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The painted lady

Published: Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 12:41 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 8:27 a.m. CDT

The media jumped on it with both feet ... Philip Seymour Hoffman died Feb. 2 of an apparent heroin overdose. The American actor/director — who was an Academy Award winner and who also received three Best Supporting Actor nominations and three Tony Award nominations in his career — was 47 years old.

While I understand there are consequences involved with fame and fortune, it's one aspect of the media I struggle with a lot. Yes, we must report the news; I understand that. But must we make a spectacle of a man's untimely death?

News articles, TV features, radio spots, Facebook and Twitter ran amok. This well-known actor, who appeared to have it all going for him, died with a needle hanging out his arm, and we — the general public — wanted to see, hear and know all we could.

Some who touted the message offered Hoffman's untimely death would surely help the many who also are "brave" (or weak) enough to stick a needle in their own arm and escape reality. A role model for many in acting careers, Hoffman could now become a role model in death to those who travel this path of addiction. I think those sentiments are crap. No addict who lives every day for the drug that will soothe his soul and steal away the demons will think twice about Philip Seymour Hoffman's overdose. For them, it's too late for that.

You see, heroin is a painted lady who initially looks radiant, but only for the first time. After only one appearance (use), the paint begins to run quickly, leaving only a haggard and potentially deadly "friend," who is out to ransack, pillage, cheat and hold you for ransom. After that first time, there's noting pretty or charming about her — rather a repulsive, ever-invasive enemy who has tricked you into needing her far more than she'll ever need you. One poor choice ... and she's your friend for life.

Growing up in the '70s, the picture of heroin in our heads was of junkies in the big cities, laying in the gutter with needles dangling from their arms. Today, that picture has transcended to people like you and me — some who can function in our everyday society ... as long as the heroin doesn't desert them. While it used to be a rich man's high, it isn't any longer. Heroin is cheap, and the bigger the addiction, the cheaper survival becomes.

Some are saying, "Well, that's what Hollywood does to a person." Again, I shake my head in disbelief.

You see I believe that aside from all of Hoffman's wonderful accomplishments — many of those related to his Hollywood lifestyle — and aside from all his loving friends and family who probably would have done anything for this very talented man, the mind of an addict obliterates all common sense, all levelheadedness, all practicality and all wisdom. Hoffman was a slave in a real-life movie, and the chain around his proverbial neck was heroin. The addiction is stronger than any non-user will ever comprehend because, basically, that painted lady wants you to die, whether you realize it or not. It's as simple and as complicated as that.

Some of us know heroin addicts, and we've all read the reports in this newspaper or seen the latest heroin bust on TV. It rattles us, but we avert our eyes — glad it's not us and happy that as far as we know, our own friends and family are not involved. But the truth to the matter is the number of heroin addicts is growing at an alarming rate. Those addicts may not make movies and win Academy Awards, but they are important to those who have watched their loved ones walk away arm-in-arm with that painted lady.

Addiction is a disease we need to embrace, rather than ignore. It's not going away ... and neither is that damn painted lady.

BCR Editor Terri Simon can be reached at tsimon@bcrnews.com.

Putnam County Record/Tonica News Editor Terri Simon can be reached at tsimon@putnamcountyrecord.com or tsimon@tonicanews.com.

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