The last time I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman

Before we moved to Malawi, my husband and I celebrated our tenth anniversary a little early by going to see Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman in New York. I’d long loved Hoffman’s film performances — particularly in Doubt, Capote, and The Savages — and regularly channeled his perfect, nasally-whiney Truman Capote (with whom I share a birthday as well as what one Times writer called his “elfin stature”) to express my writerly anxiety or confidence, depending on the day. Death of a Salesman always does me in, even reading the script — all the longing, desperation and futility of life distilled down into commonplace gripes about a broken refrigerator — buying things on credit only to have them break just as you’re done paying for them, paying off a house just as the kids are growing up and leaving. Willy Loman’s self-delusion, his awkwardness and his bravado is nothing short of heartbreaking, and though Hoffman was just 44 when I saw him onstage, he inhabited the role with the gravitas of a much older man. It was magnificently sad and beautiful to watch.