The words “addict” and “greatest actor” don’t go together comfortably in our minds. Addicts are down and out, they’re criminals, you don’t want to be around them. They’re dirty and dangerous. But then, there’s Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Years ago, I saw a film about programs in The Netherlands and Switzerland under which addicts are treated as ill, not as criminals. They trudge every day down to clinics where they are given methadone, or, if methadone doesn’t work, they are given heroine. Then they go to work. They are not forced to abandon their families, or to become criminals in order to buy the drug. (Of course, both countries have national health care, so cost is not an issue to these addicts.)
The addicts don’t like it because they have to go to the clinic every day and can never get away for even a weekend vacation, but their regret is part of an otherwise ordinary life. The program doesn’t work for everyone, of course. I don’t know how these programs are faring today, but they were very successful when this program was made.
I don’t know what his personal life was like, or when he started taking heroine again, or the circumstances of his life. I do know that if people had known of his addiction, they would have scorned him, put him in jail, and we would have lost his talent as surely as if he were dead. There are intelligent, talented, productive people around us who are drug addicts. Some of their wholeness is lost forever, but they could still thrive.
I wish we all could watch that television program I saw long ago, about how a country keeps its addicts productive, puts a stake through the heart of criminal drug distributors, keeps families together, keeps addicts off the streets, and saves their brilliance from destruction. It doesn’t work perfectly, but it might have saved Hoffman. Maybe.