January 22, 2008

The Dark Knight's Heath Ledger Dead at 28

Movie star Heath Ledger was found dead in his SoHo apartment on the afternoon of January 22, 2008., he was only 28 years old. Early word is labeling his death as possibly drug related and possibly a suicide. Whatever the case may be, he left this world too early, no one should die in this way. Not to mention he leaves behind a young daughter, Mathilda, with his ex-fiancée Michelle Williams, with whom he amicably split in late 2006. The next hours and days will be filled with speculation regarding the cause of death and the reasons for his death, but through it all we must not forget that we will never know his situation and will likely never understand exactly what happened to him. Beyond all of the speculation, Heath Ledger was quietly growing as an actor that was trending upwards following his Oscar nomination for his role in Brokeback Mountain.

Heath began acting at a young age, first appearing in 1992's Clowning Around in his native Australia. It wasn't until 1997 that he began catching the eye of American audiences when he starred in the short-lived series Roar. From there he went on to the teen-themed comedy 10 Things I Hate About You in 1999 and seemed poised to become the next heartthrob actor.

In 2000 his career took another big step as he co-starred in the Mel Gibson starring film set during the Revolutionary War, The Patriot. Next step was the irreverent medieval comedy A Knight's Tale in 2001. Each film saw him take another step along the path to stardom.

The next few years saw him take roles in lower profile films that garnered more critical acclaim, including Monster's Ball and Ned Kelly. However, his next step brought him back to a wider audience, but was a pretty bad film. Does anyone remember The Order? The fewer who do the better.

Ledger was absent from the big screen in 2004, only to make a big return in 2005 appearing in a number of films. That year saw him play a fantastic supporting role in Lords of Dogtown, a role that I feel many do not recognize him for. Next up is the interesting, if flawed, Terry Gilliam film The Brothers Grimm, co-starring with Matt Damon. Heath also took on the title role in Casanova, a film I have not seen but received mixed critical notice.

All of that led up to his fantastic performance in Brokeback Mountain, which garnered him his Oscar nod and seemed to point towards bigger things for the young actor.

2006 saw him in a film called Candy, which I had not heard of prior to checking his filmography for this writing. It was a quiet year that also saw him focusing on his budding relationship with actress Michelle Williams and they baby.

2007 brought some big developments for Heath. Not only did he land the much-coveted role of the Joker in Christopher Nolan's sequel to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, but he was also tapped to play one of Bob Dylan's personas in Todd Haynes critical acclaimed and definitely unconventional I'm Not There.

He had one project that was currently in production, another collaboration with Terry Gilliam, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. He was co-starring in this film with Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits, and Verne Troyer. The future of this production is uncertain at this time.

Was Heath Ledger a great actor? No. But he did have very solid potential and his abilities were growing over the course of his career, with the occasional bump. What else can you ask for from a performer?

Following his death I watched some of the news stories concerning the unfortunate event as they tried to make sense of the situation. None of the pieces add up. However, through it all one thing was abundantly clear, Heath was dedicated to his craft. They spoke of recent interviews where he talked about the difficulties he had with getting into, and out of, character. He spoke of being haunted by the evil that is the Joker, how it kept him awake at night. Listening to these facts point out just how hard acting is, there is nothing easy about the craft, particularly if you are any good at it. If this had anything to do with these tragic events I do not know, but it makes me sad that we will never be able to see where his career would take him or how far his ability would develop.

Let me close by saying that my prayers go out to his friends and loved ones in these difficult times. It is never easy losing someone close to you, especially under such tragic circumstances. Whatever facts emerge over the upcoming days, remember that he left behind films that will be remembered for some time to come.


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