Thursday, June 1, 1989

Abbie Hoffman: His last interview (I think)

One day I happened to come across a photo that really struck me as incongruous: Abbie Hoffman at his bar mitzvah.

It made me laugh, and then it got me thinking. Underneath all the personae that Hoffman wore throughout his attention-getting life - radical trickster, professional agitator, media manipulator, fugitive - there was a Jewish sensibility underneath.

Knowing that Hoffman was living not far away in Bucks County, I got Inside Magazine, the "quarterly of Jewish life and style" in Philadelphia, interested in the story.

Hoffman was happy to oblige. He said that his Jewishness was an important component of his identity and yet nobody ever asked him about it.

He looked sick and out of shape, but he talked up a storm and no matter how I argued to the contrary, he insisted that the Sixties generation had won. Though we were in the midst of the Reagan years, he insisted that the Sixties movements had changed the country for the good. He was full of optimism for the future, he said.

About a month later, the news broke that he'd killed himself.

He fooled me. I had no clue he was in any kind of desperation.

He probably fooled himself as well. His brother disclosed to me that Abbie had been bipolar. For every up, there was a down. For every public act of outrageousness, there was a period of private despair. I caught him in an up.

This was the last substantive interview the ever-talkative, media star-struck Hoffman ever gave. It may be the last interview, period. I'm not sure.

I'm glad I had the chance to talk to him, even though the story, rewritten quickly to take his death into account, now reads like a jumble.

I always admired Abbie Hoffman, even when I questioned his tactics. Or his tact.

I felt personally close to what happened in the Sixties, and I'm happy to know that Hoffman's last days weren't entirely bleak. He could still speak of hope.