The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman to a drug overdose has shocked Hollywood and the world. Considered one of the finest actors of his generation, the Oscar winner was loved by his peers and revered by his fans. In his 20-year illustrious career, he performed in nearly 50 films, in addition to theatre plays and TV shows. Yet, in spite of a perpetual presence on the screen and his international fame, he was rarely featured in celebrity or gossip magazines. He eschewed the party circuit and shunned celebrity culture, dedicating his life to his craft and art and delivering some of the most compelling performances on screen and stage in the last two decades.
The troubling question is: How could such a noble artist fall for such an ignoble habit? And is there a merit for the accusations that Hollywood glorifies drugs and does nothing to discourage its stars from abusing it?
The truth is that Hoffman began abusing illicit drugs and alcohol in his early twenties when he graduated from Ticsh Drama School in New York in 1989, as he admitted at an interview with CBS’s 60 minutes show in 2006, saying that “I consumed everything I could lay my hands on. I loved it all.”
Hoffman was able to defeat his addiction and be sober for 23 years until May 2013, when he checked in for rehab. But it seems that was in vain. Unfortunately, he was unable to vanquish the hideous habit. While investigating his death, the police search unveiled 50 bags of Heroin.
Indeed, a number of stars lost their lives to drug overdoses such as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Heath Ledger, and some went into rehab for drug addiction such as the infamous Lindsay Lohan, Zach Efron, Charlie Sheen, and others are still defiantly consuming drugs such as Justin Bieber, who was found intoxicated when he was recently arrested for driving under the influence.
But we shouldn’t forget that the news of a star’s death makes headlines around the world and evokes widespread emotional reactions on social networks and internet forums, while the daily passing of hundreds of regular addicts goes unnoticed. The fact is that the illicit drug-induced deaths are a tiny minority in Hollywood, and the dominant cause is actually the abuse of legally-prescribed drugs, as was the case in the deaths of the aforementioned stars.
Whitney Houston ingested a cocktail of cocaine and prescription drugs before her final breath. Most notably, the toxicology report revealed that 12 bottles of different prescription drugs, including anti-anxiety medication Xanax and the muscle relaxant Flexeril, were littered across her hotel room.
Heath Ledger took a mix of different sleeping pills before he sank into his last sleep, never to wake up again. While a higher dose of sedative drug, administered by a doctor, brought the end of Michael Jackson. Even Hoffman had blamed his latest bout of addiction to a misuse of prescription drugs.
Drug addiction is not merely a Hollywood problem but an American epidemic. And the source of the epidemic is not the consumption of illicit drugs like crack cocaine and ecstasy that were prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s but the prescribed ones that are easily obtainable and are used for non medical reasons. According to a report from the centre for Disease Control and Prevention, overdoses from prescription drug medication kills up to 15,000 addicts every year, more than the toll from cocaine and heroin combined. The number of infants born addicted to prescription drugs every year has also tripled in the past 10 years, to approximately 13,500, according to a report in the Journal of Medical Association.
In spite of these perplexing figures, American TV channels continue to broadcast commercials promoting medical drugs as if they were food products. Anyone could obtain these drugs simply by paying a visit to their doctor. Hence, it’s the pharmaceutical companies which are to blame for promoting these drugs and make them easily accessible, not Hollywood or its movies, as some have suggested.
Hollywood is one of layers of American society’s fabric. Whatever inflicts the American society is bound to affect Hollywood and vice versa. Recent studies show that, in 2010, one in every twenty Americans consumes prescription drugs for non-medical reasons. By and large, these drugs are potent painkillers that elicit euphoric effect, such as Hydrocodone, Methadone, and Oxymorphone. These drugs are addictive and could be fatal if taken without a doctor’s supervision.
Likewise, most of the drug users in Hollywood are predominantly young stars, who resort to drugs in order to fill the resulting void after achieving a quick fame and fortune. The majority check in for rehab and heal. But those who succumb to these poisonous substances close their career and their dreams and often their lives.