Could report on Philip Seymour Hoffman diaries prompt a backlash?

Philip Seymour Hoffman
In this Jan. 19, 2014 file photo, Philip Seymour Hoffman poses for a portrait at The Collective and Gibson Lounge Powered by CEG, during the Sundance Film Festival, in Park City, Utah.
(Victoria Will / Invision / Associated Press)

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death from an apparent heroin overdose on Feb. 2 has prompted a wave of news reports, think pieces and remembrances. But NBC News seems to be pushing things further.

The network has published a story about the contents of the private diaries police recovered from Hoffman’s home, which, in shedding light on the actor’s struggles with addiction, also raise questions of privacy and propriety.

According to the NBC report, the diaries “reveal a man who was troubled by ‘demons’ and struggled to control them with Narcotics Anonymous meetings." An unnamed source quoted in the report describes the material as “stream of consciousness and difficult to follow.” Another anonymous source noted that the diaries “definitely contained some soul-searching. But there is also a fair amount of rambling that doesn’t make sense.”

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The Oscar-winning actor had long struggled with addiction and publicly acknowledged that he had undergone treatment for substance abuse problems. In 2006 for example, he told “60 Minutes” that during periods of drug and alcohol dependency, he used “anything I could get my hands on.”

Hoffman was found dead in his Manhattan apartment the morning of Super Bowl Sunday with a syringe in his arm and dozens of glassine bags of heroin on the premises. He was 46.

But despite Hoffman’s fame and the public’s interest in his life and death, delving into such sensitive material  so soon after his passing could prompt a backlash against what some people will no doubt see as an invasion of privacy.

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The posthumous publication of diaries or unfinished work by public figures who died young is not uncommon: The writings of Elliott Smith and David Foster Wallace were made public after their untimely deaths. But most of these cases involve a personality who was working on material for public consumption, while the posthumous release is made with the cooperation of the person’s surviving relatives.

On Twitter, immediate reactions to news of Hoffman’s diaries included such sentiments as “Pretty tacky that anon police are offering news orgs Philip Seymour Hoffman’s diary. He has family … that might not want it public” (@kayzee1012); “isn’t publishing this simply nauseatingly intrusive?” (@tinywriterlaura); and “This is just despicable” (@carolreynolds2).

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