This month, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the recent passing of two inspiring men: Horst Rechelbacher, 72, founder of Aveda and Intelligent Nutrients; and Philip Seymour Hoffman, 46, writer, director and Academy Award-winning actor. One man led a tireless campaign to clean up this planet, and the other packed a lifetime of performances in a career that ended too soon.
Sometimes news of someone’s passing causes you to sit down and hit the pause button on life, and such was my reaction to hearing the loss of both of these men.
It makes sense to feel so much sadness when family members pass, because they are linked to our heartstrings from birth, so why do we feel so moved by the passing of people we have never met in person? I sense it is because life is holographic, and all of us live vicariously through the experiences of others, whether they are close to us or only viewed on a screen. On some level, we feel as though we know them, because on some deeper level it seems that their souls connected with ours.
With Rechelbacher and Hoffman, the world lost two men who were passionate in their respective careers and were able to touch us from afar — in all the right places.
I only sat down in conversation once in my life with Horst Rechelbacher, in December 2004, the occasion being an interview on his renewed interest in and re-imagining of Intelligent Nutrients, which provides plant-based nutrition to encourage lifestyle changes.
I knew about Horst’s founding of Aveda and his commitment to integrate corporate and environmental responsibility. He worked with indigenous people of Brazil to plant seedlings to offset deforestation. He sought transparency in the cosmetic industry, which routinely promoted products as green without providing proof. Horst was voted twice by Vanity Fair magazine as one of the most influential environmentalists in the United States.
When I arrived at Intelligent Nutrients for my interview, I quickly learned that what you saw was what you got with Horst. The native Austrian spoke carefully and with purpose, and he reminded me of musician Bono of U2 in his ability to translate desire into action.
“I don’t want to sell merchandise here that is not pure and active,” he told me. “I’m interested in active plant constituents.
“Your question was, ‘Why do you call (your company) intelligent?’ Activity is intelligence. We follow our information systems and we use our energy to get it done. And that’s caused by a byproduct called matter. That’s why I call it ‘energetic matter.’ And it’s chemical matter. We are chemistry. This tea I drink is pure chemistry, and so is everything else. But chemistry can be highly active with nutrients; it could be not very active and empty of nutrients or it could be a toxic, polluted substance. That’s what interests me as an environmentalist, because I think we should only produce the purest, finest things. Then there would be no toxic side effects. There would be no wastes, because everything would be used responsibly.
“…This is the century where we’re either going to make it as a species or not make it as a species. It’s going to be up to our intelligence. And our intelligence needs to be self-less, driven by chemistry that is sustainable — which is hydrogen, which is carbohydrate, which is solar, and which is wind. That’s all we have.
“…Since I sold Aveda, a lot of things came clear to me. I either have a choice to be silent and be really pissed about everything — because it’s clear to me that we’re not doing anything to fix things for the future — or I take some of my non-profit venture money, which I was giving away anyway, and put it to work.”
May a greater commitment to the Earth by corporations that are now feeding preservatives and non-active chemicals to the human race be the legacy of Horst Rechelbacher.
How can anyone adequately describe the effect actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had on his generation? Words don’t do it justice. Immediate tweets in response to news of his death by his acting peers tried:
- “Phil was an irreplaceable force in American theater. His work & passion & intelligence & dedication were unmatched.” — Martha Plimpton
- “The loss is real & personal when the talent is that uncommonly large. Each time he appeared in a scene your brain went to a higher ground.” — James Brooks
- “Dear Philip, a beautiful beautiful soul. For the most sensitive among us the noise can be too much.” — Jim Carrey
- “One of the greatest, kindest actors who ever lived.” — Rainn Wilson
- “If you missed him as Willy Loman, you missed a Willy Loman for all time.” — Steve Martin
One of his final roles on stage, as Willy Loman in “Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman” on Broadway, tortured him, close friend David Bar Katz told Rolling Stone. “He was miserable throughout that entire run. No matter what he was doing, he knew that at 8:00 that night he’d do that to himself again. If you keep doing that on a continual basis, it rewires your brain, and he was doing that to himself every night.”
New York Times critic wrote, “Mr. Hoffman does terminal uncertainty better than practically anyone, and he’s terrific in showing the doubt that crumples Willy just when he’s trying to sell his own brand of all-American optimism.”
One of the film roles that affected me deeply was his portrayal of Wilson Joel in Love Liza. It was a sad story of a techie whose wife committed suicide, and the film is entirely about one man’s grief. Film critic Roger Ebert said the screenplay (written by Philip’s brother Gordy) created “a Hoffman role teetering on the brink of implosion.”
Philip was more than a character actor. He embodied the men he portrayed on the stage and in front of the camera, perhaps to the point of self-destruction. Perhaps the real Phil, the human Phil, never had a chance to breathe. We’ll never know.
Unfortunately, the image of Philip Seymour Hoffman that we were left with, in the death scene, was that of a man lying on the bathroom floor of his rented apartment with a hypodermic needle in his left arm. Heroin struck again. Just like it had before. Jimi Hendrix. Sid Vicious. River Phoenix. Janis Joplin. John Belushi. Jean-Michel Basquiat. Dee Dee Ramone. Corey Monteith. Kurt Cobain. Lenny Bruce. Tim Buckley. Jim Morrison. And hundreds of thousands of not-so-famous men and women.
Picture an average city of 30,000 people in America. Now picture everybody in the town dying in the same year due to an overdose of opiods like heroin. That’s what’s happening, on average, every year in America.
Outside of the incredible performances preserved for us to watch for centuries, may a greater commitment to helping people with addiction, through a greater commitment to mental health care, be one of the legacies of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Read The Edge Interview with Horst Rechelbacher (January 2005)