Addiction and The Artist
Philip Seymour Hoffman
It was saddening to learn of the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Even more so given the manner of his death: drug overdose. He was an incredibly gifted actor and extremely creative artist. Within an industry that can be even more shallow than that of popular music, he was truly the latter, an Artist. It is a title that gets thrown about all too nonchalantly in today’s conversations, but he was one whose vision, ability and diversity of craft inspired emotion and thought. Realizing roles that instilled laughter, reflection, inspiration, insight, hope, and in the simplest of these, entertainment.
Like many creative artists that have left before their time, Philip Seymour Hoffman battled drug addiction and abuse. It is a familiar story seen in Hollywood headlines since its original inception. Actors, musicians, and artists of all kinds have a collective legacy of dabbling in the realm of substance experimentation and abuse. Many of the more notable accounts, appended by this latest news, ultimately ending in tragedy and loss.
A quick reflection upon some of the bigger names in music and acting reveals a long list of artists that played a profound role in shaping the art culture of their time. The list is not a complete one, but some of the more notable of which I am familiar.
Artists Who Died from Drug Complications
- Layne Staley - Alice In Chains - Heroin
- Jimi Hendrix - Barbiturates
- Janis Joplin - Heroin and Alcohol
- Jim Morrison - The Doors - Heroin and Cocaine overdose
- Keith Moon - The Who - Prescription drugs
- Sid Vicious - The Sex Pistols - Heroin and Alcohol
- Bon Scott - AC/DC - Alcohol Poisoning
- Dee Dee Ramone - Heroin overdose
- Shannon Hoon - Blind Melon - Cocaine
- Bradley Nowell - Sublime - Heroin overdose
- Paul Gray - Slipknot - Morphine and Fentanyl
- Jimmy ‘The Rev’ Sullivan - Avenged Sevenfold - oxycodone, oxymorphone, diazepam, nordiazepam and ethanol.
- Kurt Cobain - Nirvana - Gunshot wound to head; heroin and diazepam found in body (suicide)
- Hillel Slovak - RHCP - Heroin
- Elvis - Prescription drug overdose
- Jon Bonham - Led Zeppelin - Asphyxiation due to massive alcohol consumption
- Michael Jackson - Cardiac arrest, acute propofol intoxication; midazolam, lidocaine, diazepam, lorazepam also noted in autopsy report
- Amy Winehouse - Alcohol Poisoning
- Heath Ledger - Prescription drug overdose
- Chris Farley - Cocaine and Morphine overdose
- John Belushi - Cocaine and Heroin
- River Phoenix - Heroin and cocaine overdose
- Philip Seymour Hoffman - Heroin overdose
CREATIVE CONDUIT / EXPLORING THE EDGE
With such a long list of influential artists, it begs the question: Is it inherent within the artistic mind to be susceptible to addiction?
The Artist is generally known for being one who pushes the limits and boundaries of convention, asks all the unasked questions and playfully dances on the edge of the conscious abyss. Is it there upon the precipice of darkness and discovery that The Artist is vulnerable to holding on too loosely to the thread leading back to balance?
Many artists also cite substances as catalytic muses serving to lubricate the creative process and more easily yield the output of genius as it is so passionately sought. Such a pursuit is understandable seeing that new doors opened might provide alternate pathways for the vision the minds eye. But there are certainly considerations that must be acknowledged...
Speaking as someone familiar with the notion of pushing the limit of convention, asking questions that yield exponentially more, and dividing the atoms of understanding to such a miniscule amount that it causes one to lose touch with direction, I understand how seeking in such a manner leads one down every possible path of experiencing. The question and concern, however, lies in the reasons why these explorations can lead to dependency or destruction.
With the strength and boldness that it takes to explore the edges of reason and understanding as an artistic routinely does, why is that strength diminished when faced with addiction? Perhaps a form of escapism to a state of greater freedom and thought, emotional nirvana, or even just healing solitude.
Perhaps in the cases of the masters, ones who have reached a sufficient pinnacle in their creative careers, there is a point at which aspirations wane and the one time heroes that inspired their ascent are no longer there, or merely diminished in stature from the new vantage. And perhaps for the struggling artist fighting for voice and craft with all energy and vitality, loses perspective and spirals out of control while on the path to their creative ideal.
For both, perhaps the pursuit of perfection and constant advancement has fatigued passion and provided diminishing returns. All the realms of mind and soul have seemingly been exhausted of exploration and there is no where left to venture. At this point perhaps, the only avenue appears to be a persistent state of alteration in which to continue to explore the edges of the unknown. Diving deeper and deeper into the abyss, until it devours you completely.
What is it that allows Addiction and The Artist to maintain such intimate bonds?
It is a genuine question, the meaning of which I continue to ponder. I believe deeply in the power of progressive thinking and advancement, the power of questioning and pursuing, and exploring oneself and others through pushing the bounds of artistic expression. Perhaps in that though, there is a limit, a threshold past which reference becomes blurred and the way back to where you once were is no longer clear. I’m not yet sure. Another in the limitless stream of questions facing a seeker in the pursuit of wisdom, but with exploration of each, closer than I was before..