U.S. News

02.04.14

Philip Seymour Hoffman and the Mourner’s Playground

Amid the slush and snow, Greenwich Village parents find delight in playing with their kids—just as actor Philip Seymour Hoffman would’ve done in his most important role as dad.

One continuing mystery of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death is this: Why was he in such abject need of a shoddy, solitary and dangerous chemical high when he knew the pure joy that comes with just being with your kids?

He certainly looked real-life happy to those of us who saw him standing with his youngsters in a black coat and knit cap at the caroling in Washington Square Park this past Christmas Eve.

“He was singing to his kids who were there with him and videoing, taking pictures with his phone of the whole thing,” my own kid, Sinead Daly, remembered on Monday. “He, unlike David Bowie when he was next to us one year, was singing along and he was definitely having a great time.

Sinead, who is 25, added, “He seemed like a really happy guy who loved his kids and was okay with being a goof to get them to laugh…He seemed like a really good dad that night.”

Hoffman also seemed like a really good dad on the day he waited for his kids outside their Greenwich Village school, just as dozens of other parents did on Monday afternoon amid swirling snow; just as he never will again.

Video screenshot

Watch the Reel Numbers behind Hoffman's celebrated career and untimely death, set to the trailer to his masterpiece, 'Capote.'

A number of the grown-ups were grumbling about the slushy streets and the seemingly endless winter, but all that was forgotten as the kids trooped into the white stuff, which to them was magical.

The outsized delight in their small faces was immediately reflected in those of the adults who had come to collect them. They all shared a heavenward lift that one no drug could match.

The luckiest of them proceeded through the snow to a playground where Hoffman had often taken his three children. They were said to have been waiting there with their mother, Mimi O’Donnell, for him on Sunday morning.

But sometime Saturday night, after speaking to O’Donnell on the telephone, Hoffman had sat down on a closed toilet seat in the bathroom of the apartment where he had moved to live on his own. He then stuck a needle in his left arm and injected himself with heroin that may or may not have been laced with other substances.

He died there, in a t-shirt and shorts, his head tipped back toward the water tank, the needle still in his arm. Lividity and rigor mortis set in and he was still in that position when he was discovered late Sunday morning and eased onto the floor.

Police initially found five empty heroin envelopes and two full ones, some of the seven marked in purple with an Ace of Spades, the others stamped in red with the Ace of Hearts. They subsequently obtained a search warrant and discovered more than four dozen more. They also recovered a small amount of what appeared to be cocaine, as well as some prescription drugs.

In the aftermath, there was a press report that Hoffman was videoed by a surveillance camera withdrawing a large sum from an ATM machine and engaging in a transaction of some kind with two men who had messenger bags. Police were dubious.

“Either we have terrible detectives, or the thing isn’t true,” a police official said. 

Police also discounted a story that there was some huge manhunt for whoever sold Hoffman the heroin.

“This isn’t the French Connection here,” the official noted.

But neither the official, nor anybody else, dispute the enormity of the tragedy that accompanies the death of an actor whose greatest role may have been being a dad.

Hoffman had used drugs in his early twenties, but had been sober for more than two decades before he relapsed last year. He had checked himself into an East Coast rehab facility in May for 10 days, but relapsed again in recent days.

They all shared a heavenward lift that one no drug could match.

Whatever kick Hoffman got from the envelopes of heroin was just a lie compared to the joy that he, as well as his kids, could’ve shared in the snow on Monday. The kind of joy a dad named Patrick Saenz so obviously experienced in the playground near Hoffman’s house, which he took his 6-year-old daughter Zoe and two of her friends to after school on Monday.

Saenz set an orange plastic sled at the top of a handicapped access ramp. The three girls climbed aboard as he took up the rope.

“One…two…Three!” he announced.

Squeals of perfect delight rose from the girls as he pulled them down the makeshift slope.

“Do it again!” one of them cried.

They were equally delighted the second time and no less so on the third. They then hurried over to the twisty slide, looking as happy as anybody could be—except for maybe their dad.