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West Village Mourns Neighbor and 'Sweet Dad' Philip Seymour Hoffman

 The multi award-winning actor of stage and screen was found dead in his West Village apartment on Feb. 2, 2014.
Philip Seymour Hoffman Found Dead in Apartment
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WEST VILLAGE — News of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's death from a possible drug overdose Sunday morning rippled through the West Village throughout the day, as passersby and camera crews huddled together outside the Bethune Street apartment building he had moved into just a few months prior.

For many Village residents, the actor's death meant the loss of someone they regularly saw up close, spoke with and worked alongside.

The West Village theater community rallied together at the LAByrinth Theater on Bank Street, which Hoffman helped establish. A steady stream of people poured into the space, congregating inside to hug and comfort one another.

Many members declined to speak with a reporter. Those who did stressed what a deeply personal loss they were grappling with.

"He was family," one theater company member said.

Hoffman was a regular sight on the streets of the Village, which was always a surprise to some residents.

"He was just a neighborhood guy," said Amy Gruenhut, 33.

Gruenhut, who has lived on Jane Street for 10 years, said she often saw Hoffman "strolling by himself," or sitting on a step smoking a cigarette in front of the Jane Street home he used to share with his girlfriend, Mimi O'Donnell, and their three children, Cooper Alexander, Tallulah and Willa.

Gruenhut said she felt particularly upset by the news that Hoffman may have died of a drug overdose, because she often thought he "looked sad."

"I kind of thought maybe I should have said something to him," she said, noting he was a regular at the same coffee shop she went to, Chocolate Bar. "He just looked really sad and lonely."

But other neighbors, like 22-year-old Malik Sow, saw a different Hoffman.

"I had heard about his [drug] issues last year when he relapsed, which was surprising to me just 'cause he was so normal," said Sow, a filmmaking student at the School of Visual Arts who grew up in the Village.

Lighting a candle and a stick of incense to set on the doorstep of 35 Bethune St., where Hoffman was found dead hours earlier, he recalled Hoffman bringing his kids into the neighborhood bookstore where Sow used to work.

"He was just very cool," Sow said. "You don't find a lot of really down-to-earth people in the [film] industry."

And employees at Chocolate Bar on Eighth Avenue said heartbroken regulars had been coming in all day asking if they had heard the news of Hoffman's death.

"Everyone seems pretty shaken up," said Kate St. Cyr, 24, the assistant manager. She said it was especially shocking to hear that he may have died of an overdose.

"We just saw him yesterday, he was fine," she said. "He's been in a great mood, really happy."

To St. Cyr and her coworkers, Hoffman was more than an award-winning actor: he was a friendly neighbor, "a really sweet man" and most of all, a "really sweet dad."

St. Cyr said Hoffman would bring all three of his kids to Chocolate Bar on summer nights for their favorite ice cream: peanut butter swirl. Some afternoons, he would come in just with his son, Cooper Alexander, after the two had played basketball together. They ate ice cream together on the bench in front of the little cafe.

"He seemed to have a really great relationship with his kids," St. Cyr said. "That's, I think, what's upsetting most of us. We feel really sad for his kids."