Philip Seymour Hoffman’s cause of death, according to the New York medical examiner on Friday, was an acute mixed drug intoxication of heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines and amphetamine, it was announced today.
The 46 year old, Oscar-winner, was found dead on February 2 in his West Village apartment surrounded by seventy glassine baggies of heroin packed for individual sale, at least 50 of them unopened and 20 used syringes, one dispensed and still in his arm. Hoffman's tragic death came less than a year after he completed a stint in rehab for his addiction after being clean for 23 years.
Mixing heroin and cocaine together is known as 'speed-balling' or ‘power-balling’. It refers to shooting heroin or morphine in the same syringe. Some also use it with two syringes, one in each arm. This is the same deadly combination that claimed the lives of actors River Phoenix, John Belushi and Chris Farley.
According to the NYDaily News, some of the envelopes had the words Ace of Spades written on them, and others were stamped with the name Ace of Hearts. Both are brands of heroin that are often cut with a powerful pain reliever called fentanyl, and have recently become a plague for Pennsylvania authorities, where they were used in 22 overdose deaths.
Hoffman’s last words, in the form of a text, sadly went unheard. The message was sent on Saturday, February 1st, at 8:58 p.m. to his friend and writer David Katz, asking if he wanted to come over to Hoffman's apartment and catch the Knicks game on television.
As fate would have it, the text would go unread, Katz was in a restaurant. He replied back at 11:30 p.m. saying "...just got out of dinner. Where r u?" ...the father of three, never wrote back.
Just six days following Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, on February 8, Julia Roberts's' half-sister Nancy Motes, died from an overdose. Empty pill cases were found along with some medical marijuana and a handwritten, multiple page suicide note.
Suicide notes are certainly ‘final words’ but, they’re planned. Kurt Cobain, Freddie Prinze, Hunter S. Thompson, just to name a few, each sat down and "wrote" some ‘famous last words’ to the world.
Final words are important because they’re often the first thing people will remember when recalling an individuals’ life. Ending well leaves a lasting impression.
I’ve known piano teachers that encourage their students, when getting ready for recitals, to perfect their endings. Practice, practice, practice over and over again. Then, while performing, if you may make a mistake in the beginning or in the middle or in another place within the piece, all will be forgotten when you manage to make the ending glorious. By sticking the landing, so to speak, you burn that moment or final word in the minds of your audience.
According to Wiktionary.org, there are two definitions of the statement, "famous last words". The first; a notable final utterance before death, especially one made by a celebrity or historical figure. The second; (figuratively, expressing sarcasm) a statement which is overly optimistic, results from overconfidence, or lacks realistic foresight.
Maybe that’s why the expression "famous last words" is so deeply ingrained in our national nomenclature. Some endings are glorious and some ignoble. Let’s begin to look at the differences within the blanketing statement, "Famous last words".
Orville Wright made this fantastic statement, "No flying machine will ever fly from New York to Paris." Well, that is a great example of a famous last word, so to speak. Or, even the following, "Everything that can be invented has been invented.", spoken by Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.
Before "famous last words" became used as a rejoinder to point out the possible recklessness of an assertion of safety or certainty, it was used to refer to the actual dying words of prominent people.
It was probably brought into the realm of sarcasm by such well-known last words of Major-General John Sedgwick. He was an important figure in the American Civil War and was considered by his men to be a brave and inspiring leader. Nevertheless, the general public would now be unaware of him but for the rather unfortunate assertion he made just before dying.
At the U.S. Civil War skirmish of Spotsylvania Court House, Sedgwick was deploying his men to face the enemy, with Confederate snipers hindering their preparations. Sedgwick strode around in the open and was quoted as saying, "What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line?" Although ashamed, his men continued to flinch and he repeated, "I'm ashamed of you, dodging that way. They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." Just seconds later he fell forward with a bullet hole below his left eye.
His statement "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance" is probably one of the best-known of all 'famous last words'. They may sound contrived, but are in fact precisely what he said just before being shot.
Sadly, this is what is remembered due to the irony. Another well-known account of "famous last words" comes from the incredibly tragic accident involving Terry Alan Kath, the original guitarist and a founding member of the rock band Chicago. He died eight days before his 32nd birthday, from an unintentional self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Dependable sources explain...around 5 p.m., on January 23, 1978, after a party at roadie and band technician Don Johnson's home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, Kath took an unloaded .38 revolver and put it to his head, pulling the trigger several times on the empty chambers. Johnson had warned Kath several times to be careful. Kath then picked up a semiautomatic 9 mm pistol and, leaning back in a chair, said to Johnson, "Don't worry, it's not loaded". To assuage Johnson's concerns, Kath showed the empty magazine to Johnson. Kath then replaced the magazine in the gun, put the gun to his temple, and pulled the trigger. However, there was a round in the chamber, and Kath died instantly.
Steve Irwin, ‘The Crocodile Hunter’, was examining a Stingray in the Great Barrier Reef and exclaimed, "Don't worry, they usually don't swim backwards." It did, however, swim backwards and the tail pierced Irwin's chest. He died of a loss of blood, later.
"I should have asked for a stunt double!" was exclaimed by Vic Morrow just prior to filming a challenging scene for "Twilight Zone: The Movie" with a helicopter. During the filming, amidst huge explosions and waist deep water, the helicopter lost control and crashed directly on the actors, decapitating Morrow and one of the children, and crushing the other child.
"Aw, no one's gonna shoot at me.", spoken by Lee Harvey Oswald, in response to a remark by a Dallas policeman: "Lee, if anybody shoots at you, I hope they're as good a shot as you are," moments before being shot by Jack Ruby.
Unprepared, unscripted, the following examples of "famous last words" are incredible. Usually these statements are made just before an untimely passing.
A lack of common sense or lapse in judgement usually accompanies things said by a person about to unwittingly cause their own demise. Statements like; "I promise, I won't get hurt!", "Hey, guys, watch this!", "Don’t worry, it won’t bite!", "It’s deep enough!", "I’ve done this a hundred times!", "I know what I’m doing!", "I’m not going too fast!" and "I can handle it!"
Now, let’s examine death bed confessions, actual last words. Take, for example, the case of James Washington, a Tennessee convict. Washington thought he was dying from a heart attack while in prison in 2009 when, in a last-ditch effort to clear his conscience, he told a guard that he murdered a woman named Joyce Goodener in Nashville in 1995. Mr. Washington made a miraculous recovery and will now spend the rest of his life in prison for the crime.
When a person knows that the end of their life is imminent they can prepare. Others when confronted with eternity have had a lifetime to address the inevitable and have squandered their time. Some choose to refuse salvation and gamble on whether or not there is a Heaven or a Hell, saying, "If God is love, He won’t throw me into an eternal Hell."
Joan Crawford directed this venomous statement toward her housekeeper, who sensing the end was near, began to pray for her, aloud. Crawford spewed, "Dammit...Don't you dare ask God to help me!" Eleanor Roosevelt's nurse told her that she would die when the reason God put her on Earth was fulfilled. Roosevelt responded with, "Utter nonsense!"
Other examples of uncertainty from the perceived resolved; British occultist and mystic, Aleister Crowley, "I am perplexed." Or, James Brown's descriptive cry, "I want you to look after my wife and little man! I'm on fire. I'm burning up...burning up!"
There are also the eerily prophetic words like, "Let's go for a drive.", spoken by Paul Walker just before his friend, Roger Rodas, crashed his red 2005 Porsche Carrera GT into a concrete light pole and two trees on Hercules Street in Valencia, Santa Clarita, California, killing both men.
I am sure that Jesus chose his last words thoughtfully and prayerfully. In these last words Jesus gives specific instructions to the disciples, blesses them, and promises them his Holy Spirit. He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "...why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."
Jesus knew his last words would matter both to the disciples and to posterity.
Mortals’ last words matter, too. Just before the Old Testament patriarch Jacob died, he gathered his sons together and spoke to each of them, specifically, about their futures. This was part of the ancient Jewish practice of giving children deathbed blessings.
Jacob himself had craved his father Isaac’s blessing when Isaac was dying? Jacob was the one who was so desperate for it that he tricked his father into giving it to him. (Genesis 27)
Last words can be very powerful. So why do we give so little thought to what our own last words might be? We hang on and cherish the very last moments of a loved ones life and desperately need to hear something profound or comforting. A blessing from a parent, is set in stone and secured for eternity.
Some of us never get to hear words of blessing from our parents. A biography of George Steinbrenner, the tyrannical owner of the Yankees, quotes one of Steinbrenner’s friends saying, "He’d have given up all his 4 championship rings just to have gotten an ...‘I love you, son’ from [his] old man." No wonder he was so driven to win at all costs.
Aaron Sorkin worked with Philip Seymour Hoffman on Moneyball and was a former cocaine user himself. Sorkin recalled a poignant conversation with the actor about their experiences of drug addiction. "If one of us dies of an overdose, probably 10 people who were about to, won't!", Hoffman told him.
It has been said, "A preacher needs to be ready to preach, pray, or die at a moment’s notice." The thought of having to do any of those three, even with a lot of notice, is pretty intimidating. In ministry, and in life, God doesn’t give us tomorrow. Tomorrow may be too late. I’m trying to encourage you, the reader, to get your house in order so that when the time comes, your last words won’t be, "Just give me a second, I’m not quite ready", death waits for no man.
Of course the most important thing we can do is offer our heart to God. Scripture reads that only God’s grace can prepare us for eternity. If we don’t do that, nothing else matters. "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God." Ephesians 2:8
"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." - Acts 4:12
"(God) who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time." - 1 Timothy 2:4-6
Jimi Hendrix was found dead with this poem next to him. The following was the final sentence in the poem: "The story of life is quicker than the blink of an eye, the store of love is hello and goodbye, until we meet again."
My personal advice and parting last words, "Don’t leave Earth without Him."
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Other notes and resources:
VERBATIM REPORT MADE by General McMahon, by Sedgwick's side at his untimely death: http://www.phrases.org.uk/quotes/last-words/john-sedgwick.html
A GREAT ARTICLE SHOWING AN OUTPOURING OF LOVE FOR PSH: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2550565/Philip-Seymour-Hoff...
JAMES WASHINGTON DEATH BED CONFESSION after he suffered a heart attack, read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/man-prematurely-deathbed-confes...
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