The two deaths

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Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Phillip Seymour Hoffman

The first was an unfortunate accident, the second an unfortunate circumstance.

Each death somehow invaded my normally tepid and still pond of existence. Their announcements left me cold and my waters troubled.

I don’t mean to trivialize the other deaths which have impacted my life.

My uncle took his own life, dear friends gone too soon and the inevitable loss of grand parents.

Each left a life-sized crater in my heart.

But on the outside of the womb of family, there are satellite deaths that occur with some regularity, enough, in fact, to disrupt our normal orbit.

The first may come as a surprise to you. His name is not synonymous with great films or the theater. He did not leave his mark on the world in the way other men do.

He was simply an enthusiastic conservationist, a buffoon, really. Someone willing to play the comic role on late night television in order to bring awareness about a disappearing species.

The Crocodile Hunter
The Crocodile Hunter

Steve Irwin didn’t impact my life until he was gone from this earth, pierced, as it was, through the heart with the barb of a stingray while filming on Batt Reef in Queensland, Australia.

I know, it’s silly really. Like going all slobbery over Jack Hannah.

Irwin was simply an exuberant idiot who made the complexity of nature a little more understandable. A little less fearsome, until it bit him back, so to speak.

I loved to do impressions of him trying to show off the ferociousness of a poisonous snake, using his own body to illustrate the danger involved. And the ubiquitous crocodile wrangling with which he made his name.

He died in 2006, my first year as a journalist. I pitched a story to my editors where I hoped to cover the angst of members of Generation X who felt like they lost a spokesperson.

They laughed.

The second death still is raw, and I can’t tell what the full impact will be.

I saw the first Tweet at 1:05 p.m. on Sunday, just a couple hours after someone found his body alone in his West Village apartment in New York.

My generation has lost its creative types early and often.

River Phoenix, Corey Haim,  Adam Yuch, Kurt Cobain, Heath Ledger and many others dot the landscape of that highway of broken dreams.

But Hoffman was perhaps the greatest actor of his generation, though that will surely be debated for some time to come.

I can’t offer anything relevant about his acting or the particular movies or scenes that impacted me.

He simply played characters that I could both identify with and be terrified of.

He often played a tubby, unkempt human you’d be embarrassed to know, and yet you (I) could identify with nearly each and every character he made.

When he became a leading man in “Capote,” I couldn’t wait to see what he did with one of my favorite writers at the time.

I was not disappointed. He brought to life someone I very much wish I could have met.

These two deaths are not related, not by any stretch of the imagination, and yet when I think back on those fallen satellites, I feel more than I have about others.

I don’t know if that’s a sad reality of being human or just my very own personal reaction. Perhaps no one else can relate to this.

Still, it’s worth exploring a bit.

Maybe it’s the way each accomplished something I’ve longed to.

One, an unabashed admirer, no, lover, of nature and the ways of the animal kingdom. An enthusiastic learner who shared with others.

The other, a vaguely familiar body type who was able to express the awkwardness of the human condition in ways that were just a bit more real and reliable than real life.

The crocodile hunter and the character actor, as ignominious a pair as anyone could ever hope to eulogize.

And yet here I am, thinking back on those silent satellites no longer streaking across my orbit.

– Tim

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