Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dylan Farrow and the Consequence of Fame

There were two remarkable, maddening, things that happened over the weekend. Both events were related to fame and the failure of human consequence against the living, but the terms of the punishments were different: Both eternal, but one forever ended.

On Saturday, we read in the New York Times about the harrowing child abuse Dylan Farrow suffered at the hands of her infamous father, writer, director, actor and movie producer, Woody Allen.

On Sunday, we learned of the early death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman who, at age 46, lived up to his earlier prescience about fame and fortune leading to a quick Hollywood death.  He made his point real in New York City with a needle jabbed in the arm of his corpse.

We will never know Philip Seymour Hoffman’s demons, but we can still damn them, and him, for recognizing his failures, but not actively resolving their dire effects for the benefit of his children.

Yes, I know heroin is addictive and awful — but Philip was self-aware for many years, and he shared his addiction with the media — and yet, in the end, he still gave in to his human frailties and stained his legacy and marred the lives of his children forever. There isn’t any honor in that sort of suffering death that propagates out from the grave like a whip to bloody the living, and those they touch, without end.

Sure, we feel for his family, yet we scream into the night about great talents mouldering in their own effervescence because they were uninterested in salvaging the terms of their own lives.

Dylan Farrow is caught on the opposite side of fame.  She writes about being an abused child — and while that is horrible and awful, her pain is especially magnified because she has a famous father, Woody Allen, who was her abuser.  How does a young child reconcile the outside idolatry the world showers on her tormentor while she cannot escape his body parts in her person?

For as long as I could remember, my father had been doing things to me that I didn’t like. I didn’t like how often he would take me away from my mom, siblings and friends to be alone with him. I didn’t like it when he would stick his thumb in my mouth. I didn’t like it when I had to get in bed with him under the sheets when he was in his underwear. I didn’t like it when he would place his head in my naked lap and breathe in and breathe out. I would hide under beds or lock myself in the bathroom to avoid these encounters, but he always found me.

These things happened so often, so routinely, so skillfully hidden from a mother that would have protected me had she known, that I thought it was normal. I thought this was how fathers doted on their daughters. But what he did to me in the attic felt different. I couldn’t keep the secret anymore.

There are some who are quick to dismiss Dylan Farrow’s story, lest they upset the dreams of their imagination that Woody Allen will hire them — but I find her voice and the plain truth of what she claims — convincing.  She has no vested interest in lying.  She has her own life and future back and now she’s trying to reclaim her childhood from the monster torturer — who just happened to be her father.

How do we, as active observers, mediate and negotiate the treacherousness of these damaged lives that were paraded before us the entire Super Bowl weekend?

In many ways, Dylan’s abuse and Philip’s death were more engaging and engrossing and more dramatic than The Big Game that was supposed to keep us rapt and activated — and that is a concern that the tragedies of personal lives are more compelling and immediate than the faraway false dramas that are manufactured for us wholesale to sell tickets.

We couldn’t save Philip Seymour Hoffman from himself.

We can’t save Dylan Farrow from her father.

Is awareness and knowing enough of a reason to interfere with a private moral code?

What is our role in this public media comeuppance?  Are were merely just emotional agent provocateurs who drool for the latest celebrity sins so we may begin to feel better about our own, miserable, caste in life?

Or is there some greater, inherent, human, bargain that tricks us into caring about these people and we are somehow formally bound to act and react on their behalf in spite of our own, person, demon-filled existence?  Do we feel better or worse in comparison in this latest round of publicly shared Pity and Terror — and how to we escape these cycles of circuses?

11 comments

  • I understand the initial emotional response, regarding the children who Hoffman left behind. However, I’m struck by the imaginings of how crushing his depression may have been, over the years, leading to an on-going struggle with it, and the need to self-medicate. Ultimately, ending his own life. I’ve heard of a child, 15 y/o at the time, who’s parent attempted suicide say, “I thought he loved me more than that.” My initial thoughts were, can you imagine his pain, being so much more powerful than the love for his child. Tragic, in any perspective.

    • Yes, I agree he was stretched — but he wasn’t unaware of his problem:

      The thesp first went public with his history of drugs in 2006, during a “60 Minutes” interview, where he detailed what he experienced while fresh out of New York University’s drama school, lured by the fast life of the city.

      “It was all that [drugs and alcohol], yeah, it was anything I could get my hands on… I liked it all,” he said.

      However, Hoffman recognized early that he needed to stop.

      “I went [to rehab], I got sober when I was 22 years old. You get panicked… and I got panicked for my life. It really was just that.”

      http://boles.co/1eNxDJL

      Here’s part of his 60 Minutes interview:

      http://boles.co/1gGYGgz

      • Thanks for the reply, and the links, David. I read that very same piece you posted, above. Yes, he most certainly was acutely aware. Even 24 years ago. Which leads my linear thought process to conclude, even reconfirm, he suffered an illness. A progressive and most unfortunate disease, which will impact the lives of those who loved him. Depression & addiction. Although I have not read anything about him having, or being treated for, depression.

        I will definitely watch the 60 Minutes interviews.

        Thank You.

        • Right on target, Victoria, and that’s the biggest confounding fact of this whole sorry episode. He was aware. He sought treatment. He failed along the way and then something clicked and he was unable to stop, or get help, and stay away from the needle that found his end.

          It’s a sad notion of being totally aware of the addiction and the danger and yet being unable to stop yourself.

          This reminds me of what Eric Clapton said in his biography that the only reason he didn’t commit suicide was that he’d miss drinking too much. He lived to get drunk. He preferred being trapped in a bottle to dying in a grave. Amazing stuff, really.

          http://bolesblogs.com/2013/12/09/how-alcoholism-saved-eric-clapton-from-suicide/

  • “We can do nothing for the dead – support the living” was the phrase my father would use, however the dead person he was talking about had died and whatever the ages or circumstances surrounding the event.

    We can mourn the loss of talent and shake our heads in despair, we can even wonder if it was deliberate or accidental and can only ever speculate about the demons that drive them.

    The living can and should be supported in what ever way we can, by listening to their story and believing/respecting their story and by offering our full support to them.

    Those who molest children, to my mind are the lowest of the low and like those who kill should be stripped of their “un/in – human rights” immediately.

    • I guess the thing that bothers me so much about Philip’s death is that he was aware of his addiction and its pitfalls and he appeared to be actively working against dying.

      There’s also this — Bad Heroin Batches — in Long Island and Maryland and Pennsylvania. Perhaps the insulted movie star didn’t have enough of an ear to the street to heed the warning, and this article appeared two days before Philip’s death:

      A bad batch of heroin laced with the opioid painkiller fentanyl has been linked to five overdose deaths in Nassau County and is possibly part of the same supply that recently caused at least 22 deaths in Pennsylvania, officials said.

      The Nassau County medical examiner’s office is investigating the fatal overdoses, which it initially believed were the result of regular heroin use.

      Authorities later determined those overdose victims had taken drugs containing the powerful opioid fentanyl, which is used to induce anesthesia and can be 100 times more powerful than morphine, officials said.

      Some of the deadly drugs were sold in glassine packets stamped in red ink with the symbol “24K,” as in 24-karat gold, Nassau officials said. In Pennsylvania, the fatal doses have been sold in bags stamped with the words “Theraflu” and “Bud Ice.”

      Investigators in New York and Pennsylvania were racing to determine whether dealers were distributing the potent fentanyl-heroin mixture — in years past known as “China White” — under additional names.

      http://boles.co/1gGZK48

      I agree with Dylan’s want for her molester to face public prosecution. It’s horrible when society makes it “he said, she said” when it comes to proving childhood molestations.

  • UPDATE:

    The NYPD on Monday launched an intensive citywide search to identify the drug dealer who sold heroin to troubled Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died of an overdose Sunday in his Greenwich Village pad — where cops found nearly 70 bags of the drug.

    “An internal email went out to all supervisors asking if anyone has had any experience with those brand names of drugs,” a law enforcement source told The Post. “They’re going to try to find the source.”

    http://boles.co/1eNLJux

  • The piece of your post that grabs me the most is your line about Dylan’s tormentor receiving such praise while she cannot escape his body parts inside of her. Having worked closely with survivors who suffered such abuse I know to well the torturous journey ahead of them To bring to light the pathology of the perpetrator is part of the healing, but Mr. Allen would not even allow her this small morsel of integrity when he denied it yet again today. It angers and saddens me that some members of society, especially those with powers to change the laws, don’t take the word of the victim more seriously than the word of the perpetrator. After all, we’ve been told that the perpetrators lie about their actions. We’ve seen it happen again and again and still no change. People continue to raise the perpetrators up, as if they were somehow also a victim, allowing them to continue to manipulate and feel powerful.

    • Thank you for sharing your interesting and insightful thoughts.

      I really think the reason the child accuser is not believed now or in adulthood is total and complete fear of the adult — not the accused in question — but the adult in the community who knows there’s no easy defense against a false accusation of child abuse and it is better to repress and disbelieve than it is to consider the alternative in a revenge accusation.

      So instead of risk that one child may be rightfully wronged — they condemn every child as a liar and a fabricator because of how easy it will be to falsely accuse any adult in turn and get results born in fantasy.

      There needs to be some sort of middle ground, where a child can report a molestation and be believed and helped — but my concern is the mainstream adult will still cringe at any suggestion their neighbor could be a molester because, then too, could they be merely by the associative suggestion of guilty-by-default proximity. Irrational, but a purely human response of lizard brain survival mode.

      You’re seeing a version of “if him, then me” in the non-defense of Dylan and the tacit, if unspoken, support of Woody in the celebrity community. “Well, I was in a Woody movie, and there’s no way I’d be near a child molester, so based on my non-evidence, I know Woody must not be guilty because I’m such a good person!”

      The only thing the child can do is what Dylan has done so far. Make her complaint known. Heal. Move on, and then, at the right time, bring up the matter to make others reconsider what they think they might know — and do it over and over again as warranted. The plain truth has a veracity to it that tends to stick around — if not at least in the back of people’s minds over time.

  • Barbara Walters defends Woody Allen:

    Barbara Walters caused a social-media firestorm Monday when she defended actor and writer Woody Allen on her ABC show, The View, after his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow alleged that he sexually assaulted her as a child.

    Walters, who noted she was friends with Allen, got in a heated exchange with co-host Sherri Shepherd two days after Farrow sent an open letter making the allegations to the New York Times. “He is a loving, caring father,” Walters said of the way Allen treats his two children with his wife Soon-Yi.

    http://boles.co/1ePU29j

  • Ah!

    Now the internet steps in to pick apart Woody Allen:

    In light of Sunday’s open letter from Dylan Farrow, which resurfaced allegations that her adoptive father Woody Allen sexually assaulted her at age 7, the Internet continues to dig up disturbing stories about the celebrated writer and director’s relationship with children. Farrow coming forward follows a campaign by her mother, Mia, and brother, Ronan, to shine a brighter light on the accusations against Allen in the early nineties, around the time he left Mia for another of her adoptive daughters, Soon-Yi Previn, resulting in a hideous custody battle. Once considered tabloid scripture, the upsetting specifics had been largely forgotten, or overlooked, but no longer.

    http://boles.co/1c0yUfF

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