WEST VILLAGE — Philip Seymour Hoffman was "not just a great, great talent" fellow actor Eric Bogosian told the fans, friends and aspiring actors who gathered Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil to commemorate the man who died over the weekend.
The Oscar-winning star of "Capote" was also a loving father and a "force of nature," Bogosian said.
"Phil was smart and he was tough and he was generous to a fault," he told the crowd of hundreds of people gathered in the courtyard outside LABryinth Theater Company, which Hoffman founded and in which he remained closely involved.
"He bent over backwards to support the actors who others ignored."
The vigil was officiated by Father Jim Martin, a Jesuit priest and member of the theater company, who also considered himself a friend.
Martin read a passage from Ecclesiastes and asked everyone to raise their flickering candles and say just one word that came to mind when they thought about Hoffman.
"No matter how you know him, or how well you know him," he added.
Martin raised his candle and said firmly, "humility."
Others called out "love" and "kindness" through tears.
The simple, quiet ceremony lasted less than 30 minutes.
Jack Davidson, a 77-year-old actor who lives in the Westbeth Artists' Housing above the LAByrinth Theater, marveled at how fitting the vigil was for the man it was honoring.
"It was as unassuming a memorial as he was a man," Davidson said, smiling. "He was so important, but he was the last person who seemed to know it."
Bogosian described Hoffman as an attentive, loving friend and a supportive but tough collaborator.
"When he listened, he had a twinkle in his eye like he couldn't wait to hear the next word," Bogosian said. "But that twinkle could turn to spark if he thought you were bullshitting him" — here the crowd erupted into laughter — "or if you were giving anything less than your all."
"Because that's what he gave, always," Bogosian added.
The crowd was filled with young admirers of Hoffman, many of whom studied or were studying at LAByrinth.
Actor Logan Cunningham, 30, who takes a master class at LAB said he had thought of Hoffman as a professional role model.
"I admired his work, but I really admired his life," he said. "I always thought, 'I would like to have that sort of balance, eventually, if I get to do this for a living — moving between film and theater.'"
But there were many in the crowd who weren't artists and were there simply to remember Hoffman as an integral part of their community — the unassuming but vastly important neighbor Davidson described.
A 32-year-old lawyer named Bridget, who said she had lived in the neighborhood for 10 years, said she did not know Hoffman personally but always liked seeing him around.
"This is a neighborhood that feels like a real community," Bridget said. "I just wanted to come and stand."
Father Martin concluded the vigil with the recitation of a prayer he said he had once shared with Hoffman, and which Hoffman had liked. It was by Trappist monk Thomas Merton, and began by confessing, "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going." The crowd wept as Martin reached the final line — "I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."
Martin told the crowds to go in peace, but no one moved. After a few solemn moments, a long-time resident of the neighborhood, Dina Paisner, raised her voice and began to sing "Amen," encouraging the crowd to join in with her. They did, many through tears.
"There needed to be some music," Paisner said when the singing had ended. Looking around at the hundreds of people standing in place, looking a little lost, she said, "Nobody wants to leave. They all want more."