Early on Sunday, Feb. 2, Groundhog's Day, as crowds gathered to watch Punxsutawney Phil emerge from his burrow and into the spotlight, the actor Phil Hoffman was found dead inside his apartment in New York.
The modern incarnation of the Groundhog's Day ritual - and you already know the ritual: groundhog sees shadow equals six more weeks of winter; groundhog doesn't see shadow equals early spring - began in 1887, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. This was essentially a theatrical version of an old folk tale, with the added bonus of food and speeches and live entertainment. The groundhog was plucked from obscurity by a so-called Inner Circle, who named him, accordingly, Punxsutawney Phil, and thus a star was born.
Phil Hoffman was born in Fairport, N.Y., in 1967, the son of a family court judge and a Xerox executive. He pursued acting in his youth, ultimately landing his first on-screen role as a suspected rapist on "Law and Order" in 1991. Around this time, he fell in with a fast-paced social group in New York City, which soon led to a private breakdown, coupled with alcohol and drug addiction. "It was anything I could get my hands on," he told the Associated Press years later. "I liked it all."
Punxsutawney Phil, the legend states, drinks a magical elixir every summer that lengthens his life by seven years. The drug is given to him by his Inner Circle, though the act is always private, always hidden.
Phil Hoffman went to rehab, got sober, and in the mid-'90s, fell in with his own inner circle, a group of young actors and filmmakers, including the writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, who would later call Phil Hoffman one of the greatest actors in all of film. "I know he's my friend," Anderson said in an interview on "Fresh Air" in 2013, "but there's nothing he can't do."
Over time, both Phils became famous. Punxsutawney Phil inched his way into pop culture, as national news outlets began reporting on the spectacle of his weather predictions each year. And Phil Hoffman gained stature as a world-class actor, eventually winning an Oscar for his role as the title character in "Capote."
Both had become public personas: two chubby celebrities who emerged for brief moments, only to return to a dark, private space few knew anything about.
Sunday, on the front page of many news sites, pictures of the two Phils appeared on various news sites.
Punxsutawney Phil is shown the moment he was carried out into the spotlight, surrounded by crowds of onlookers. This is the obligatory photo, captioned with the yearly prediction (six more weeks of winter, so speaketh the groundhog), and, now that the spectacle is over, the crowds have dispersed, allowing Phil to return to his burrow, to lie alone in the dark.
Phil Hoffman, too, was now alone, lying on the floor of his apartment, the needle that took his life still, presumably, dangling out of his vein, while outside the media converged with flashing lights and rolling cameras, waiting for the moment when he'd be carried out into the spotlight for the last time.