Why Celebrities Kill Themselves

It doesn’t take much to interpret Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s untimely death of what’s looking increasingly like a heroin overdose as an unconscious leap into the void. When I first read the accounts, I was struck by two facts:

  • Hoffman had been clean, or so he said, for 23 years before last year.
  • The brand of heroin police found in his appartment “Ace of Spades” hadn’t been seen on the streets of Brooklyn since 2008.

To which Stacy McCain adds a third:

  • Hoffman had 50 bags of the stuff in his pad.

Which shouldn’t surprise. When the monkey returns to the back, he usually does so with a saddle and a bullwhip. The yearning to throw away all reason follows fast behind the surrender to addiction. So calling this a waste of a fine talent, which it is, is kind of beside the point. Hoffman reached a place where his talent and his career and his children did not sustain him like another hit did. People take drugs to self-medicate, to make some problem go the hell away for a few hours.

And sure, you can say “What problem did he have? The Oscars? The respect of his peers? The $10,000-a-month appartment? I’d like to have those problems!” But again, those are all beside the point. Success is not happiness. It never has been and never will be. Success may be connected to happiness, but they don’t equate. And that goes double for anyone in the entertainment industry. When I heard the news about Hoffman, I wasn’t even a little bit surprised, despite knowing next to nothing about his personal life at that point. I didn’t need to. He was a famous entertainer. Famous entertainers do drugs. These people are not happy.

Celebrities either start believing their own hype, and decide to pester the known universe with their particular moral notions (Sean Penn, the People’s Commissar of Burbank), or they wall themselves off into hermetic seclusion and grow almost alienated from their own life’s work (Harrison Ford approaching every interview with thinly veiled contempt for everyone involved with it). Some even become the masters of their own media empire (Tom Hanks). But a sizable number follow a path of self-indulgence from their new status and self-disgust for their participation in the brutal circus of fame towards inevitable self-annihilation.

Because Pop Culture is so important.


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