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The Controversial Death of Philip Seymour Hoffman

When news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic death first hit the media it came as a profound shock. It was not only the unexpected death of one of the world’s most respected actors, but few people could picture him as a heroin addict.

Hoffman garnered great praise throughout his lifetime. He was an Oscar winner, a brilliant actor, appreciated public figure and father of three. The last accolade anyone would have pinned on him is that of a heroin addict.

For many people this was a confrontation with the shocking truth of addiction, which doesn’t take sides, doesn’t make casting calls and doesn’t select according to class, race or profession. Philip Seymour Hoffman didn’t fit the public image that most people have of the celebrity heroin addict.

Esquire magazine referred to our misconceived notions about the people we look up to when it wrote “there was no way Hoffman had died with a syringe still in his arm” and that it is was hard to believe that he “had permitted himself to die so ruthlessly unmasked”. We tend to assume that the people we love and respect are flawless and that, unlike us, they make the best decisions.

Hoffman’s suspected overdose came after 23 years of abstinence. In recent weeks he had succumbed to addiction and the media is full of stories about what actually happened.

One story emerging from the media is that Hoffman’s relapse was triggered by a prescription to an opiate based painkiller, raising the question that heroin addicts in recovery are vulnerable to the medical community’s lack of awareness and sympathy with the chronic nature of addiction.

American police are still investigating into whether his death was caused by heroin overdose, as initially reported, or by a deadly mix of drugs — perhaps the concoction known as the Ace of Spades, or Blue Ice, that is allegedly behind a series of deaths in the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York.  

The autopsy report was inconclusive and there is an degree of mystery around Hoffman’s death: he was found dead on his bathroom floor, with a needle in his arm and packets of heroin around the apartment. 

Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked February 7, 2014