We look back at history and gawk at those who would crowd around to witness hangings or beheadings, ruling them brutish and uncivilized. Yet today, when those in the public eye die, their bodies don't even have the chance to get cold before we close in on them. The paparazzi perch upon nearby branch and swarm the defenseless dead, picking at small, insignificant details of their lives in order to make some sort of sensational story to garner attention. In this case, the deceased celebrity under scrutiny is renowned Academy Award winning actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman was found dead earlier today in his West Village apartment of an apparent drug overdose. He was 46 years old.
Generally, when someone dies, we try to step back and offer the friends and family of the deceased an opportunity to swallow their bitter new reality. In cases such as these, the family is not only dealing with a loss but with all of the troubles that led to that loss. The trend with celebrities though, is that because we have dehumanized them to either be subhuman or superhuman, we find their deaths to be a spectacle — a frenzy of cameras and people waiting to be the first to pick apart and speculate a person's life based on little bits of evidence that they can squeeze out of their untimely and unfortunate deaths. Before we can comment on the fact that Hoffman was a talented actor that he was a drug addict, we must remember that he was first and foremost, a human being.
He was a human being who had family, friends, and co-workers who are mourning his loss. What seems especially intrusive about the paparazzi stampede outside of his apartment building is that Hoffman himself was an incredibly private and introverted person. He once said, "Sometimes I'm uncomfortable with the level of fame I've got! It all depends on the day and what's going on. I don't desire any more fame. I don't need it."
This invasion of privacy is not saved for Hoffman alone. This level of media mania is eerily reminiscent of the deaths of younger celebrities with drug related causes — Heath Ledger, Amy Winehouse, and Cory Monteith. Instead of taking a moment to process the information and understand that these people must have been in some kind of serious emotional turmoil to get to the point where they had either purposely or accidentally caused their own deaths, the cameras are on and poised. The paparazzi wait with ceaseless patience outside of homes or known haunts, ready to catch anyone close to them in, hoping to get something to harp on and obsess over for weeks to come. It's a disgusting and inhuman practice, and one that is becoming all too frequent and accepted as commonplace.
We hope that Hoffman is finally at peace and that his family will get the privacy and respect they deserve.