By Chris Francescani
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Family and close friends bid their final farewells on Friday at a private funeral for actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose tragic death of an apparent overdose at the age of 46 robbed the entertainment world of one of its finest talents.
Hollywood stars Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Michelle Williams and Ethan Hawke were among the guests entering the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on Manhattan's Upper East Side to mourn the death of the Oscar-winning actor who closely guarded his privacy.
Many of the actors attending the noon service had starred in films or plays with Hoffman. Williams lost her former partner, actor Heath Ledger, to an accidental drug overdose in 2008.
Scores of photographers, camera crews and reporters stood on piles of snow in frigid temperatures across from the large church on Park Avenue while fans were kept behind a barricade.
"I saw him in 'Long Day's Journey Into Night' and I thought he showed real genius. I am here paying my respects," said Mary Catherine Wright, who lives nearby, and stood bundled up with tears in her eyes.
"He is remembered by most people for his movie roles, but I think his theater performances were pretty remarkable," she added.
Hoffman, whose body was discovered on Sunday in his Greenwich Village apartment, is survived by his long-term partner, Mimi O'Donnell, and their three young children, Cooper, Tallulah and Willa.
A memorial service is planned for later this month.
PHENOMENAL CHARACTER ACTOR
Although Hoffman was found with a syringe in his arm, the cause of his death was still undetermined on Friday as New York City's Chief Medical Examiner awaited the results of further studies.
Four people were charged with drug offenses, possibly connected to the substances found at the actor's home.
Hoffman, a best actor Oscar winner for his role in the 2005 biographical film "Capote," won accolades for his versatility on the stage and screen.
"He was an old shoe of a guy who could just transform himself," said New York stage actress Noelle McGrath, adding that he was one of the most phenomenal character actors ever.
From his Tony-nominated role as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Death of a Salesman" to complex characters in such films as "Happiness," in which he played an obscene phone caller, and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," Hoffman transfixed audiences with his talent.
He also earned Tony award nominations for "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and "True West."
On the big screen the actor appeared in blockbusters such as "The Hunger Games" series and also garnered best supporting actor Oscar nominations for "The Master," "Doubt" and "Charlie Wilson's War."
Although he talked openly about his past struggles with substance abuse, Hoffman's untimely death was a shock and came just as police spoke of more heroin hitting the streets of New York.
"Unfortunately, our city, like America, has got a continuing, constantly changing narcotics problem," New York NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said after a crime commission meeting on Friday.
"The issue of heroin, which has been so much referenced in the death of Mr. Hoffman, is appearing to be increasing again," he added.
At a private wake on Thursday, Hollywood stars Joaquin Phoenix and Ben Stiller were among the mourners.
Hoffman was also remembered at a somber candlelight vigil outside the Labyrinth Theater Company in Greenwich Village on Wednesday evening. He had been a member and a former artistic director of the New York company, which is one of the nation's leading ensemble theater groups.
(Writing by Patricia Reaney; editing by Gunna Dickson)