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.