps, of a front-row seat. Linda Emond was remarkably poignant as Linda Loman, and Andrew Garfield had been a fine Biff. But Hoffman had carried the show as the deluded Willy, and the actor seemed wiped out.
Hoffman's death Sunday, at age 46, brought back those and other Broadway memories.
I had seen him, too, in a 2000 production of Sam Shepard's "True West" opposite John C. Reilly and a 2003 revival of "Long Day's Journey Into Night." In the latter, as the alcoholic James Tyrone, he matched the brilliant Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Dennehy.
These are taxing plays, but Hoffman was devoted to the theater. In the Hoffman obituaries, the comments of Robert Falls, who directed Hoffman in "Long Day's Journey," stood out if you were seeking answers about what happened to the actor.
"The theater was very difficult for him," Falls told The New York Times. "It cost him; there was an emotional cost to the work, having to do it for eight performances a week and having to rehearse."
Falls told the Los Angeles Times: "He was ferocious and deeply embedded in the characters he played to the point of a real inability to leave those characters behind."
And Falls added: "He was well acquainted with the tragic pull that drugs have." Hoffman died of an apparent drug overdose, and police found a syringe in his arm.
Acting can be a very hard life, even for those who receive big paychecks and star billing. This time of year, acting may seem like one awards show after another and a string of glowing magazine cover stories.
But that hoopla can have little to do with excellent acting. The good actors study their craft and keep working at it and frequently explore dark places to understand their characters. Actors can be shaken by their choices. Playing Blanche DuBois took a toll on Vivien Leigh.
So why do actors risk it? Well, why do football players keep taking the field despite the threat of concussions and other injuries?
Hoffman had a thriving film career. He won the best-actor Oscar for "Capote," but he was equally good in "The Master," "Doubt" and "Charlie Wilson's War." He was nominated for all three as supporting actor.
He was terrific in other movies, notably "Boogie Nights," "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "Magnolia," "The Savages" and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," an underrated 2007 thriller.
But as good as he was on film, he was extraordinary in the theater.
His death is a terrible loss, especially to his three children. His death is a waste, too, and there's no way around that. His drug use was selfish and self-destructive, and that can't be ignored in the tributes to his acting skill.
Hoffman was a talented guy with a problem; that doesn't excuse the problem but you may feel empathy for him. His superb performances certainly made you feel empathy for his characters. Without empathy, where are we?Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun