Philip Seymour Hoffman's death has brought forth a huge wave of public mourning, with close friends, former costars and directors, and fans expressing shock and grief over his sudden passing. Such declarations of sorrow are typical when beloved celebrities die, though for everyday moviegoers, it's a detached feeling -- a fleeting sadness that soon disappears. But I've struggled to come to terms with Hoffman's death in a way that's truly surprised me, and I can't imagine my reaction is atypical among fellow residents of my hometown.

As has been written many times over the past 24 hours, Hoffman grew up in Rochester, New York, a trait that we share. He was born in the suburb of Fairport; I'm from West Irondequoit. When word of his death broke Sunday, many of my childhood friends commented on the news on Facebook, all sharing a similar reaction: what a loss for Rochester. Hoffman was more than just a former resident; he instilled in Rochesterians the type of civic pride usually reserved for national heroes. "He's ours," we could proudly claim.

And we did, often.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to grow attached to a celebrity from their hometown, and perhaps it's not the most sophisticated reason for liking a particular actor, but it certainly shaped and deepened my affinity for Hoffman. He won his first and only Oscar for 2005's "Capote," but he caught my eye long before. The first movie I can recall seeing him in was "Twister," playing goofball storm-chaser Dusty, a performance that was absolutely magnetic. "Twister" isn't exactly cinematic gold, but Hoffman rose above the material, creating an indelible, wholly original character and putting on a showcase for his seemingly-effortless talent.

That talent fueled my favorite Hoffman performance: his turn as legendary rock critic Lester Bangs in "Almost Famous," which should have nabbed him an Academy Award nomination. Talk about disappearing into a role -- Hoffman was flawless. As Bangs, he recited a perfect monologue about the perils of chasing acceptance, including one of my favorite quotes of all time: "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we're uncool." The words may have been Bangs's, but they applied to Hoffman himself, who with his much-discussed schlubby appearance certainly wasn't Hollywood's typical definition of cool.

But he was cool in the eyes of Rochesterians, whose immense pride and excitement over his cinematic achievements (and later, awards season attention) was immeasurable. That he remained loyal to his roots throughout the heights of his success -- Barbara Biddy, the director of the Rochester theater where Hoffman made his professional acting debut, says the star would return to host fundraisers for the small company -- was a testament to his character, and only adds to the sadness of his loss.

"His life was worth more than his use," Biddy told our hometown paper, the Democrat and Chronicle.

Actor Jared Padaleckigot himself into some hot water while writing about Hoffman's presumed heroin overdose on Sunday, posting on Twitter, "'Sad' isn't the word I'd use to describe a 46-year-old man throwing his life away to drugs. 'Senseless' is more like it. 'Stupid.'" Padalecki later backtracked on those harsh words a bit, though in considering the devastation caused by Hoffman's passing, there is a ring of truth to them. It is indeed stupid that he's gone. It's senseless that a needle robbed us of countless iconic performances that now will never be, that Hoffman's three children have lost their father, that his many close friends are forever without their companion.

Being a fan of an actor's body of work and sharing a hometown connection does not qualify me to grieve for Philip Seymour Hoffman on the same level as those who knew him personally, nor do I feel the need to. But it's certainly making the news of his loss harder to shake; it's something that will stay with me in the days and weeks ahead as I re-watch some of his most memorable performances (or in the case of many of his films, of which he made more than 50 in his too-short lifetime, see them for the first time) and dream of those that might have been.

"Good-looking people don't have any spine," Hoffman-as-Lester Bangs says in "Almost Famous." "Their art never lasts."

Hoffman can rest in peace, assured that that will never be the case for him.
categories Movies