By Tom Hays and Jake Coyle
NEW YORK: Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won the Oscar for his portrayal of writer Truman Capote and created a gallery of slackers, charlatans and other characters so vivid that he was regarded as one of the world’s finest actors, was found dead in his apartment Sunday with what officials said was a needle in his arm. He was 46.
The actor apparently died of a drug overdose, said two law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. Envelopes containing what was believed to be heroin were found with him, they said.
Hoffman — with his doughy, everyman physique, his often-disheveled look and his limp, receding blond hair — was a character actor of such range and lack of vanity that he could seemingly handle roles of any size, on the stage and in movies that played in art houses or multiplexes.
He could play comic or dramatic, loathsome or sympathetic, trembling or diabolical, dissipated or tightly controlled, slovenly or fastidious.
The stage-trained actor’s rumpled naturalism brought him four Academy Award nominations — for Capote, The Master, Doubt and Charlie Wilson’s War — and three Tony nominations for his work on Broadway, including his portrayal of the beaten and weary Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman.
Falling off the wagon
Hoffman spoke candidly over the years about his struggles with drug addiction. After 23 years sober, he admitted in interviews last year to falling off the wagon and developing a heroin problem that led to a stint in rehab.
“No words for this. He was too great and we’re too shattered,” said Mike Nichols, who directed Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War and Death of a Salesman.
The law enforcement officials said Hoffman’s body was discovered in a bathroom in his Greenwich Village apartment by his assistant and a friend who made the 911 call.
For much of the day, a police crime-scene van was parked out front, and technicians carrying brown paper bags went in and out. Police kept a growing crowd of onlookers back. A single red daisy had been placed in front of the lobby door.
On Sunday night, a black body bag was carried out on a stretcher, loaded into the back of a medical examiner’s van and driven away.
Hoffman’s family called the news “tragic and sudden.” Hoffman is survived by his partner of 15 years, Mimi O’Donnell, and their three children.
“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Phil and appreciate the outpouring of love and support we have received from everyone,” the family said in a news release.
Tributes poured in from Hollywood figures.
“Damn, We Lost Another Great Artist,” Spike Lee, who directed him in 25th Hour, said on Twitter.
Kevin Costner said in an AP interview: “Philip was a very important actor and really takes his place among the real great actors. It’s a shame. Who knows what he would have been able to do? But we’re left with the legacy of the work he’s done and it all speaks for itself.”
A singular talent
Hoffman was as productive as he was acclaimed, often appearing in at least two or three films a year while managing a busy life in the theater.
He portrayed a spoiled prep school student in one of his earliest movies, Scent of a Woman, in 1992. One of his breakthrough roles came as a gay member of a porno film crew in Boogie Nights, one of several movies directed by Paul Thomas Anderson that he would eventually appear in.
He played comic, slightly off-kilter characters in movies like Along Came Polly, The Big Lebowski and Almost Famous. And in Moneyball, he was Art Howe, the grumpy manager of the Oakland A’s who resisted new thinking about baseball talent.
He was nominated for the 2013 Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role in The Master as the charismatic, controlling leader of a religious movement. The film, inspired in part by the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, reunited the actor with Anderson.
He also received a 2008 best-supporting nomination as a CIA officer in Charlie Wilson’s War, and another such nomination in 2009 for Doubt, in which he played a priest who comes under suspicion because of his relationship with a boy.
Many younger moviegoers know him as Plutarch Heavensbee in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and at the time of his death he was reprising that role in the two-part sequel, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, for which his work was mostly completed.
Lionsgate, which distributes the film series, called his death a tragedy and praised him as a “singular talent.”
Just weeks ago, Showtime announced Hoffman would star in Happyish, a new comedy series about a middle-aged man’s pursuit of happiness.