Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Phil

Written Feb. 2014

When I was in college I was a typical 1980’s arrogant jerk (pause for everyone to ask “So - what has changed?”)  I went from a small college in my hometown to the theatre program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and I thought, with my typical smugness, that I was going to rocket to Broadway stardom even before I finished my first semester.  I was a poor kid on scholarships who was working my way through an expensive education through sheer force of will, and I was determined not to blow it.  

One of my classmates, whose name escapes me now because I’m getting older and I have cobwebs in my head, was dating a guy who was in another branch of NYU, or “Studio,” as we called them.  We were in Circle in the Square studio, and what’s-her-name’s boyfriend was in Stella Adler studio.  My classmate, I think, who was dating this guy…might have been named Miranda.  Miranda was a sweet girl with an angelic face and curly blonde hair.  She was very earnest and wholesome and I couldn’t figure out why she was dating her loser boyfriend.  From my lofty ivory tower of all-business, all-work, no-goofing off college life, I thought Miranda’s boyfriend was a slacker.  His name was Phil and he wore Birkinstocks and Dashiki shirts even in the dead of winter.  He was part of a large demographic of college students in the late 1980’s who were trying to be neo-hippie-rasta-surf-posers, and I would just roll my eyes whenever I saw him and think “Put down the bong, dude, and stop rebelling so idiotically against your parents’ wealth.”

He always seemed to be happy and stoned.  Even now I picture him walking around with a lit bong in his hand although that seems impossible since I only saw him in public spaces where bongs wouldn’t be allowed.  I think the bong I’m remembering is an implied bong.  His tightly squinted eyes, his red face and his eternal phlegmy chuckle evoked the image of lit marijuana whenever he entered the room.  There was always a smell of patchouli and cannabis surrounding him.  He was a gentle, funny pothead and I felt like a mean person for judging him and having thoughts like “Poor stupid Phil.  He is NEVER going to graduate, much less become a successful actor, if he just floats around stoned all the time.”

Years later I was at the premiere of a film called Boogie Nights, at Graumann’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles and about 1/3 of the way into the movie I thought to myself “WHOA.  Wait a minute.  That’s Phil.”

The guy I knew at NYU in the  late 80’s was Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and I saw just now on the web that he was found dead in his apartment this afternoon at the age of 46.  

I don’t know whether I hated the fact that Phil was a pothead because my father was an addict, and I get mad when I see people who are high all the time, or whether I hated the fact that Phil had talent, intelligence and potential that he was destroying by keeping himself in a haze.  

Phil realized his potential and for a long time I was really happy to see how successful he became, but he died young after leaving rehab for heroin a year ago. I think I’m still mad.  Even with all he did accomplish, just think of how much more he could have done if addiction hadn’t interfered with his talent and his life.