Rochester Remembers Philip Seymour Hoffman

Feb 2, 2014

Credit Danny Moloshok / Invision/AP/NPR

A number of Rochesterians  who knew Philip Seymour Hoffman have been speaking to WXXI News about their memories of the actor:

Longtime Democrat and Chronicle film critic Jack Garner calls Hoffman's death a "true tragedy, " saying that he was such an incredible talent, but also just a good guy. Garner says Hoffman's life was just a great Rochester story.

"Going from a high school athlete to try acting and then turning out almost right away that he's brilliant, his 16 year old performance of Willy Loman in high school was the stuff of legends, and then of course he went on to become this amazing Oscar winning actor "

Hoffman is being remembered by the people that work at The Little Theatre, which is also operated by WXXI.  The general manager there, Derek Reis says that Hoffman was at the theater for an event in 2006, right after he won an Oscar for Capote.  But Reis says you couldn't tell by Hoffman's demeanor just how big a star he was.

"Very down to earth, average person, took photos with people, had a lot of chit-chat with my staff, some staff people got photos with him, overall a very nice guy, sometimes you wouldn't know he's a movie star."

Reis says Hoffman's mother, Marilyn O'Connor, who still lives in the Rochester area, comes to the Little Theater every week as part of a movie group.

Hoffman is being remembered as an extraordinary young man by his former English teacher at Fairport High School, John Baynes. He taught Hoffman in the 1980s, and remembers him as being an intense young man.

"I remember one occasion when I was teaching and he was staring at me, and I said, ‘What's with the face Hoffman, and he said, well I've been watching you manipulate everybody in this room for the last 30 minutes, it's very interesting, ‘ and that's who he was, he was somebody who just didn't care about what was on the surface "

Baynes says he and Hoffman kept in touch over the years, and he says he will also remember him as not only someone who created great art, but someone who was humble and generous, and just a good man.

Michael Arve was stage manager when Hoffman was in a play called " A Breeze from the Gulf" at Shipping Dock Theatre in 1985.  It was Hoffman's first non-high school play.  Arve calls Hoffman, " One of the greatest talents this country has seen is gone. I rank him along Olivier, Burton, all those actors, he was absolutely phenomenal."

Hoffman was a Fairport High School grad, and Interim Supt. William Cala issued this statement:

It is with great sadness that we learn of the untimely death of our friend and former student Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Phil was an icon in Fairport not solely due to his incredible talent and recognized accomplishments on stage and in the movies, but rather due to his love of his alma mater and his willingness to return periodically to share his wit and wisdom. Phil was a member of our Fairport family who was inducted into the Wall of Fame in 2006 at Fairport High School. He will be terribly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, three children and his mother, Marilyn O'Connor.”

Nora Brown, Film Commissioner, Rochester/Finger Lakes Film Office had been with Hoffman just last week at the Sundance Film Festival. She issued this statement:

“I had the highest respect for Philip in all of his work. We have been really proud of our hometown boy and I enjoyed bragging that his roots were here. Our thoughts and prayers are with Philip’s family.”