It’s been roughly four years since we lost actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, the beloved actor who rose to prominence as a player in the oeuvre of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson before winning an Oscar for his 2005 portrayal of Truman Capote. In a moving new essay for Vogue, his partner, the director and producer Mimi O’Donnell, reflects on the highs and lows of their relationship, with the early part of the essay reveling in the joys of their early courtship and the familial bond they developed with their three children. Hoffman’s addictions, which he initially conquered in his early 20s, didn’t resurface until much later, and it’s here that O’Donnell exposes the harsh, ugly realities of how his struggles began impacting their household. Though he went to rehab on multiple occasions, sobriety never stuck and the pair made the decision for Hoffman to get an apartment of his own nearby.
In the fall, Phil finally said, “I can’t do this anymore,” and he went back to rehab. We decided I would bring the kids, then five, seven, and ten, to see him for a family visit. We sat in a common room, and they asked him questions, which he answered with his usual honesty. He never came out and said, “I’m shooting up heroin,” but he told them enough so that they could get it, and they were just so happy to see him. It was hard when we left, because they all wanted to know why he couldn’t come home with us. But it felt healthy for us to deal with it together, as a family.
When Phil came back in November, he wanted so badly to stay sober, and for the next three months he did. But it was a struggle, heartbreaking to watch. For the first time I realized that his addiction was bigger than either of us. I bowed my head and thought, I can’t fix this. It was the moment that I let go. I told him, “I can’t monitor you all the time. I love you, I’m here for you, and I’ll always be here for you. But I can’t save you.”
What’s incredibly difficult for many people living in the orbit of addiction to discuss is the sense of helplessness that can arrive, the moment when the weight of addiction begins to dwarf human bonds, no matter how strong they are. That O’Donnell touches on these moments with such vulnerability is what makes this essay that much more essential, as does her exploration of the aftermath and the sense of panic that set in whenever she was separated from her children.
Read the whole essay at Vogue.