Q: People have great difficulty understanding how someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman, having reached the pinnacle of his profession—with all the attendant artistic and financial freedoms—could succumb to heroin, well-known to kill more than 80% of its addicts. (People tend to think of it as a drug for the down-and-out.) In Cost, you painfully and painstakingly explore heroin’s unrelenting siren song—what might you tell people to help them understand what seems so senseless?
A: Think of heroin as a lover, unbelievably seductive, ravenous, insatiable and utterly thrilling. It’s extremely accessible, cheap and cool. Any high-school student can get it, behind the local gas station or the fast-food store. Any city-dweller can get it, by asking questions with a certain tilt of the head, a certain look. You know someone who can get it for you. It’s incredibly affordable, sometimes as little as $5 a bag. It has the wild seductive kick of illegality. And the pleasure is sublime: the heroin high is like nothing else. Once you’ve had it, you never forget it. Heroin is always there, murmuring in the back of your mind, reminding you of that last exquisite fling. And it’s lethal. This is a love story that has no happy ending.
Philip Seymour Hoffman might seem to have had no need of such a destructive presence, but though he was a star of great magnitude, he was also at enormous and continual risk. Baring yourself in public, drawing on the darkest, most vulnerable parts of your heart, entering the most shadowy passages, those places where shame and fear dwell – all that comes at a cost. You bare yourself not only to the world, but you admit to yourself the darkest parts of your soul. That can be devastating and exhausting, but it’s what Hoffman chose to do. The classic addictive personality is someone who’s drawn to risk, experiences dramatic mood-swings, can be extremely charming and extroverted as well as withdrawn and tortured. Hoffman threw himself into the high seas of emotion, and he did it relentlessly. He took enormous risks, offering an intimate side of himself with each performance. That sort of professional self-revelation comes at a cost. Heroin could seem like an antidote, a way to escape from the relentless torturing spotlight of your own mind. Giving yourself up to that silken, fatal caress is not wise – it’s suicidal – but it’s understandable. // Roxana Robinson
—Roxana Robinson is the author, most recently, of Sparta: A Novel. She has written five novels including Cost, three collections of short stories, and the biography Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.
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