Heath Andrew Ledger (4 April 1979 – 22 January 2008) was an Australian actor and director. After performing roles in Australian television and film during the 1990s, Ledger left for the United States in 1998 to develop his film career. His work comprised nineteen films, including 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), The Patriot (2000), A Knight’s Tale (2001), Monster’s Ball (2001), Ned Kelly (2003), The Brothers Grimm (2005), Lords of Dogtown (2005), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Casanova (2005), Candy (2006), I’m Not There (2007), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009).He also produced and directed music videos and aspired to be a film director.
For his portrayal of Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain, Ledger won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor and Best International Actor from the Australian Film Institute, and was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and for the Academy Award for Best Actor.Posthumously he shared the 2007 Independent Spirit Robert Altman Award with the rest of the ensemble cast, the director, and the casting director for the film I’m Not There, which was inspired by the life and songs of American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. In the film, Ledger portrayed a fictional actor named Robbie Clark, one of six characters embodying aspects of Dylan’s life and persona.
Ledger died on 22 January 2008 from an accidental intoxication from prescription drugs.A few months before his death, Ledger had finished filming his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. His death occurred during editing of The Dark Knight and in the midst of filming his last role as Tony in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. His untimely death cast a sombre shadow over the subsequent promotion of the $180 million Batman production.Ledger received numerous posthumous accolades for his critically acclaimed performance in the film, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, a Best Actor International Award at the 2008 Australian Film Institute Awards (for which he became the first actor to win an award posthumously),the 2008 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor, the 2009 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture,and the 2009 BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Ledger was born on 4 April 1979 in Perth, Western Australia, the son of Sally Ledger (née Ramshaw), a teacher of the French language, and Kim Ledger, a racecar driver and mining engineer whose family established and owned the Ledger Engineering Foundry.The Sir Frank Ledger Charitable Trust is named after his great-grandfather. He had English, Irish, and Scottish ancestry. Ledger attended Mary’s Mount Primary School in Gooseberry Hill,and later Guildford Grammar School, where he had his first acting experiences, starring in a school production as Peter Pan at age 10.His parents separated when he was 10 and divorced when he was 11.Ledger’s older sister Kate, an actress and later a publicist, to whom he was very close, inspired his acting on stage, and his love of Gene Kelly inspired his successful choreography, leading to Guildford Grammar’s 60-member team’s “first all-boy victory” at the Rock Eisteddfod Challenge.Heath’s and Kate’s other siblings include two half-sisters, Ashleigh Bell (b. 1990), his mother’s daughter with her second husband and his stepfather Roger Bell, and Olivia Ledger (b. 1996), his father’s daughter with second wife and his stepmother Emma Brown.
After sitting for early graduation exams at 17, Ledger left school to pursue an acting career. With Trevor DiCarlo, his best friend since he was three years old, Ledger drove across Australia from Perth to Sydney, returning to Perth to take a small role in Clowning Around (1992), the first part of a two-part television series, and to work on the TV series Sweat (1996), in which he played a gay cyclist. From 1993 to 1997, Ledger also had parts in the Perth television series Ship to Shore (1993); in the short-lived Fox Broadcasting Company fantasy-drama Roar (1997); in Home and Away (1997), one of Australia’s most successful television shows; and in the Australian film Blackrock (1997), his feature film debut. In 1999, he starred in the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You and in the acclaimed Australian crime film Two Hands, directed by Gregor Jordan.
From 2000 to 2005, he starred in supporting roles as Gabriel Martin, the eldest son of Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), in The Patriot (2000), and as Sonny Grotowski, the son of Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton), in Monster’s Ball (2000); and in leading or title roles in A Knight’s Tale (2001), The Four Feathers (2002), The Order (2003), Ned Kelly (2003), Casanova (2005), The Brothers Grimm (2005), and Lords of Dogtown (2005). In 2001, he won a ShoWest Award as “Male Star of Tomorrow”.
Ledger received “Best Actor of 2005” awards from both the New York Film Critics Circle and the San Francisco Film Critics Circle for his performance in Brokeback Mountain, in which he plays Wyoming ranch hand Ennis Del Mar, who has a love affair with aspiring rodeo rider Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. He also received a nomination for Golden Globe Best Actor in a Drama and a nomination for Academy Award for Best Actor for this performance,making him, at age 26, the ninth-youngest nominee for a Best Actor Oscar. In The New York Times review of the film, critic Stephen Holden writes: “Both Mr. Ledger and Mr. Gyllenhaal make this anguished love story physically palpable. Mr. Ledger magically and mysteriously disappears beneath the skin of his lean, sinewy character. It is a great screen performance, as good as the best of Marlon Brando and Sean Penn.” In a review in Rolling Stone, Peter Travers states: “Ledger’s magnificent performance is an acting miracle. He seems to tear it from his insides. Ledger doesn’t just know how Ennis moves, speaks and listens; he knows how he breathes. To see him inhale the scent of a shirt hanging in Jack’s closet is to take measure of the pain of love lost.”
After Brokeback Mountain, Ledger costarred with fellow Australian Abbie Cornish in the 2006 Australian film Candy, an adaptation of the 1998 novel Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction, as young heroin addicts in love attempting to break free of their addiction, whose mentor is played by Geoffrey Rush; for his performance as sometime poet Dan, Ledger was nominated for three “Best Actor” awards, including one of the Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards, which both Cornish and Rush won in their categories. Shortly after the release of Candy, Ledger was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.As one of six actors embodying different aspects of the life of Bob Dylan in the 2007 film I’m Not There, directed by Todd Haynes, Ledger “won praise for his portrayal of ‘Robbie [Clark],’ a moody, counter-culture actor who represents the romanticist side of Dylan, but says accolades are never his motivation.” Posthumously, on 23 February 2008, he shared the 2007 Independent Spirit Robert Altman Award with the rest of the film’s ensemble cast, its director, and its casting director.
In his penultimate film performance, Ledger played the Joker in Christopher Nolan‘s 2008 film The Dark Knight, released nearly six months after his death. While working on the film in London, Ledger told Sarah Lyall in their New York Times interview that he viewed The Dark Knight’s Joker as a “psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy“.For his work on The Dark Knight, Ledger won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor with his family accepting it on his behalf, as well as numerous other posthumous awards, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor, which Christopher Nolan accepted for him.At the time of his death on 22 January 2008, Ledger had completed about half of the work for his final film performance as Tony in Terry Gilliam‘s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Gilliam chose to adapt the film after his death by having fellow actors Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell play “fantasy transformations” of his character so that Ledger’s final performance could be seen in theatres.
Ledger had aspirations to become a film director and had made some music videos, which director Todd Haynes praised highly in his tribute to Ledger upon accepting the ISP Robert Altman Award, which Ledger posthumously shared, on 23 February 2008. In 2006, Ledger directed music videos for the title track on Australian hip hop artist N’fa‘s CD debut solo album Cause An Effectand for the single “Seduction Is Evil (She’s Hot)”.Later that year, Ledger inaugurated a new record label, Masses Music, with singer Ben Harper and also directed a music video for Harper’s song “Morning Yearning”.
At a news conference at the 2007 Venice Film Festival, Ledger spoke of his desire to make a documentary film about the British singer-songwriter Nick Drake, who died in 1974, at the age of 26, from an overdose of an antidepressant. Ledger created and acted in a music video set to Drake’s recording of the singer’s 1974 song about depression “Black Eyed Dog” – a title “inspired by Winston Churchill’s descriptive term for depression” (black dog);it was shown publicly only twice, first at the Bumbershoot Festival, in Seattle, held from 1 to 3 September 2007; and secondly as part of “A Place To Be: A Celebration of Nick Drake”, with its screening of Their Place: Reflections On Nick Drake, “a series of short filmed homages to Nick Drake” (including Ledger’s), sponsored by American Cinematheque, at the Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, in Hollywood, on 5 October 2007. After Ledger’s death, his music video for “Black Eyed Dog” was shown on the Internet and excerpted in news clips distributed via YouTube.
He was working with Scottish screenwriter and producer Allan Scott on an adaptation of the 1983 novel The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis, which would have been his first feature film as a director. He also intended to act in the film, with Canadian actress Ellen Page proposed in the lead role. Ledger’s final directorial work, in which he shot two music videos before his death, premiered in 2009. The music videos, completed for Modest Mouse and Grace Woodroofe, include an animated feature for Modest Mouse’s song, “King Rat“, and the Woodroofe video for her cover of David Bowie‘s “Quicksand“.The “King Rat” video premiered on 4 August 2009.
Ledger was an avid chess player, winning Western Australia’s junior chess championship at the age of 10.As an adult, he often played with other chess enthusiasts at Washington Square Park.Allan Scott‘s film adaptation of the chess-related 1983 novel The Queen’s Gambit, by Walter Tevis, which at the time of his death he was planning to both perform in and direct, would have been Ledger’s first feature film as a director.
Ledger had relationships with actresses Lisa Zane, Heather Graham and Naomi Watts In the summer of 2004, he met and began dating actress Michelle Williams on the set of Brokeback Mountain, and their daughter, Matilda Rose, was born on 28 October 2005 in New York City.Matilda’s godparents are Ledger and Williams’ Brokeback co-star Jake Gyllenhaal and Williams’ Dawson’s Creek castmate Busy Philipps. In January 2006, Ledger put his residence in Bronte, New South Wales up for sale,and returned to the United States, where he shared a house with Williams, in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, from 2005 to 2007. In September 2007, Williams’ father confirmed to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph that Ledger and Williams had ended their relationship.
After his break-up with Williams, in late 2007 and early 2008, the tabloid press and other public media linked Ledger romantically with supermodels Helena Christensen and Gemma Ward. On 30 January 2011, Gemma Ward stated that the pair began dating in November 2007 and their families spent Christmas together in their home town of Perth. He and actress Lindsay Lohan were very close friends. Lindsay said she was heartbroken when she learned of Ledger’s death.
Ledger’s relationship with the press in Australia was sometimes turbulent, and it led to his abandonment of plans for his family to reside part-time in Sydney. In 2004, he strongly denied press reports alleging that “he spat at journalists on the Sydney set of the film Candy,” or that one of his relatives had done so later, outside Ledger’s Sydney home.On 13 January 2006, “Several members of the paparazzi retaliated … squirting Ledger and Williams with water pistols on the red carpet at the Sydney premiere of Brokeback Mountain.“
After his performance on stage at the 2005 Screen Actors Guild Awards, when he had giggled in presenting Brokeback Mountain as a nominee for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, the Los Angeles Times referred to his presentation as an “apparent gay spoof.” Ledger called the Times later and explained that his levity resulted from stage fright, saying that he had been told that he would be presenting the award only minutes earlier; he stated: “I am so sorry and I apologise for my nervousness. I would be absolutely horrified if my stage fright was misinterpreted as a lack of respect for the film, the topic and for the amazing filmmakers.”
Ledger was quoted in January 2006 in Melbourne’s Herald Sun as saying that he heard that West Virginia had banned Brokeback Mountain, which it had not; actually, a cinema in Utah had banned the film. He had also referred mistakenly to West Virginia’s having had lynchings as recently as the 1980s, but state scholars disputed his statement, observing that, whereas lynchings did occur in Alabama as recently as 1981, according to “the director of state archives and history” quoted in The Charleston Gazette, “The last documented lynching in West Virginia took place in Lewisburg in 1931.”
In their New York Times interview, published on 4 November 2007, Ledger told Sarah Lyall that his recently completed roles in I’m Not There (2007) and The Dark Knight (2008) had taken a toll on his ability to sleep: “Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night. … I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.”At that time, he told Lyall that he had taken two Ambien pills, after taking just one had not sufficed, and those left him in “a stupor, only to wake up an hour later, his mind still racing.”
Prior to his return to New York from his last film assignment, in London, in January 2008, while he was apparently suffering from some kind of respiratory illness, he reportedly complained to his co-star from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Christopher Plummer, that he was continuing to have difficulty sleeping and taking pills to help with that problem: “Confirming earlier reports that Ledger hadn’t been feeling well on set, Plummer says, ‘we all caught colds because we were shooting outside on horrible, damp nights. But Heath’s went on and I don’t think he dealt with it immediately with the antibiotics…. I think what he did have was the walking pneumonia.’ […] On top of that, ‘He was saying all the time, ‘dammit, I can’t sleep’… and he was taking all these pills to help him.’ “
In talking with Interview magazine, after his death Ledger’s former fiancée Michelle Williams also confirmed reports the actor had experienced trouble sleeping. “For as long as I’d known him, he had bouts with insomnia. He had too much energy. His mind was turning, turning, turning – always turning.”
At about 2:45 pm (EST), on 22 January 2008, Ledger was found unconscious in his bed by his housekeeper, Teresa Solomon, and his masseuse, Diana Wolozin, in his fourth-floor loft apartment at 421 Broome Street in the SoHo neighbourhood of Manhattan.
According to the police, Wolozin, who had arrived early for a 3:00 pm appointment with Ledger, called Ledger’s friend, actress Mary-Kate Olsen, for help. Olsen, who was in California, directed a New York City private security guard to go to the scene. At 3:26 pm, “less than 15 minutes after she first saw him in bed and only a few moments after the first call to Ms. Olsen”, Wolozin telephoned 9-1-1 “to say that Mr. Ledger was not breathing”. At the urging of the 9-1-1 operator, Wolozin administered CPR, which was unsuccessful in reviving him.
Paramedics and emergency medical technicians arrived seven minutes later, at 3:33 pm (“at almost exactly the same moment as a private security guard summoned by Ms. Olsen”) but were also unable to revive him. At 3:36 pm, Ledger was pronounced dead, and his body was removed from the apartment.
Autopsy and toxicology report
Two weeks later on 6 February 2008, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York released its conclusions, based on an initial autopsy of 23 January 2008 and a subsequent complete toxicological analysis.The report concludes, in part, “Mr. Heath Ledger died as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine.”It states definitively: “We have concluded that the manner of death is accident, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications.”
While the medications found in the toxicological analysis may be prescribed in the United States for insomnia, anxiety, pain, or common cold (doxylamine) symptoms, the vast majority of physicians in the US are extremely reluctant to prescribe multiple benzodiazepines (e.g., diazepam, alprazolam, and temazepam) to a single patient, let alone prescribe the same to a patient already taking a mix of oxycodone and hydrocodone. Although the Associated Press and other media reported that “police estimate Ledger’s time of death between 1 pm and 2:45 pm” (on 22 January 2008), the Medical Examiner’s Office announced that it would not be publicly disclosing the official estimated time of death.The official announcement of the cause and manner of Ledger’s death heightened concerns about the growing problems of prescription drug abuse or misuse and combined drug intoxication (CDI).
Late in February 2008, a DEA investigation of medical professionals relating to Ledger’s death exonerated two American physicians, who practise in Los Angeles and Houston, of any wrongdoing, determining that “the doctors in question had prescribed Ledger other medications – not the pills that killed him.”
On 4 August 2008, citing unnamed sources, Murray Weiss, of the New York Post, first reported that Mary-Kate Olsen had “refused [through her attorney, Michael C. Miller] to be interviewed by federal investigators probing the accidental drug death of her close friend Heath Ledger … [without] … immunity from prosecution” and that, when asked about the matter, Miller at first declined further comment.Later that day, after the police confirmed the gist of Weiss’s account to the Associated Press, Miller issued a statement denying that Olsen supplied Ledger with the drugs causing his death and asserting that she did not know their source. In his statement, Miller said specifically, “Despite tabloid speculation, Mary-Kate Olsen had nothing whatsoever to do with the drugs found in Heath Ledger’s home or his body, and she does not know where he obtained them,” emphasising that media “descriptions [attributed to an unidentified source] are incomplete and inaccurate.”
After a flurry of further media speculation, on 6 August 2008, the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan closed its investigation into Ledger’s death without filing any charges and rendering moot its subpoena of Olsen. With the clearing of the two doctors and Olsen, and the closing of the investigation because the prosecutors in the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office “don’t believe there’s a viable target,” it is still not known how Ledger obtained the oxycodone and hydrocodone in the lethal drug combination that killed him.
Eleven months after Ledger’s death, on 23 December 2008, Jake Coyle, writing for the Associated Press, announced that “Heath Ledger’s death was voted 2008’s top entertainment story by U.S. newspaper and broadcast editors surveyed by The Associated Press” because it resulted in “shock and confusion” about “the circumstances”, the ruling of the death as an accident caused by “a toxic combination of prescription drugs”, and the continuation of “his legacy… [i]n a roundly acclaimed performance as the Joker in the year’s biggest box office hit The Dark Knight.”
(THANKS TO: WIKIPEDIA.COM FOR THIS GREAT FEATURE ON THE LIFE OF HEATH LEDGER). — sssip 🙂 🙂