Death of a Salesman

After New York Magazine posted news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, reportedly caused by a heroin overdose, a commenter posted her thoughts: “Do you have to have demons to be a great actor? Don’t get it.”

Do you have to have demons to be a great actor. Don’t get it.

Having access to an inappropriate number of theatre discounts, it is a rare occasion that I pay full price, but for a few select productions when premium is the only entry. I found an excellent orchestra seat to Phil’s now legendary work in Death of A Salesman toward the end of the show’s Broadway run, and happily forked over the full fare. I fled right after a much-deserved standing ovation (so rare these days) so that I could shatter in peace. Alone.

I remember the moment when Andrew Garfield collapsed in anguish to Phil, a son overwhelmed with shame for a promised life never lived. I cannot put into words how unbelievably painful it was to watch, except to say that not a single person in our sold out audience was able to breathe. We couldn’t breathe. He took away our ability to do anything but be.

You don’t have to have demons to be a great actor, in the sense that a person doesn’t have to have struggles to live – except that, of course, we all do. Honesty dictates that every person has witnessed, lived, or is battling a form of trauma. What Phil did was open the doors to pain we all share, connecting us with agony so many try to mask. He was brave in a way most are not. It was his constant willingness to put on stage and screen what connects us all that made him legend. This is life. This is the war.

There is no comparison to how inextricably bereft I was by Death of a Salesman. Until today, when Phil died. And I struggled to breathe.


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