The Trail He Leaves Behind

When I was a freshman in college and living in Chelsea on 20th and 8th, I spent a lot of time walking to and from Murray’s Bagels on 23rd street. On one particularly fresh spring morning at the end of March, I was on my ritual stomp over, craving one of those never-oven-heated-but-always-so-damn-fresh raisin bagels with sun-dried tomato cream cheese (I don’t want to talk about it, okay?) when I noticed a man with a thick blonde mane that was concealed by a small black hat crossing the same street in the opposite direction that I was.

He looked so familiar but I couldn’t quite place who he was until the two of us were standing face to face and from inside my mouth emerged the words, “Oh my gosh! Sandy Lyle!”

I sang my words, really, and pointed. There is a zero percent chance that, using the data he accrued in the 5 second interaction, he could not surmise that I was Jewish girl from New York. (For the uninitiated, Sandy Lyle was a role he’d played in a romantic comedy called Along Came Polly that starred Jennifer Aniston and Ben Stiller several years earlier, which, of course, adds salt to the already battered wound.)

I expected nothing in return but what I got was great — he stopped short in the middle of the street while a row of cars waited for their brakes to be released behind us and looked at me.

“You know,” he said, “I won an Oscar for Capote.”

Then he broke out into laughter and shook my hand which revealed that I’d similarly broken out but into a sweat and I laughed back, shaking while shaking and thinking about how many times I had yelled “LET IT RAIN!” since I first saw Along Came Polly. How many times I had tried to memorize his monologue in both the scene when he sharts and the one he demands a solo during rehearsal for an off-off-off-off-Broadway production of…you know, I still don’t know what that play was about.

Of course I knew that he’d won an Oscar for Capote in 2005 — he was exceptional — but it was his performance as Sandy Lyle that pushed my falling in love with him. That indirectly probably pushed my seeing Capote. And then it occurred to me yesterday, when I read the tragic details of his death, that my visceral reaction to the news ran parallel to everyone else’s reactions. It was universally shocking in a way I’d never experienced a public death.

Philip Seymour Hoffman has, for one reason or another, touched almost everybody that I know. In today’s Esquire story “Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Final Secret,” the writer, Tom Junod, shares a powerful sentiment.

He writes, “There was no actor, in our time, who more ably suggested that each of us is the sum of our secrets…no actor who better let us know what he knew, which is that when each of us returns alone to our room, all bets are off. ”

Which is what brings us here — to talk about how he touched you. Because in the wise words of one Mr. Sandy Lyle, “The best man went down,” and all that we have left is the ability to elevate his legacy.

Image shot by Brigitte Lacombe

  • graceyu

    Ok. Wow. This was a wonderful tribute. I loved reading this!

  • CarlotaLMorais

    Amazing story and actor.
    I’m very sad that i wont get to see him anymore, a true jewel, an amazing actor

  • Sarah

    oh that made me laugh, thanks for that! i never had the wonderful experience as you did, of encountering him on the streets of new york. I am envious. I’m so sad that we’ll never know what he would have done next. The first time my jaw dropped to the floor watching him, was during The Talented Mr. Ripley. One couldn’t help thinking that he was that all knowing flamboyant guy, that saw right through you and into your dirty little secrets. It actually made me feel a little bit afraid of him, from a safe distance of course. He made ME feel creepy, goose bumpy. What an F***ing genius. :-/

  • Jill S

    THIS is the best tribute I’ve read so far. Well done, and I am sorry for your loss. I’m sorry for all of our loss. Another great, taken far too soon.

  • grace b

    Loved loved loved his performance in Doubt. And he will always been in my mind because of Almost Famous.

  • kj

    it’s times like this when you realize that even the most celebrated individuals of our fame-obsessed society battle demons just like the rest of us. it’s both comforting and unnerving in many ways to be aware of the similar characteristics that all people inherently possess, as we are humans and we are all ruled by our emotions, desires, and addictions.

  • This was such a great story. I would love to have a moment like that with a celebrity.

  • Randi Killian

    Wonderful tribute. Such an incredible talent. So many memorable roles. A few of my favorites were Magnolia, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Master…I kind of want to go back and watch every one of his films now. Knowing we won’t get more from him in the future. Thanks for sharing this lovely interaction with us all. It has somehow brightened my day.

    Xo, Randi

  • Quinn Halman

    My parents are a type of “opposites attract” couple. My mother was sad when Whitney, Amy, and Cory passed however my father kind of shrugged it off. I was taking a study break and yelled the news and this was the first time I’ve seen my father get upset about the loss of a celebrity.

  • Maui Mendoza

    I’ve never seen Capote but I did love To Kill a Mocking Bird and somehow, PSH was always Dill Harris for me. Yeah I know it’s strange but that’s how I always saw him.

    • cjane

      Harper Lee based the Dill character on her childhood friend Truman Capote who Phillip Seymore Hoffman played in Capote. Perhaps that’s why.

      • Maui Mendoza

        Ummm yeah, I know that.

  • Ana Lu Garro

    I really liked this article. I can’t say I knew him or had seen most of his movies but reading this made me want to watch them and see what he was all about. Loved your writing… always..

    Ana Lu from Things&Crowns

  • i don’t have a specific moment or scenes that come to mind but i felt the news in my soul upon hearing it…he was an incredible talent…

  • Emily

    I live a block away from him, and really feel that his energy is gone. I have not been able to shake the depression all day. I used to see him around a lot and at our local bar once in a blue moon. You know how we all dapple in our dark sides? I always got the feeling that he never really came back from that into the lighter side again. Every performance of his was so extraordinary, and yet he died in such an ordinary way. I am so sad.

  • marie a

    His filmography is absolutely insane and amazing, but you’re right hah – there is something extremely memorable and loveable about him in Along Came Polly. It really is just so so sad.

  • Marta Pozzan

    He was brilliant in every single role he played, so smart and subtle and with that fire inside. R.I.P.

  • Banafsheh

    Lovely tribute. what a lost . . . . 🙁

  • Oliver Lips

    I still can’t believe he’s dead! Such a genius..

  • Kathryn

    Such a lovely memory to have. I loved his performances, especially in State and Main, as a sensitive, well-meaning writer in a movie about making a Hollywood movie. I will always imagine him as a sensitive man trying to do good work and be a good person. Such a terrible shame for his family and friends.

  • smonts

    specially with Happiness, great film.
    I hadn´t watched Along Came Polly until I read this post. It was terrific. Thanks!

  • CDJ

    This was beautiful. I sometimes feel silly when I get so upset about a celebrity dying, but when you appreciate their work so much, it is difficult to not feel an attachment and get emotional. It is a loss of two things: the person and their talent. For those on the outside, we probably mourn the loss of talent and art more. I woke up with 43 text messages when Cory Monteith died… still not over that one.

    • CDJ

      (I like the way the minor c’s are now incorporated into the main feed- very sleek)

  • Margot Potter

    Beautifully written. Thank you for putting into words what we’re all feeling. Unfathomable loss…too soon.

  • fashionablecollections

    This was such a great tribute. I once ran into him and his family eating at the four seasons in NYC. He seemed to really love and adore his children so I like thinking of that memory of him rather than of his death. I can’t stand to hear about one more person dying from addiction. I think it’s become an epidemic that we don’t talk about enough and is something that we really need to try and combat as a society. we lose too many talented and great people in such a horrible way.

  • Caitlyn Harley Bahrenburg

    His role as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous helped to inspired me to pursue a career in journalism. He was a creative genius. I still can’t believe this has happened.

    • Kelly R. Coburn Berecin

      Although I wanted to become a music journalist long before “Almost Famous,” this movie solidified my desire to become a writer.

  • Maureen Krezel French

    ” you’re not cool”…….sorry things got so tough dude…

  • Dana L.

    beyond words for what a loss this is.

  • I laughed hard reading the “LET IT RAIN!” tidbit then I quickly remembered he passed. So sad. Sandy Lyle is totally one of my favorite characters ever. And the play was Jesus Christ Superstar – where Sandy was born to play Jesus, not Judas. Looks like his own Judas betrayed him after all.

  • Rene Taylor

    He was beautiful. It shows just how baffling and powerful the disease of addiction is.

  • Firefly

    Wonderful story, i loved this actor 🙂

  • Gia

    Aww your story made me laugh at first and then I just felt sad again that, that wit is no longer with us. To know that there will be no more exciting roles coming from him, his movies were truly a pleasure to watch. My boyfriend and I would always talk and dissect his movies and brilliance after watching each performance and constantly looked forward to the next movie where he was part of the cast. By the way I LOVED Sandy Lyle! haha and i think my movie that lead me to watch Capote and more of his awesome work was “Almost Famous’. So tragic.

  • OMG! Sandy Lyle – “I sharted” scene still makes me throw the coffee through my nose!!! Great tribute!!

  • me

    PSH was one of those rare actors who absolutely mesmerized & stole every single scene he was in — you couldnt take your eyes off of him, whether he was the lead or in a supporting role.

    His depiction of Gus the CIA guy in Charlie Wilson’s War was/is brilliant.

    RIP, Brother ….

  • Christina Pann

    wow…thanks for the invitation to mediate on this great man.

  • Susan Maccarelli

    I really enjoyed reading this – a different perspective for sure.

  • Chastity Beene

    Such a sweet story! He will always be Lester Bangs in Almost Famous for me:)

  • Anna

    Oh my God.
    I can imagine how absolutely amazing it is to just meet someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman during your morning routine. I think I’m a bit young to say anything about him or his movies – I have to admit that I first really saw him in Catching Fire, but he was awesome.
    His death is tragic, yes, but he leaves a ton of deep footprints on the beach of life (God, these metaphors) and I loved reading this tribute.

  • Dee [The Crab Chronicles]

    The measure of someone famous is how they act in an encounter such as yours. He was gracious.

    I am still shocked and saddened by his death. All of us who are tubby and weird looking will miss seeing someone like ourselves onscreen, someone so brilliant and so human.

  • Shannon

    Thank you for writing something that actually left me feeling happier. What a sweet, unforgettable moment you got to share with this great man who was incredibly talented and also still so human. He has always been one of my favorites and I will miss seeing his face and all he would have continued to contribute. It makes me really sad his death could have been prevented…and makes me wonder why a man who looks to have it all still needed to take something to “feel better”…so much we’ll never know, but he left his mark and will be remembered as one of the great ones.

  • Janine

    despite what someone said on here, this man was not a f**** genius. He’s dead from a drug overdose and I can’t think of anything more ignorant you could do to yourself and your family. Sorry.

  • calipidgious

    I have read everyone’s posts and I am so surprised that no one has mentioned his turn as Brandt in The Big Lebowski. Most certainly one of my most favorite roles of his. He is just perfection and the “That’s marvelous” moment is a moment of pure comedic genius for me. If you haven’t seen him in Lebowski you should give it a go.

  • pastol

    I loved watching him on screen. He always made me think so hard, about so many different things, all at once. Every character he played, he made me know that character as if I’d known him (or her) forever. That’s because he made me see myself in all of those characters. He was the best of his generation, and a few other generations as well.

  • Diana

    Great story, wonderful tribute. Thank you for the read.

  • Daniela

    This is such a lovely tribute, written beautifully. What happened is so tragic, but unfortunately life is about moving forwards – my thoughts are with his family, I can’t imagine what they’re going through. Lucky you for meeting him!

  • Eva

    I love him! He was the best actor in nowadays. Very kind, talented…the first time i saw him was in Twister, that crazy storm-chaser so sweet, haunted me…and since then i saw every movie where he worked…the last one: The last quartet….so intense….I even saw The hunger games only for him, and i was happy thinking that his character will be again on part three and two days later….he´s gone.
    I will miss his art. Great loss…

  • Lizzie Ford

    lovely tribute and what an amazing story. thanks for sharing xx

    • Mara

      This is a nice story, and I am sure he was a nice young, man , but he made awful bad choices, he was not taken by any means , he was a drug user , and drug users die young.

  • Terry

    My heart aches when I think of the pain he was in and that he believed there was no way out other than the path he took. He was a brilliant young man who I know had so much more to give and receive had he known the Truth. It is more than a sad day.

  • Kel63

    A moving piece, just so personal, even though written by a stranger who happened upon this amazing man, for one moment in time.

  • Barbara B

    Yes what a wonderful tribute. And what a sorrowful life addiction causes. This man was a talent above most others and the news when announced literally took my breath away. His death, so sad, but he left a legacy of talent beyond compare. Maybe he has conquered those demons now. I hope so.

  • Readerwoman

    Great Tribute! I alternate between being very angry with him, and being totally bummed because we won’t have his magic touch any more… thank you for reminding us what he was all about, publically and privately.

  • Peyton C.

    Fantastic story and brilliantly written.

  • I told my husband – the sharted guy died! Oh, so sad .. he was a wonderful actor and will be missed.


  • TrickyK2

    What an awesome tribute, really moving. A beautifully written piece and emotion evoking. It leaves such an imprint of who he was as a person. Masterpieces are only made once and few of us get to be as amazing as this man.

  • Nancy Remling

    great tribute.

  • dianne

    Well done.
    Hoffman was a brilliant philosopher who obviously paid close attention to the depth , pain and contradictions of human nature . A genuine Artist enlightens the clueless to the truth. Philip, You were spared from superficiality and mimicry. Some of us will be better for your short time here.

  • Such a beautiful piece and a lovely little personal memory of him that you have. He was a true talent and his loss is incredibly saddening.

  • Kelly R. Coburn Berecin

    I absolutely LOVED the manner in which this article was written…so unbelieveably heartfelt!!! Sandy Lyle!! Gawd, he was sooo damn funny in that movie. Whether or not it was a “bad batch of heroin” that killed him or not, the thing we need to understand is that addiction is a reeeaaaallll epidemic. It doesn’T matter if you are a middle school mathematics teacher or effing Philip Seymour Hoffman! Addiction seems to effect someone you know. PSH¤ Rest in peace, my brotha!

  • Shoegal Out In The World

    Your piece & personal story you shared touched me deeply… Philip Seymour Hoffman wasn’t my favorite actor but his films always in a way had an impact…

    I am sorry for his family & friends…

    Have a great Sunday!!!

    xoxo Violeta, your Shoegal Out In The World

  • Lisa @ Flour Me With Love

    This is a lovely tribute…it’s so sad that he is gone and yes, “the best man went down.”

  • Paulette

    Amazing….I’m so happy that I stopped to read this….a wonderful personal tribute. We will miss him so much !

  • simone

    This was a lovely read, thank you. He was a wonderful, exceptional talent….not something you can say about every actor….and I’ve found it hard to stop thinking about him during the past week, am so sad.

  • brooklynechaos

    I yelled when I heard the news. Scared the shit out of my teenage son. I never felt so much pain from a public death. I will miss him. I will always love him. He is my Audrey Hepburn.

  • susan ernst

    Beautiful words! Lucky u to meet such a fine overall person!

  • babs

    I was freelance producing for Associated Press Television News and interviewed him- he was so sweet, he was certain he and I met. Such a nice down to earth person.

  • The Queen Of Dreaming
  • Carmen

    so beautiful. he will be missed!