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Philip Seymour Hoffman leaves behind legacy as versatile character actor

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Fans and Hollywood peers are still reeling from the Feb. 2 death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. The 46-year-old actor was discovered by a friend on Sunday and is believed to have died of a heroin overdose. On Monday, police announced that they found five empty heroin bags, along with 65 other unused bags of the drug in his Manhattan apartment. Police investigators also announced that they are trying to track down footage from a surveillance video at a bank where Hoffman is suspected of withdrawing money from an ATM and purchasing heroin.

When tragedies like this strike the film community, there’s a tendency to mythologize the actors who have passed away, but in the case of Hoffman, he truly was one of the greatest actors of his generation. He was nominated for four Academy Awards and won the Best Actor Oscar in 2006 for his performance as the writer Truman Capote in “Capote.” He also had lead roles in Charlie Kaufman’s 2008 directorial debut “Synecdoche, New York” as well as two forthcoming independent films that he promoted just two weeks ago at Sundance, “A Most Wanted Man” and “God’s Pocket.”

Yet Hoffman may end up being best remembered for his talents as a character actor. IMDB credits him with an astonishing 63 roles since 1991, when he made his debut as a guest star on “Law & Order.” One of his first roles was as a prep-school peer of Chris O’Donnell in “Scent of a Woman,” and before long he found supporting roles in films like “Money for Nothing,” “The Getaway” and “Twister.” However, the two roles that first displayed his real talent as an actor were in a pair of Paul Thomas Anderson films, a director with whom he would continually collaborate. He was featured as a young craps player in Anderson’s debut, “Hard Eight,” then gave a memorable performance as a closeted porn-shoot boom operator in “Boogie Nights.”

In addition to “Boogie Nights,” Hoffman appeared in several of the best independent films of the past two decades. He was terrific in “The Big Lebowski” as Bradt, the assistant to the rich paraplegic Jeffery Lebowski. Hoffman also co-starred as a sad and desperate neighbor in “Happiness” by Todd Solondz, one of the most audacious comedies ever made. And although his role was small, he was brilliant as the real-life rock journalist Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s masterpiece “Almost Famous.”

As time went on, Hoffman regularly alternated his roles in smaller independent films with more traditional Hollywood fare. He made a great villain in “Mission: Impossible III,” was an important part of the ensemble cast of the “Silence of the Lambs” prequel “Red Dragon,” and absolutely stole “Charlie Wilson’s War” right out from under Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

He was also a welcome addition to the second “Hunger Games” film, “Catching Fire” where he played Plutarch Heavensbee. Although Hoffman had completed shooting on the third film in the series, Entertainment Weekly reports that he was scheduled for seven more days of shooting on the film’s final installment. It remains unclear how the film will work around his death.

Like too many other creative spirits, Hoffman had substance abuse issues that plagued him from an early age. When he was just 22-years-old, he checked into rehab and told NPR in an interview that , “People who don't have a problem with alcohol don't have a problem with alcohol. You know, they have their couple of glasses of wine and they go on their way. You know what I mean? And that's just the way it is. I am just not one of those people.” Last spring, he checked into rehab for prescription drugs after falling off the wagon, but friends believed that he had put his demons behind him.

“I saw him last week, and he was clean and sober, his old self,” David Bar Katz, the friend who found Hoffman, told the New York Times. “I really thought this chapter was over.”

Although his life was cut tragically short, Hoffman’s legacy as a versatile and fearless actor will live on for years to come. He is survived by his longtime partner Mimi O’Donnell and three children.

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