Leave it to the tabloids to get it all wrong.
The National Enquirer, the granddaddy of supermarket-aisle gossip in the US, was forced to publicly apologise in a full-page New York Times ad for a story that suggested Philip Seymour Hoffman had a romantic and drug-abusing relationship with David Bar Katz, the friend who found Hoffman dead in his apartment on Jan. 26 from an apparent heroin overdose.
In the immediate aftermath of the acclaimed actor's passing, the Enquirer claimed it had conducted a new interview with Katz.
The tabloid quoted the 48-year-old playwright saying that he and Hoffman were lovers, that they had freebased cocaine the night before Hoffman's death, and that Katz had seen Hoffman use heroin many times.
Katz categorically denied the claims and insisted that he had never given such an interview.
Katz sued the publication and its parent company, American Media Incorporated, for libel. The lawsuit settled soon thereafter and the Enquirer deleted the article from its website and apologised to Katz. Additionally, the tabloid was forced to take out the Times advertisement reiterating its mea culpa and backtracking from the dubious report. The Enquirer also tried to explain its mistake, saying it had been tricked by a source who supposedly presented himself as the real Katz.
"It sounds ridiculous," Katz's attorney, Judd Burstein, told the Times. "They did a search and found someone named David Katz who appeared to be the son of David’s father. They asked, 'Are you the David Katz who is the playwright?'
"They believed him. He sounded distraught. They couldn’t believe that someone would be so callous to say, 'I'm the real David Katz,'" Burstein continued.
"From what I understand, it was one senior reporter who worked on it with some researchers. The reporter did the interview and was convinced it was the right person."
As part of the settlement, the Enquirer is also funding an endowment to Katz's newly established non-profit, the American Playwriting Foundation, which will give out an annual $45,000 grant to an American playwright "who has written an unproduced play that best embodies Mr. Hoffman's relentless passion for truth."
The full monetary amount of the settlement wasn't disclosed, but Burstein told the Times that "it's enough for the foundation to give out these grants for years to come."
The Enquirer must also provide Burstein and Katz with the contact information for the person who claimed to be Katz. "My goal is to have him living out of a cardboard box," Burstein added.
Katz appeared on CNN's "New Day" Wednesday to address the case. He explained to host Chris Cuomo that he first learned about the libelous situation from his own kids.
"You heard from it about your son?" Cuomo asked.
"Yes. He had been online in the morning. And then when it blew up, and it was like, this is now becoming this story and I was being chased by photographers and it became a thing where I unfortunately had to deal with in the midst of dealing with more important things. And that's when — luckily I was friends with someone that's the kind of person that handles this sort of thing. And we did the lawsuit and forced the Enquirer to admit that they totally screwed up."
"I always knew they made stuff up, but I never knew they made up even having an interview with someone that they never had, and then the degree of seeing how everyone picks it up and, as you just said, treats it like news," Katz continued. "I was really stunned by that."
"I think [the Enquirer] called every David Katz in the Tri-State area," he added.
Katz told the Times that it wasn't the accusation that he and Hoffman were lovers that aggravated him. "My 14-year-old said, 'Dad, there's something online about you and Phil being lovers,'" he said. "I said, 'Phil would get a kick out of that.'"
Ultimately, it was the other mischaracterisations about their friendship that upset Katz the most. "The issue was never me being outraged at being accused of being gay — we're theater guys, who cares?" he added. "The issue was lying about the drugs, that I would betray my friend by telling confidences."
Jeremy Blacklow writes for Yahoo Celebrity'''