On Philip Seymour Hoffman, and why celebrity deaths matter.

HoffmanWhile most of the country was prepping their party dip and wings for the year’s biggest game yesterday, the entertainment world was taken back by the heartbreaking news of losing one of it’s most talented artists.  Yesterday morning, Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his Manhattan apartment.  The details are gritty, and sad.  Found on his bathroom floor, with a syringe in his arm, Hoffman died from an apparent drug overdose.

Hoffman was known throughout the industry and to fans alike, a man willing to take risks. An actor who wasn’t afraid to act with his entire soul, delivering some of the most powerful performances of the last fifteen years.  His most famous work, aside from the recent Hunger Games trilogy, includes Magnolia, Doubt, The Master, Punch Drunk Love, Cold Mountain, Capote, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor, and, my childhood favorite, Twister!  Hoffman’s performances are both eclectic and nuanced.  He was an actor who wasn’t afraid to tackle complex characters on the fringe, those societal misfits that are oftentimes the antithesis of leading blockbuster stars.  Tim Teeman at The Daily Beast writes: “Whatever fulsome cliché of brilliance is merited. Philip Seymour Hoffman was a rare thing: a major Hollywood name galvanized by disappearing into his roles and honing his craft.”

In one word, Philip Seymour Hoffman was an artist. Yet whether we’re talking about Hoffman, Paul Walker, or Heath Ledger, artists are human, and they will die.  Much more is always made about their death than ours, and this of frustrates some, but let’s be honest, much more is made about their life too, both good and bad so that’s simply a natural result of the industry.  Here’s why celebrity deaths matter.

When celebrities die, we’re reminded that life is finite.  Artists have a way of breeding an image of immortality.  Perhaps it’s all the airbrushing Jezebel continues to fight, or perhaps it’s the idea of art immortalizing the artist.  Subconsciously, do consumers believe that celebrities are superhuman because they can pop in a DVD or turn on their iPod and enjoy the artist’s art at the flip of a button? I’m not sure, but what is for sure is in a youth-obsessed culture, where the realities of death are constantly being pushed to the fringe of life, whether by plastic surgery, healthcare or diet and exercise, we have forgotten that “…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Heb. 9:27)

Celebrity deaths remind us of the eternal. That no matter how talented, rich or famous you are, we will all leave this life to enter eternity.  C.S. Lewis on speaking about the death toll during war time said this: “But there is no question of this death or of that – of a machine gun bullet now or a cancer forty years later.  What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent; 100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased. Yet war does do something to death.  It forces us to remember it.  War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past.”  Much like war, celebrity deaths force us to remember death, our finiteness, our story’s imminent end.  And in wake of these highly publicized deaths, we would do well to remember our own.

Should death strike fear in our hearts, conjuring up dread and anxiety?  No, not if you are rooted in Christ, and reconciled to God through the cross.  If by grace, you have been saved through faith (Eph. 2:8), then there is “hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:5), you have already been “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20) and now, “your life is hidden with Christ in God…when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:3-4)  No, the most dangerous thing is not death, the most dangerous thing is to take death lightly, to assume that you are building some type of eternal security apart from Christ, or to live for the here and now, assuming “enjoy all you can, while you can” is the way to move through life.  It’s not.  Lewis challenges his listeners in Learning in War Time “…all schemes of happiness that centered in this world, were always doomed to final frustration…if we look for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned.”

This is why celebrity deaths matter.  It breaks a cultural disillusionment that death will never come, and this world is a place of permanence, meant to satisfy the soul. It isn’t, and is only filled with shadows, signs that point us to the only One who will satisfy.


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