It Can Happen To Anyone

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This is our rare Stop the Presses post.  For those times when even the Chair feels compelled to speak mid-week.

The national zeitgeist exploded this weekend with three huge stories – well, actually two huge stories and a third that promised to be.  They were:

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  1. The Super Bowl
  2. The untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman
  3. The first extended public accusation from a now adult Dylan Farrow that the filmmaker and then “adopted” father Woody Allen sexually molested her when she was 7 years old.

In case you were wondering, the Super Bowl emerged as the one unexciting non-story of the three even though it turned out to be the most watched program in television history with 115.2 million viewers.

But there was little excitement watching the Seattle Seahawks trounce the Denver Broncos 43-8.  How could there be when the winner of a contest is never in doubt?  It made even the commercials feel dull and expected.

Not so with a lifeless Mr. Hoffman, found slumped over in the bathroom of his NYC apartment with a needle in his arm and up to fifty baggies of heroine on the premises.  Nor was it the case with Ms. Farrow’s riveting written outcries and accusations against Mr. Allen and the litany of beloved movie stars who still choose to work with him, as posted  on Nicholas Kristof’s NY Times blog.

We don’t like dull and expected, at least in this country.   But we do love a good celebrity anything.  Which is the primary reason why the zeitgeist is still reeling, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future, from Mr. Hoffman’s demise and Ms. Farrow’s grizzly tale of personal family drama.

I don’t mean to sound heartless or unmoved by these two tragedies.  They’re awful, and tragic and worth any series of emotional, physical or verbal reactions people are throwing out onto social media or in person to friends and family.  And I count myself as one among those people.

But still –

They. Happen. To. Everyone.

Tragedy knows no prejudice.

Tragedy knows no prejudice.

Drugs?  Sexual abuse?  This horrible stuff is in the news daily.   Plus, we already knew that Mr. Hoffman has had severe drug problems in the past and as recently as six months ago did a stint in rehab.   We were also aware for years Ms. Farrow and her family believed Mr. Allen sexually abused her and that in the last three months both her mother Mia Farrow and her brother Ronan Farrow have publicly taken to Twitter and Vanity Fair in order to advance Dylan’s accusations back onto the national stage against the seemingly constantly lauded Mr. Allen.

The only real connection to the public zeitgeist here – and it is not shocking at all – is that both of these stories involve celebrity.

We all have a very screwed up idea of what it means to be famous, privileged, wealthy and/or talented in this country.  And it’s only getting worse.  But here are some truisms I try to remember after many decades working among them in the business called, not coincidentally, show.

  1. You might feel like you know a famous person by their work or reputation but in reality you know very little about the real them.  In some cases, they may know very little about the real them.  Or they may know a lot but they are choosing not to share it with you.  That emotional connection you feel through their art is wonderful – but it is the art you’re connected to, not the person.  And art can’t overdose.
  2. Being privileged and wealthy is a double-edged sword.  So is celebrity. Nothing at all comes without a downside.  It is certainly more comfortable to grow up in a sumptuous Manhattan apartment or a mansion in Beverly Hills but it is not always an environment more enviable than your parents’ ranch home in the dull suburbs or the cramped two bedroom/one bathroom you shared with them and a sibling.  Though it is possible that it might be a more desirable environment.  Once again, the fact is that you never will know for sure.
  3.  Think about the worst photo of yourself ever taken and consider whether you’d want to see it blown up several feet bigger at a bad angle for all the world to see and comment about on every social media platform known to man.  (Note: Yes, you might already duplicate and post larger than life versions of yourself publicly in varying degrees of duress or undress… or your friends might) but the world is not terribly interested.
  4. Okay, now that you’ve done that think of the worst thing that has ever happened to you and consider doing the same thing with it – at least metaphorically. (Note: That is, if you can even think of a metaphor.  If not, just use the actual moments of the event and treat it like an endless, tawdry stream of pictures and posts and gossip and news stories on Facebook, Twitter, Entertainment Tonight, The New York Times and The Nightly News that will never quite disappear).

The L.A. Times’ Kenneth Turan on Monday published an appreciation of the many brilliant and diverse roles the mega-talented Mr. Hoffman played in the movies and onstage in his 46 short years.  The headline of the story read: He Could Be Anyone.

PSH poses for a tintype portrait during the recent 2014 Sundance Film Festival

PSH poses for a tintype portrait during the recent 2014 Sundance Film Festival

This did much more than address Mr. Hoffman’s talents for transformation as an actor.  It commented on his death, Ms. Farrow’s past traumas (change the pronoun to “she”), and on any number of public scandals we’ve become fascinated by in each passing year.  Just like the story of what happened to your friend, relative, or casual acquaintance from the neighborhood or office, there is no simple answer as to why.  Nor is there a truly satisfying explanation for any of it

Food for thought.

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8 thoughts on “It Can Happen To Anyone

  1. Well said, all of it.

    • I concur with your thoughts. We didn’t know him but in a broader general sense it’s important to remember that addiction and clinical depression are medical conditions and when left unchecked wreak havoc. It’s difficult to apply logic to the actions they generate.

  2. Thank you, darling Steve-

    I LOVE your blog. I wish I could feel sorry for Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but I don’t. He had tremendous talent and three (now fatherless kids.) With that comes tremendous responsibility. Both are a miraculous gift that he and his personal demons couldn’t get past. He threw it away with both hands. Show business isn’t for sissies. We work hard for what we get. Every business has its demons, and yet show business seems to embrace and easily forgive, i.e. Robert Downing Jr. Justin Bieber, and a SLEW of others, and therefore make it right to look past their horrendous behavior, and applaud their return. I’m sick of it. As for Mia Farrow, PLEASE!

    Don’t get me started. Crazy though attractive on stage and film, is never in real life.

    Xoxo

    David

    _____

  3. My reactions are sort of a mix. At first, with PSH, I gasped. Quickly recovering, I realized that the only reason I was reacting at all was because, because he was famous, his (tragic) death was news. Well, it obviously was and is news. Perhaps, if it just serves to punctuate the tragedy of addiction, maybe there is some value in the publicity. Alas, there is very little value here for most people. Sadly, people make mistakes and pay a terrible price.

    As has been said, the personal hell that is addiction has degrees like anything else. An awful lot of people are predisposed to addictive behavior of some sort. Some more than others. We’ve certainly seen evidence of the broad spectrum. Some have ended in public scandal, some have actually moved through it all, in something resembling, grace? I have always lauded and respected my many friends who have taken refuge in certain meetings.

    If we dig for something deeper than sympathy or even feigned concern for a “fallen (famous) angel”, look closer to home and realize that this sort of pain and suffering exists within our very own realm of ability to actually help, if we but look and listen. At least PSH is free. He paid a terrible price yet, he is free. Karmic debts to be paid in rebirth, if you ascribe to that theory.

    Mia Farrow and her family also suffer from an addiction, the addiction to fame. I can hear the gasp from some reader who thinks such words flawed and callous. Get over it. Famous people are fucked up just like the people you fly over or drive next to or, wait behind in line at Trader Joe’s.

    The Super Bowl isn’t even worth mentioning, except to note the profound excess. Some team won and some team lost. Millions of people were disappointed and made themselves sick eating crap for hours. Big deal.

    More interesting has been watching, in real time, the unfolding of the biggest political scandal in the last many years, in New Jersey, the home of such fodder for much of my memory. It’s at least filled with something fascinating….watching the truth unfold. It’s unique in our culture. History isn’t often as accurate as what we are seeing, every day. History is happening.

    • What’s also so interesting these days is how we are a witness to almost everything we want to be witness to. Though we’re never quite sure of the accuracy of what we’re witnessing. How do you search out the truth? Logic, instincts, meditation, research. We have more information about everything but that doesn’t mean an issue is any more clear. It’s as if it takes even more time and attention to get at the truth. And it’s on us to do it and not be fooled. Not everyone has the time to take the time. They’re too busy trying to survive. Which is what the “deceptors” are counting on. It’s a problem.

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