Phillip Seymour Hoffman died Sunday at the age of 46. Besides being a very talented actor with an Oscar win for best Actor in the movie Capote, he was also noted for being very much a humble man. He showed up early to interviews. He biked around Manhattan with his kids, who went to a nearby public school and not one of those fancy private schools celebrities tend to send their spawn to. In broadcast after news broadcast he was noted as being a “man of the people.” What a curious phrase to use about a celebrity which in essence is job that is all about fame and being slightly above the people shrouded in an air of mystery.
Mr. Hoffman was considered a man of the people in part because he was a local neighborhood fixture. He fundraised locally. He ate locally without much fuss. He walked about. This got me thinking about the “outrage” some professed to have felt when Hilary Clinton noted that she had not driven a car in several decades. Many in the media noted that such a statement painted her in a non-populist light. She had been driven everywhere, supposedly in the last few decades. I must note that I was on an Amtrak train down to DC once when she was on it, or so I believe. I was also on Amtrak and Laura Bush was traveling down to DC with one of her daughters. It’s common place to see politicians on Amtrak. Heck, I shared a four-seater with Governor Cristie and was so excited at how commonplace he seemed. He bantered, he took serious interest in my work and he even sent me a follow-up note. He seemed a man of the people. If hanging with regular folk makes you a man of the people, can Hilary be a woman of the people. Or does her statement that she hasn’t driven in decades make her seem that she is not firmly rooted? Although, I ask this question, I find this all to be very silly. I have never driven in my life. Not once. Ok, once in DC but that was a disaster and doesn’t really count. My lack of a driver’s license wouldn’t make me seem any less one of the people, right? If I were to run for politics could I claim that label of being one of the masses? I guess technically wouldn’t be called a “man of the people.” I am not looking to be Evita Peron.
Whenever I travel to Puerto Rico for work or for family visits, I overwhelmingly get noted as ‘humble.” I don’t insist on being called Doctor or Professor as many who hold PhDs are wont to do in the island. Thus, I come off as humble which endears me to many. Until, they hear me speak Spanish and then they wonder how I can claim to be Puerto Rican. Then instead of humble, I become the prodigal daughter and that becomes a whole other drama.
In New York, former Mayor Bloomberg often rode the train to work and didn’t live in Gracie Mansion. Although, he’s a millionaire he too was a straphanger. One could argue that was his all-too-obvious attempt to appear to be one of the people. But shouldn’t he get credit for doing so? Now we have Mayor De Blasio who, on inauguration day, also rode the subway with his family and during the first snowstorm of the year he was seen shoveling his front step. That is very much of the people! However, he did eat his pizza with a fork and that made many wonder about his “of the people” credentials. Everyone knows the proper way to eat a slice of New York Pizza is to fold it and dig in fully with one’s face. At the end of eating a pizza, one’s face should be greasy. So, he eats pizza with a fork and Hilary gets driven everywhere, are they any less “of the people”? I can tell you this. It would never occur to me to eat pizza with a fork. I say to the grease: bring it on!
Anyway. Mind you, Hilary may not have even been allowed to drive on her own. Isn’t there something in the secret service protocol about that? She is still protected by secret service and who knows –she may be a really bad driver. She may be doing everyone a public health favor by not driving. That is how I view my lack of driving credentials. I seriously do not think anyone would want to see me behind the wheel of a car. I can’t even walk straight. I bump into walls and set fixtures all the time. I am horrible at bumper cars at amusement parks.
Another widely labeled “man of the people” is the current Pope who has been noted for eschewing being chauffeured around and preferring to sleep in a simple bed. Pope Francis is definitely very admirable in how he tries to live a simple life free from some of the modern-day material trappings. Does that make him a man of the people? Many would say yes. I guess that is where I would fail. I prefer a really nice big bed to a simple one. I also like super soft duvets. However, I do walk everywhere I can. I get severe car sickness if I sit in the back. Thus, no limo rides for me should I someday be President, or Governor or Mayor.
Phillip Seymour Hoffmann seemed like he was truly a very nice guy. He seemed, by media accounts and in televised interviews, to be more interested in being a “real world” person than being an uber celebrity. He definitely would seem to be more a man of the people than say Kanye West. But that would hold true for almost everyone in the world.
A man of the people- that seems like a nice epitaph. Even better, it seems like a nice way to live one’s daily life.