When Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away in 2014 from combined drug intoxication, film fans remember his subtle genius in his performances. Even though he has been celebrated for his later roles, the performance that resonates with me the most is his turn as the late rock journalist, Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical film Almost Famous. But, with Bangs also being a victim of an overdose at the age of 33, Hoffman’s untimely demise immediately raises similarities between the two.
Lester Bangs started contributing for Rolling Stone magazine in 1969, making a reputation for his frank and honest reviews. After being fired from the publication four years later, he moved from California to Detroit to become the editor for Creem. He died in 1982 from an accidental overdose of Darvon, Valium and NyQuil.
The history of substance abuse may overshadow their respective passings of both Bangs and Hoffman, but in their relatively short careers, they proved themselves to be a mentor and a figure wise beyond their years.
Bangs didn’t shy away from being himself and inspired youngsters to break away from the mould and embrace a…hedonistic lifestyle. In his own way, Hoffman also served as an inspiration to struggling actors; the diversity in his performances proved that he had a wide knowledge of how to convey the right kind of persona in his roles – the same way his character Bangs inspired wannabe journalists, including young William Miller (Patrick Fugit) by ‘promoting’ a rock-and-roll lifestyle through the art of writing. Yet, through his cynicism and rebellious nature, Bangs maintains his role as an authority on rock music and personal mentor to Miller while embracing this idea of being uncool when, to some people, he is anything but.
When musician Janis Joplin died from a drug overdose, Bangs wrote: “It’s not just that this kind of early death has become a fact of life that has become disturbing, but that it’s been accepted as a given so quickly.”
This is the sentiment that is subsequently echoed through not only his and Hoffman’s passings, but to many artists that have lost their lives through substance abuse – it only reinforces the tragedy of a talent’s premature death due to unnecessary means.
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