“You’re going to die, I can’t save you”: the tragic end of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the despair of the woman who loved him

On February 2, 2014, Philip Seymour Hoffman, just 46, was found dead in the bathroom of a small apartment in New York (Mark Mainz/Getty Images for AFI)
On February 2, 2014, Philip Seymour Hoffman, just 46, was found dead in the bathroom of a small apartment in New York (Mark Mainz/Getty Images for AFI)

Around the lifeless body, like a tragic crown, there are 50 heroin papers and several syringes. The man is in his underpants, lying on the bathroom floor, and a syringe is still dangling from one of his arms.

The solitary corpse is in a small apartment in an alley in West Village, New York. Outside, February strikes with an unrelenting cold. Inside, the phone lights up with two messages.

-I just finished dinner. Where are you?, writes one of his closest friends, responding to the two messages that he had sent hours before about his desire to see the Knicks game

But no one answers. Philip Seymour Hoffman is already dead.

It is 11 p.m. on February 2, 2014, and the actor, barely 46 years old, one of the greatest of his generation, winner of an Oscar for his amazing composition of Truman Capoteand owner of a collection of nominations and awards, could not with his addiction.

The autopsy will be clear. Cause of death: heroin overdose.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and his masterful performance in the film Truman that earned him an Oscar (Getty Images for AFI)
Philip Seymour Hoffman and his masterful performance in the film Truman that earned him an Oscar (Getty Images for AFI)

For many his death was a surprise. As were, perhaps, his performances. Only Mimi O’Donnell -the woman he met in 1999, accompanied him in the lights and in the shadows and with whom he had Cooper, Tallulah and Willa-, knew that the end was near. This is how she told it in an extensive letter to the magazine fashiona few days after the death of the actor:

I had been waiting for him to die since the day he started using again, but when it finally happened it hit me with brutal force. She was not prepared. There was no sense of peace, just a raging pain of loss. The hardest thing -impossible- was to think how she would tell the children that her father had died. What would the words be?”.

Many times he had tried to escape from that drug addiction that was consuming him, which he had entered when he was only 20 years old. He had been sober for 25 years, he had been through Alcoholics Anonymous, he had entered detox clinics, but nothing came of it.

It was O’Donnell who starkly recounted in that letter how Phil was unable to resolve the addictions that led to his death. Neither the actor nor anyone around him could do anything to rescue him from the hell in which he was shipwrecked.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and his wife Mimi O'Donnell. She accompanied him in the lights and shadows of him. Torn confessed that she could not help him in his addictions (Bruce Glikas / FilmMagic)
Philip Seymour Hoffman and his wife Mimi O’Donnell. She accompanied him in the lights and shadows of him. Torn confessed that she could not help him in his addictions (Bruce Glikas / FilmMagic)

Moved, she rescued in the letter his absolute honesty and that vulnerability that made him different.

From the start, Phil was very outspoken about his addictions.. He told me about his period of heavy drinking and heroin experience when he was just 20, and his first rehab at 22. He was in therapy and attending Alcoholics Anonymous, like most of the friends of he. Being sober and a recovering addict, in addition to his acting and directing, was what he focused on most in his life.”, recalled the woman, also an artist.

Hoffman’s honesty was so clear that even in times of sobriety he warned Mimi about the risks of staying with her. He was clear that even if he was “clean” that did not mean that the addiction had already been overcome. He even told her that if she was addicted to any substance, hers should have an end point. But the romance grew, the children arrived and life as “our neighbors” in Greenwich Village.

He was an off-road father who kept awake for his children. In the photo with his two girls (Cooper is missing) Willa and Tallulah in the West Village of New York (Raymond Hall / FilmMagic)
He was an off-road father who kept awake for his children. In the photo with his two girls (Cooper is missing) Willa and Tallulah in the West Village of New York (Raymond Hall / FilmMagic)

O’Donnell, in his cathartic letter in vogue, told when was the turning point for which “his” Phil he returned to hell. “The first tangible sign came when he, out of nowhere, he said to me: ‘I’ve been thinking I want to try having a drink again. What do you think?’. I thought that was a terrible idea, and I said no. Sobriety had been at the center of Phil’s life for 20 years, so this was definitely a red flag. He started having a drink or two without it seeming like a big dealbut the moment the drugs came into play, I confronted Phil, who admitted that he had gotten hold of some prescription opioids. He told me that it was just this once, and that it would not happen again. She scared him enough that, for a while, she kept her word.”

For Phil his family, his intimate nucleus, was his support. Even though he was at the peak of his career after his portrayal of Truman Capote, he didn’t want to be separated from his loved ones for too long. He needed it more than anything in the world. He wanted to spend as much time as possible with them. And he got it.

I wonder if Phil somehow he knew he would die young. He never said those words, but he lived his life like time was precious.”, Mimi said in her column. “Somehow our little time together was almost like a lifetime.”.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, with his Oscar for Best Actor for the film "Cloak" (Sgranitz/WireImage)
Philip Seymour Hoffman, with his Oscar for Best Actor for the film “Capote” (SGranitz/WireImage)

For his neighbors, not only did a great actor die, but also a simple and endearing being: “He was like an ambassador from Greenwich Village,” one of them remembered. The Oscar winner sat on the steps of the building, talked to everyone while smoking a cigarette and was friendly with tourists, like an impromptu guide to the neighborhood.

But the drug took him to a painful seesaw, undermined him and gave himself away like a demon in those ups and downs. There were days when he looked splendid, well dressed, shaved, with the perfume that he liked the most. But the metamorphosis appeared in a cruel way, and then he looked dirty, without bathing, as if he were a tramp

The widow also spoke of her husband’s generosity. “It was his mantra: we have to give”. And she complied with all of them. His friends, relatives, colleagues, close people who needed rehabilitation. In Alcoholics Anonymous, addiction is described as “cunning, bewildering and powerful,” says O’Donnell. “I didn’t fully understand that addiction always lurks just below the surface, looking for a moment of weakness to spring back to life.” And that’s what happened.

“Some of the things that Phil went through were common for 40-year-old men,” he recounted. But she pointed out the death of someone very close to her husband, although not a relative: her psychologist. “it was devastating”.

The drug sent him into a painful seesaw. There were days when he looked splendid, well dressed, clean shaven; but the metamorphosis to make him a left man, who looked like a drifter (Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Oakley)
The drug sent him into a painful seesaw. There were days when he looked splendid, well dressed, clean shaven; but the metamorphosis to make him a left man, who looked like a drifter (Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Oakley)

When Philip Seymour Hoffman began film rehearsals Death of a SalesmanHe stayed away from drugs. The adrenaline of the filming, the intensity of the set, made him concentrate only on that, that he no longer needed drugs. Every once in a while, yes, she would have a drink. But his strength lasted as long as the shooting. And she returned in the most brutal way to the heroine.

He was terrified to use that drug that was killing him again. But he couldn’t handle his addiction. His wife Mimi confronted him:

-You’re going to die. That’s the thing about heroin.

The anguish settled in the home. Every night when he went out, she wondered: “Will I ever see him again?”

The situation became desperate.

Philip Seymour Hoffman's body is removed from the Pickwick House building, where the actor was found dead on Feb. 2, 2014 (Rob Kim/Getty Images)
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s body is removed from the Pickwick House building, where the actor was found dead on Feb. 2, 2014 (Rob Kim/Getty Images)

Embarrassed, Mimi recounted: “Phil tried to stop on his own, but the detox caused him agonizing physical pain, so I took him to rehab. In some of the conversations we had while he was there, Phil was just as open and vulnerable as he was in the most intimate moments of our time together. Within a day or two of his return, he started using again. At home, he was behaving differently, and he was making the children anxious. We both thought some boundaries would be helpful, and we tearfully decided to have her move into an apartment around the corner.. He helped us keep our distance a little bit, but he allowed us all to be together as much as possible, he still walked the kids to school, and we still had family dinners.”

Realizing that he was about to lose everything, Hoffman decided once again to return to rehab. He was visited by his wife and three children, aged ten, seven and five. The boys started asking him questions and he answered honestly. He didn’t talk about heroin, but he did talk about his addiction. When they said goodbye, everyone cried. Mimi felt that despite the pain, the encounter had done them good as a family.

Mimi O'Donnell, with her three children - Willa, Tallulah and Cooper Hoffman - at Philip's funeral (Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
Mimi O’Donnell, with her three children – Willa, Tallulah and Cooper Hoffman – at Philip’s funeral (Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)

In November the actor returned home. He wanted to stay sober. And he did for the three months that followed. But for his wife it was a harrowing struggle. “For the first time I realized that his addiction was bigger than us. I thought: I can’t figure this out. It was time to let it go,” Mimi revealed.

The conversation with Philip was dramatic. And she concluded with a desperate sentence:

-I can’t monitor you all the time. I love you, I am here for you, and I will always be here for you. But I can’t save you.

In January Hoffman was on the set of The Hunger Games. Philip was in Atlanta, Mimi in New York. Financially, the actor had already transferred everything to his wife. He knew, intimately, that with his addicted state he couldn’t handle anything anymore. He wanted to protect her and the children from her. Mimi insisted that she go back to rehab. But already that path seemed impossible.

The coffin with the remains of the great actor, who died of a heroin overdose, leaves the church of San Ignacio de Loyola in New York (Dave Kotinsky / Getty Images)
The coffin with the remains of the great actor, who died of a heroin overdose, leaves the church of San Ignacio de Loyola in New York (Dave Kotinsky / Getty Images)

The day that Philip Seymour Hoffman returned from Atlanta, he ate at a bar in the evening, withdrew $1,200 from an ATM in six operations of $200 each, and went to the small apartment where he lived around the corner from his house. He left the message for his friend and playwright David Bar Katz: “Are we going to watch the Knicks game tonight?”

Then, alone, he took the syringe with heroin. And he stuck it in his left arm.

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“You’re going to die, I can’t save you”: the tragic end of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the despair of the woman who loved him