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The death of the great American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, at the age of 46, of a heroin overdose in a flat in Greenwich Village, is an almost unbearable tragedy.  His family, partner, three children, and friends will mourn, and that is the main loss, for those who knew him.  But, to a degree that is unusual for actors who become famous onscreen, it was as if we all knew him.

The Master

PSH was the finest actor of his American generation, and was fortunate to be in several great movies, and many lesser but enjoyable ones - and he gave us many unforgettable performances of genius in films, big and small - several with the same director, Paul Thomas Anderson - namely Boogie Nights, Magnolia and The Master.  However, he was also great as an arrogant villain fighting Tom Cruise; as a priest who might be an abuser, or just very kind; as Truman Capote; as a haunted member of a quartet; in Twister as a storm chaser; in Almost Famous as Lester Bangs - and of course as Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr Ripley.

What made him great?  He played men in sexual and personal turmoil, brilliantly.  He balanced humiliation with force.  Well, he had charisma to a degree that was astonishing.  Few chubby men with round faces and high colour can be described as electrifying, even sexy, even mesmerising.  Orson Welles is the only other actor like that, aside from Peter Lorre.  No other ordinary-looking man has ever played more compelling, fascinating, deeply complex men onscreen.  His vulnerability was matched by his power.  He never seemed weak.  Just weakened.

His greatest role is in The Master, a film that will one day be seen as just as great as Citizen Kane.  It is in my top ten American films.

I can't write more now.  I am very sad.  I loved this man.  I really did.  We have lost so many great future performances.  I'd say what a waste, but I am grateful for what he was able to give us.  As someone who struggles with the demons of mental problems, and addictions, as someone who can understand the pressures of being a creative being in a commercial world, I can relate to what he might have been going through.  I cannot judge his decisions, nor condemn his failings.  I can only thank the stars we had him among us for the time we did.  He made the modest among us, the ugly among us, the little man among us, feel there was a light in us.  It's gone out tonight.


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With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

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