02/05/2014 05:27 pm ET Updated Apr 07, 2014

Death of an Actor

Mandy Patinkin turned on his phone as soon as the wheels hit the runway at the airport in Fort Myers, Fla., on Super Bowl Sunday. That's when he learned that Philip Seymour Hoffman had been found dead in his apartment that morning.

The police were already saying they had found bags of heroin in Hoffman's apartment. Patinkin knew him, but, he says, not about the drugs.

"I was not aware of this problem," the actor told donors at a Boca Raton country club dinner hosted by the Jewish Federation. "I was devastated. I couldn't walk."

Patinkin called the famed director Mike Nichols. He said they talked about the troubled protagonist in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," Willy Loman, who kills himself. Hoffman had played that role.

In a tribute to Hoffman, Patinkin -- who has performed on Broadway -- interrupted his speech to sing "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz.

His voice dancing from baritone to falsetto, Patinkin sang the whole song, which ends with:

"Birds fly over the rainbow...Why, then, oh why can't I?"

In an emotional plea for sanity, Patinkin spent a part of his talk begging people of all stripes, including Obama officials and their Republican rivals, to confront their fears by listening to those with whom they disagree. Patinkin said that he himself has struggled his whole life to confront his fears, taken Zoloft and Prozac to no avail, and still wrestles with his own insecurities.

And if Philip Seymour Hoffman had learned how to deal with whatever pain he was dealing with, he said, "he wouldn't have needed to stick the needle in his arm."