The Ones We Take for Granted

Maybe Philip Seymour Hoffman's death will help us appreciate other greats who are still with us

Of the many shocking and horrible things about Philip Seymour Hoffman's death, here's the one that really got me: the man was in his prime.

Hoffman had an incredible body of work behind him and, at 46, we expected many decades of great acting to come. Bruce Dern is up for an Oscar for Best Actor this year, and Robert Redford just turned in what many consider to be the finest performance of his career. Both men are 77 years old. The hottest actors on Broadway right now are Patrick Stewart, 73, and Ian McKellen, 74.

Hoffman loved to work. He appeared in more than 60 movies in a little over 20 years, and when he wasn't in front of a camera, he was on stage. He has two new movies coming out this year. He was going to star in a new TV series on Showtime.

Hoffman was an actor who never flinched from going bone-deep into his characters. He had already begun taking on "older" roles in his mid-forties, receiving rave reviews and a Tony nomination for his portrayal of Willie Loman in "Death of a Salesman" on Broadway two years ago. Of course he was eventually going to tackle Ibsen and Chekhov, not to mention Shakespeare.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as King Lear? A classic waiting to happen, right?

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Wrong. Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead. We're never going to get to see it.

Maybe Hoffman's death will help us appreciate the other great ones who are still with us who are also in their prime, at the top of their game, the ones we expect to keep being great, the ones we take for granted.

Like LeBron James in basketball. Aaron Rodgers in football. Kanye West in music. Louis C.K. in comedy. Novelist Jonathan Franzen. Businessmen Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.

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There are many others, of course. In your own field of work, in your own office, in your own life.

One hot summer day two years ago, I was on West 47th St. in the theater district waiting to meet my wife for dinner before going to a play. "Death of a Salesman" was across the street. I went over to check out the prices.

I passed a guy on the sidewalk with a backpack on, wearing shorts, sneakers and a T-shirt. Average height, stocky, a ruddy face, uncombed sandy hair. He walked past the theater box office and turned to go in the stage door. It was Hoffman, just going to work.

I never did buy tickets for "Death of a Salesman." They were expensive. I had already seen the play a bunch of times. Yes, everyone said Hoffman was great, don't miss him, but I figured I'd get to see him in something else. Later. He'd be around.

The play we went to that night?

I don't remember.