Philip Seymour Hoffman and the Politics of Heroin and Celebrity

by David Hershkovits
Today's arrest of four heroin dealers in connection with Philip Seymour Hoffman's recent overdose leads me to ask: Is this a good thing?

Well, I guess it is, right -- taking down dope dealers even if it turns out they had no direct contact with the actor? Not surprisingly, the shocking and horrible and sordid tale of a celebrity overdose has generated an avalanche of commentary in all media, especially social. The New York Times used it as an opportunity for a piece on the "surge" of heroin use, identifying bags stamped "The Ace of Spades" as the likely culprit. But what about the average Joe or Jill who dies under similar circumstances? Do the police care as much about them as they do the death of a high-profile figure adored by the public and the media? Would Philip Seymour Hoffman want his unfortunate death to be the cause of a renewed anti-drug hysteria, complete with quickly concocted news stories, seemingly put together over night? Does making such a huge deal about hunting down the heroin that killed this beloved celebrity actually push the everyday problems resulting from heroin and the non-famous addicts who suffer aside? If it's so easy to catch heroin dealers, why doesn't it happen more often? Or -- guessing here -- was this drug den just off Houston on Mott Street in Lower Manhattan already under surveillance, the police using the opportunistic moment to show off their sleuthing abilities? (Apparently not, if you believe a recent report stating that a tipster informed the police that he had seen Hoffman in the building. And now it turns out that one of those arrested was a long-time addict, much beloved on the downtown club scene)

I didn't really know Hoffman though I did see him around, most recently a year ago when I found myself standing with him on line as we waited to register our kids at Basketball City. I gave him the double take to make sure I wasn't imagining the resemblance, but left him to be a dad, seemingly unrecognized by anyone else, a true character actor, in a baseball cap blending in with the crowd.


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