Philip Seymour Hoffman was the master at playing charlatans, slackers and losers

Philip Seymour Hoffman was convincing in any part, on stage or screen, and his off-kilter roles worked in both art houses and multiplexes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 9:44pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 February, 2014, 4:08am

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Oscar-winning Hollywood star who was found dead of an apparent drug overdose in his New York apartment on Sunday, created a gallery of slackers, charlatans and other characters so vivid that he was regarded as one of the world's finest actors.

With his lumpy, heavyset build, dishevelled look and a limp, Hoffman was a character actor of such range and lack of vanity that he could seemingly handle roles of any size, on the stage and in movies that played in art houses or multiplexes.

He could play comic or dramatic, loathsome or sympathetic, trembling or diabolical, dissipated or tightly controlled, slovenly or immaculate.

The stage-trained actor's rumpled naturalism brought him four Academy Award nominations - for Capote, The Master, Doubt and Charlie Wilson's War - and three Tony nominations for his work on Broadway. He won the Best Actor Oscar in 2006 for his portrayal of the author Truman Capote.

He was as productive as he was acclaimed, often appearing in at least two or three films a year while managing a busy life in the theatre.

Hoffman spoke candidly over the years about his past struggles with drug addiction. After 23 years sober, he admitted in interviews last year to falling off the wagon and developing a heroin problem that led to a stint spent in rehab.

"No words for this. He was too great and we're too shattered," said Mike Nichols, who directed Hoffman in Charlie Wilson's War and Death of a Salesman.

Hoffman is survived by his partner of 15 years, Mimi O'Donnell, and their three children.

Hoffman was a spoiled prep school student in one of his earliest movies, Scent of a Woman, in 1992. One of his breakthrough roles came as a gay member of a porno film crew in Boogie Nights, one of several films directed by Paul Thomas Anderson that Hoffman would eventually appear in.

He played comic, slightly off-kilter characters in such movies as Along Came Polly, The Big Lebowski and Almost Famous. And in Moneyball, he was Art Howe, the grumpy manager of the Oakland Athletics who resisted new thinking about baseball talent.

He was nominated for the 2013 Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role in The Master as the charismatic, controlling leader of a religious movement. The film, inspired in part by the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, reunited the actor with Anderson.

Many younger moviegoers know him as the character Plutarch Heavensbee in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and he was reprising that role in the two-part sequel , The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, for which his work was mostly completed.

Lionsgate, which distributes the adaptations of Suzanne Collins' multimillion-selling novels, called his death a tragedy and praised him as a "singular talent". The last two Hunger Games movies are scheduled for release in November this year and November 2015.

Born in 1967 in Fairport, New York, Hoffman was an athletic boy, but a neck injury suffered while wrestling ended any hopes of a career in sports. He became interested in acting, mesmerised at 12 by a local production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons.

He studied theatre as a teenager with the New York State Summer School of the Arts and the Circle in the Square Theatre. He then majored in drama at New York University.

In his Oscar acceptance speech for Capote, he thanked his mother for raising him and his three siblings alone, and for taking him to his first play. Hoffman's parents divorced when he was nine.

On Broadway, he took on ambitious parts such as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, Jamie in Long Day's Journey Into Night and both leads in True West. All three performances were nominated for a Tony award.

His 2012 work in Death of a Salesman was praised as "heartbreaking" by Associated Press theatre critic Mark Kennedy.

"Hoffman is only 44, but he nevertheless sags in his brokenness like a man closer to retirement age, lugging about his sample cases filled with his self-denial and disillusionment," Kennedy wrote. "His fraying connection to reality is pronounced in this production, with Hoffman quick to anger and a hard edge emerging from his babbling."

Last year he crossed to the other side of the footlights to direct Bob Glaudini's A Family for All Occasions for the Labyrinth Theatre Company, where he formerly served as co-artistic director. Hoffman also directed Jesus Hopped the A Train and Our Lady of 121st Street for the company and received Drama Desk Award nominations for both.