Though the first autopsy proved inconclusive, let’s assume that Philip Seymour Hoffman did in fact die from a lethal heroin overdose. Let’s choose to believe that even the most overwrought of his epitaphs get one thing right: that one of the greatest actors of his generation had demons, and that self-medication shut them up.
It’s a compelling narrative, though not an especially new one. Maybe there’s a quiet edge of schadenfreude to the expectation that our geniuses be haunted: would we view the canons of Joplin, Morrison, and Belushi with the same awe and appreciation if we hadn’t been led to believe that that which killed them—heroin, those three and so many others—was a necessary weapon against the wellspring of inner tragedy or whatnot that had made their art so palatable in the first place?
“Nobody will laugh long who deals much with opium,” Thomas De Quincey writes in his 1821 Confessions of an Opium-Eater, “Its pleasures even are of a grave and solemn complexion.” Confessions is De Quincey’s autobiographical account of his addiction to laudanum, a particularly potent narcotic derived, like the powder found in the bags strewn across Hoffman’s Greenwich Village office-cum-personal-apartment-cum-presumed-escape-den, from the flower of the opium poppy.
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