"When I heard the news, I cried. Then I cried some more," says English teacher John Baynes of his reaction when he learned that a former student, Philip Seymour Hoffman, had been found dead. Baynes taught Hoffman in 1986, when he was a senior at Fairport High School near Rochester, N.Y., and had kept in touch with the talented actor since.
In an interview with WHEC, Baynes recalls Hoffman's performance in a school production of "Death of a Salesman," saying, "It was clear to everyone at that point that Phil was an extraordinary and gifted talent." Hoffman played the lead role of Willy Loman before an audience of his high school peers; He would later go on to play the same part on Broadway in 2012.
The English teacher describes Hoffman as having been "super genuine," "intellectually curious" and "available and present to others."
"He was unimpressed by fame, by anything surface. He didn't care about the surface in life, he cared about what was underneath: the human soul, the depth of the human person," Baynes remembers. "He was a gifted young man, who got it. We so rarely meet people who get it -- who get the human spirit the way Phil Hoffman does."
An active supporter of his alma mater, Hoffman was genuinely invested in his home life and those who helped him to learn. The Fairport Central School District's interim Superintendent William Cala released an official statement: "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."
The Film Stage tweeted a photo of Hoffman from around the time he would have attended Fairport High, noting his participation in the school:
— The Film Stage (@TheFilmStage) February 2, 2014
Baynes hopes that Hoffman will be remembered for his accomplishments in life, rather than for his untimely death. The teacher says, "His death does not define him. His life defines his life. He was an inspiration to so many young people and I hope he still will be."