In the hours following the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death from a suspected drug overdose, I saw a question online that made me think. Why do we excuse celebrity addiction by saying those affected are talented people who lost their way, but we dismiss the nonfamous as nothing more than junkies?
On the surface, the question made sense. Then I realized our emotions about death aren’t based on fame. They’re based on familiarity.
When celebrities die, we feel a loss because we know we’ll miss the enjoyment we get from their talent. When a family member dies, we feel a loss because a connection that goes beyond friendship is lost forever.
When a stranger dies, there is no bond, just cold facts. Timothy Ian Miller is one of those strangers.
More than a decade ago, he overdosed on drugs and died. Those are the facts. If you didn’t know him, he’s nothing more than a stranger and another tragic statistic. To me, he was a friend, one of my best friends.
Tim was a romantic. He would buy flowers and give them to random women, just to cheer them up. He was a dreamer. He never let others place limits on what he thought was possible. He was an artist. He could create emotions with words and music.
In the end, I think Tim’s talent led to his destruction. After graduating from college, Tim felt trapped in his small town. He knew he had a gift and didn’t understand why others didn’t appreciate it. He found an escape through recreational drug use and never noticed the transition to addiction.
At Tim’s memorial, his parents asked why no one ever told them he was doing drugs. If they had known, they would have done something to help him.
At the time, I had no answer. After many years of thinking, I have an answer: We were in denial.
Looking back, the signs were there.
I remember the last time I saw Tim. A group of friends had gathered for homecoming. We went out for dinner at a nice restaurant. My memories of that evening are anything but pleasant.
Tim was short-tempered, nasty and rude. At the time, I thought it was because most of us had found jobs and he was still searching. Looking back, I wonder how I didn’t see the real cause.
I have the same question when I read the news articles about Hoffman. He had dozens of bags of drugs in his apartment. Why didn’t anyone intervene? Why didn’t they become involved?
I know it’s because they probably didn’t realize there was a problem, or if they did, they didn’t realize its severity.
Every time Hoffman’s family and friends think of him or see one of his movies, they’ll question whether they could have done more. The question will never go away, but, fortunately, as time diminishes the pain, they’ll think less about what could have been and more about what was.
Today, when I think of Tim, I no longer wonder who he would have become or imagine the art he could have created. I listen to his music and I let it return me to a moment of time that moves further into the past. My memories are clearer. No matter how old I become, Tim remains.
And I still miss him every day.