The memory is slightly blurry at the edges, but the actual instant is clear as a bell. I'm barely a pre-teen when my father and I return home from the library. Cable television was only still very new to us, and with it, 24 hour news channels were a glistening novelty. Mum had stayed tuned to CNN in our absence. 'It's happened,' she said, as we walked over the front lawn, 'she's dead.'
I'd had no association with Princess Diana beyond an ephemeral child understanding of the royal family. Watching the news in the days that followed, and my parents stunned reactions, was puzzling to me. Death was a very serious topic and something that awaited us all. Fame was a complex pastiche of known and unknown. We don't know famous people, and yet somehow we do. So when the famous pass, there's a pseudo grief that can last days. It's a process that's always perplexed me.
There's a degree of immortality that is expected in the famous. We fall for the same trick every time. These faces we see on our cinema and television screens are somehow eternal, untouchable, god-like. It's easy in moments like this to understand the Ancient Greeks relationship with art. We've inherited the ecstasis notion, that a performance in full flight is a performance that is possessed by Gods, and is distinctly un-human. So when the vessel for this divinity passes, it strikes us as a link to the divine lost. Paradoxically, there are few more intimate reasons to grieve.
When I was in grade nine, I was sitting in an English classroom and my teacher told me Douglas Adams had passed. I was completely mystified and saddened.
When Michael Jackson passed, my brothers felt the loss personally, and have since joined thousands in sorting through the conspiracy theories around his death.
Today, sadly, we're confronted with the surprising news that Philip Seymour Hoffman is no longer with us. I'm reminded of Heath Ledger's passing. When I first heard the news on radio, I thought I had mis-heard. Similarly this morning, my first reading of Hoffman's passing on social media struck me as an inevitable prank, a sadly real prospect in the modern age. To have the reports confirmed is completely surprising.
Few performers channeled the divine in the way that Hoffman did. His mere presence evoked the Gods - weighty, earth-bound, real. Any threat was made sharply clear. He was an actor you could trust. You never questioned the reality of who or what he was. It seemed effortless, but we know it wasn't. He was an actor of beautiful craft and skill, and his career was far too short. I'll be going back to a few of my favourites, Doubt and Charlie Wilson's War, very soon.
Vale Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Gods will welcome you home, as you are already so familiar to them. We will all miss you.