I really didn’t know much about Philip Seymour Hoffman until he died. I hadn’t seen most of his films and none of his plays. Yet I’ve been moved to read about him. His unexpected death struck a chord and prompted people to weigh in on not only how he died but how lived. I found it fascinating that people weighed in on the matter of PSH’s death. That they judged his death. That they accounted for all his talent and riches and said it wasn’t enough for him to continue living.
Last week Erv Raible, cabaret impresario, also passed away. The last time I saw him was two years ago when he was one of six of us at an intimate dinner party hosted by a mutual and treasured friend, and I got to know Erv Raible a little bit more. Erv loved this artform and devoted himself to its practitioners . He owned/managed venues where I had my firsts: Don’t Tell Mama where I made my NY cabaret debut as singer and later as director, and the Duplex, where I first came onto the scene as a producer. Erv’s passion helped usher in my own emergence as an artist. That’s his legacy to me.
On the heels of PSH’s passing, ER’s death has also generated a lot of dedications on Facebook and elsewhere. It seems that when a person dies we really get to know who they were, how they lived, what they gave and who they inspired.
Suppose both of these gentlemen had had enough of living and decided it was enough and timely for them to go. One died in the hospital after a long illness, the other alone in his apartment. We have such trouble letting people live on their terms and die on their terms. We judge it in an effort to make sense of it.
I think it comes back to fear. Not fear of dying but fear of living. Fear of power, and the power of our will. If I were to truly exercise my power and my will, what would happen? I might live and be happy. Is it death we really fear and that makes us squirm or is it life?
We die so many times while we’re alive, every day, every second. You’d think we’d have gotten used to it by now. That final ending. How can we the living say its final? Because we do it all the time. We have built in all these living deaths along the way to remind us that there is no end to us. We exhale, we inhale – we stop, we go – we sleep, we awaken. We die…we’re reborn in someone’s memory.
PSH possibly reached more people in his death than he did in his life. Outside his circles of family and theater and film, he’s been all over the news and magazine covers and Facebook. Like others before and others to come. In the stage artist, the father, the addict, the man, the human being, we see something of ourselves. He performances registered, on stage, on screen and off. He showed us what passion looks like, his and our own, and in this recognition is a birth. Something in us comes alive, something is born. That is recognition. It may be an “ah” that lasts for 7 seconds. But in those 7 seconds there is more light than shadow and more life than not.
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages. – William Shakespeare