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By CNN chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper
(CNN) - The first time most of us remember seeing actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was as a rich jerk in "Scent of a Woman."
A few years later he was an adrenaline junkie chasing tornadoes in "Twister." His character Dusty was the best and only thing I still remember about that film. Recognizing the rich jerk who had suddenly become a scrappy storm chaser, I was amazed at his versatility.
It's a quality that defines his quarter century on stage and screen. Every time Hoffman appeared he had transformed himself entirely.
It didn't matter that fundamentally he was the disheveled every man off-screen – once the curtain rose, he could be anyone: An evil villain in "Mission Impossible III," a drag queen in "Flawless," a priest in "Doubt," a hilarious former child star in "Along Came Polly," or even the high-pitched, short-statured Truman Capote – a role for which the booming, 5'10" actor won an Oscar.
Hoffman acted as if he has "willfully rearranging his molecules to become another human being," director Mike Nichols told The New York Times in 2008.
Nichols tapped Hoffman to be his Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman" on Broadway.
But when Hoffman wanted to transform his reality off-screen, he turned to drugs. The actor told CBS' "60 Minutes" that he entered rehab for the first time at age 22. Press accounts say he was clean for more than 20 years, but Hoffman returned to rehab last year.
The 46-year-old was found dead in his Manhattan apartment Sunday, after an apparent heroine overdose.
Critic Richard Brody tied Hoffman's skill to his addiction.
"Genius, whether at its most constructive or destructive, its most sublime or its most repugnant, is unnatural; Hoffman lived for great art, and it's impossible to escape the idea that he died for it," Brody wrote in The New Yorker.
I do not know that to be the case. I do know that his three young children are now without a father, his partner and friends have lost by all accounts a sweet and generous soul, and now the rest of us are deprived of his art. Whatever the reason, we are all poorer for it.
CNN's Kim Berryman contributed to this story.