Hollywood is glamorous on the screen and in the imaginations of millions. But when reality intrudes on the art, the grime of human ordinariness, with all its needs, desires and compulsions, comes into sharp focus. The shine flees from the tinsel.
Two Hollywood stories have rubbed off some of the shine just as Oscar season puts movies front and center in pop culture. Readers and viewers can indulge in the pity of off-screen tragedy as if seeking something socially redeeming.
When Philip Seymour Hoffman, an actor known for making sordid characters come alive with sympathy, overdosed on heroin, real life intruded again. He suffered death's final indignity when his body was found with a needle still in his arm. Plastic bags, stamped with "Ace of Spades" or "Ace of Hearts," ironic symbols of his dealers' brands, were scattered throughout his Manhattan apartment as though they were powdered glitter on a movie set.
The other sad story focuses on Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, who were a couple for many years. Their family of assorted natural and adopted children has been bruised and battered by their parents' most public private lives. The most damaging story was revived by their adopted daughter Dylan, now 28, who claims that Woody sexually molested her when she was 7. She found her voice on the op-ed page of The New York Times.
Columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has exposed sexual abuse in the Third World, writes that he is a friend of Dylan's mother, Mia, and her brother Ronan, and published Dylan's account of what she says happened with Woody more than two decades ago. She was recently diagnosed as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and says her troubles began when her father started "doing things to me that I didn't like."
There's finality to Philip Seymour Hoffman's suffering. The police try to find his dealers and his fans, and friends try to figure out why he returned to the growing numbers of heroin addicts. There's no ambiguity about the nature of his addiction. As soon as man, woman or child, whether rich or poor, black or white, experiment with heroin, they put their lives in danger. Heroin kills. Addicts can kick the habit for years, but they're never entirely free of the yearning for the poison. A friend of mine died of a heroin overdose in his 40s. He began taking the drug when he was a student at one of the most fashionable private schools in Manhattan. He and his friends thought it "hip." Family, friends, rehab centers all tried to free him. Only death succeeded.