Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Is Hoffman the new century’s Belushi?

All the reports these days about the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman have been bringing about three-decade old memories of that moment when we learned that actor John Belushi had died.

Because the ultimate story of both of their lives will turn out to be the same – someone who let their drug use get the best of them, while taking out a talent that will make us all speculate for years to come just how much more would we have been entertained from future productions that will never be made!

NOW I KNOW that the two don’t have identical life and career cycles.

Belushi – born in the Humboldt Park neighborhood and raised in suburban Wheaton – only got into five film productions before his 1982 death at age 33. Hoffman, by comparison, appeared in about 60 film roles prior to passing on at age 46.

There are many aspiring actors who would love to have a career anywhere as extensive as Hoffman’s. And they’d certainly fall sort of the Academy Award Hoffman took for his starring role in “Capote.”

Heck, Belushi never came close – although I suspect the image of him as “Bluto” in Animal House sticks out in some peoples’ minds as much as any Oscar-winning role.

ULTIMATELY, IT’S GOING to be the end of their stories that will draw comparisons.

A woman wound up doing prison time for being the one who allegedly gave Belushi an injection into his arm (a “speedball” cocaine and heroin mixture, if memory is correct) that caused him to die at a borderline raunchy hotel in Hollywood.

While in the case of Hoffman, we’re going to forever live with the image of his body being found with a hypodermic needle still sticking in it. Police also found something anywhere between 40 and 70 bags of heroin in his apartment (depending on which newspaper account you read).

They’re still investigating to see if the heroin was mixed with the pain reliever fentanyl. This will be the trivial detail people will remember for years to come when Hoffman’s name comes up.

AND HIS NAME will come up, because the man had so many roles in a variety of films. It wasn’t just “Capote,” or the other films (“Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Doubt” and “The Master”) for which he was nominated for Oscars.

In fact, films I most associate with him were ones where he had supporting roles, such as “The Big Lebowski,” “Moneyball” and “Almost Famous.” His take on the 1970s rock journalist Lester Bangs is a bit part more memorable than many starring roles these days.

Just as I consider Belushi in “Continental Divide” to be an underrated role – even if the only thing believable about his portrayal as a newspaper columnist was a certain aversion to the outdoors.

But to a certain degree, none of this is going to matter. Both of their lives were cut short by the substance abuse. Both of them struggled with the drugs during their lives, and ultimately became a little too wrapped up in them.

TO THE DEGREE that when Washington-based journalist Bob Woodward tried to take on the Hollywood culture, his biography of Belushi turned into a final third of the book that was a blow-by-blow account of all the drugs he consumed in the final couple of weeks of his life.

Is this what we’re destined to get in coming weeks and months, as more details come out about the sordidness of Hoffman’s drug use (which he tried to resist, but ultimately gave in to)?

Let’s only hope the collective bodies of work for the two will not get buried in the minutia!


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