Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger
Perth, Western Australia
Birth date
4 April 1979
Actor, music video director
Active Years

Heathcliff Andrew Ledger (April 4 1979 – January 22 2008) was an Academy Award-nominated Australian actor. After appearing in television roles during the 1990s, Ledger developed a Hollywood career. He starred in both critical and financial successes, including The Patriot, Monster's Ball, and Brokeback Mountain, and completed the role of the Joker in the forthcoming The Dark Knight. He died in New York City at the age of 28.

Early life and family[edit | edit source]

Ledger was born in Perth, Western Australia, the son of Sally Ledger Bell (née Ramshaw), a French teacher, and Kim Ledger, a race car driver and mining engineer.[1] Ledger's mother is descended from the Clan Campbell of Scotland and his father comes from a family known in Perth for their ownership of the Ledger Engineering Foundry.[2] He and his sister Kate were named after the two main characters in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff and Catherine. The Sir Frank Ledger Charitable Trust was named after his great-grandfather.[3] Ledger attended Guildford Grammar School, where he had his first acting experiences, starring in a school production as Peter Pan at age 10.[3]

Career[edit | edit source]

Early career[edit | edit source]

At sixteen, Ledger sat for early graduation exams, and left school to pursue an acting career[4] with girlfriend Jenna Sorrell. With his best friend, Trevor DiCarlo, Ledger made the cross-country drive to Sydney. He returned to Perth for the TV series Sweat (1996), in which he played a gay cyclist.[3]

In 1996, prior to his film debut in the 1997 Australian movie Blackrock, Heath Ledger was involved in the short lived Fox Broadcasting Company fantasy-drama Roar. In 1999, Ledger starred in the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You and also had the lead role in the acclaimed Australian movie Two Hands, directed by Gregor Jordan.[3]

2000–2008[edit | edit source]

As Ennis del Mar in Brokeback Mountain

From 2000 to 2005 he starred in The Patriot, Monster's Ball, A Knight's Tale, The Four Feathers, Ned Kelly, The Order, and The Brothers Grimm. In 2001, he won a ShoWest Award for the Male Star of Tomorrow based on his performance in The Patriot, and worldwide release of A Knight's Tale. In 2003, he was named one of Australian GQ's Men of the Year for acting.

Ledger received "Best Actor of 2005" awards from both the New York Film Critics Circle and the San Francisco Film Critics Circle for his acclaimed 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. In the New York Times review of the film, critic Stephen Holden wrote:

"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 screen performance, as good as the best of Marlon Brando and Sean Penn.[5]"

In another review in Rolling Stone, Peter Travers wrote:

"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.[6]"

Also in 2005, Ledger played a fictionalised version of Giacomo Casanova in Casanova. The film, a romantic comedy which co-starred Sienna Miller, drew mixed reviews from critics and failed to find a significant audience among general moviegoers.

In 2006, Ledger was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[7] In 2007, he was one of six actors to portray different sides of singer Bob Dylan in the film I'm Not There.

Ledger played iconic comic book villain The Joker in The Dark Knight, the sequel to the 2005 film Batman Begins, opposite fellow I'm Not There star Christian Bale. The film is set to debut on July 18, 2008.[8] Since The Dark Knight was in post-production at the time of Ledger's death, the film itself will be unchanged, although the viral marketing campaign that centered around Ledger's character may be affected.[9]

The film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, in which he had been cast in a major supporting role, was in production at the time of his death.[10]

He was working with Scottish writer/producer Allan Scott on an adaptation of The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis, which would have been his first feature as a director.[11]

Director[edit | edit source]

Ledger had aspirations to become a film director and had started exploring this avenue by making some music videos and one short film.

In 2006, Ledger directed three music videos:"Morning Yearning" for Ben Harper and two video clips for Australian hip-hop artist N'fa - "Cause an Effect" and "Seduction Is Evil (She's Hot)".

In 2007, at a news conference at the Venice Film Festival, he spoke of his desire to make a film about the British troubadour Nick Drake who died tragically young at the age of 26 in 1974. As a first step towards this project he created and appeared in a short film set to Drake's recording of his 1974 song about depression titled "Black Eyed Dog". Ledger's film was included in an anthology of short films about Drake titled Their Place: Reflections On Nick Drake which received its world premiere at the Mods & Rockers Film Festival held at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles on Friday October 5, 2007.[12]

Music[edit | edit source]

Ledger started a record company with singer Ben Harper. As part of his involvement he directed a music video for Harper's song "Morning Yearning"

Public image[edit | edit source]

Press reception[edit | edit source]

Ledger had a turbulent relationship with paparazzi photographers. He strongly denied allegations that he spat at and assaulted a photographer in Sydney in 2004.[13] On January 13, 2006, several photographers retaliated for the alleged incident, squirting Ledger and Williams with water pistols as they walked the red carpet for the Sydney premiere of Brokeback Mountain.[14]

Ledger was also subject to criticism in the press following his performance on stage at the 2005 Screen Actors Guild Awards. Ledger was seen giggling when presenting Brokeback Mountain as a nominee for Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. The Los Angeles Times described his behavior as "some kind of gay spoof."[15] Ledger later called the Times to explain that his actions were the result of stage fright, saying that he was only told he would be presenting the award minutes beforehand. "I am so sorry and I apologize for my nervousness," Ledger told the newspaper.[16][17]

Ledger came under fire after he was quoted in January 2006 in Australia's Herald Sun as saying that he heard that West Virginia had banned Brokeback Mountain, which it had not. (A cinema in Utah had banned the film.)[18] He also referred to West Virginia as having had lynchings as recently as the 1980s which was disputed by archivists and historians, who say that the last extralegal public hanging in the state occurred in 1931.[19]

Personal life[edit | edit source]

From August 2002 to April 2004, Ledger had a relationship with actress Naomi Watts, whom he met during the filming of Ned Kelly.[20] Previously, he had dated actresses Lisa Zane and Heather Graham.

Ledger was engaged to actress Michelle Williams, whom he met on the set of Brokeback Mountain.[21][22] Their daughter, Matilda Rose, was born on October 28, 2005 in New York City. The child's godparents are Ledger's Brokeback costar Jake Gyllenhaal and Williams' Dawson's Creek castmate Busy Phillips.[23] Ledger and his family divided their time between Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Sydney. Ledger sold his Australian residence in Bronte, New South Wales, for A$7 million.[24][25]

In August 2007, Us Weekly reported that Ledger and Williams ended their relationship because of their busy schedules. Neither Ledger nor Williams confirmed the rumour at that time. In September, 2007, Williams' father, Larry, confirmed to Sydney Daily Telegraph that Ledger and Williams had indeed split.[26]

In early 2008, Ledger was reported to have been seeing model Gemma Ward after media articles linked the two together at end of 2007 holiday celebrations.[27]

Death[edit | edit source]

On January 22, 2008, Ledger was found dead in his fourth-floor apartment at 421 Broome Street in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City.[28][29][30] According to police, housekeeper Teresa Solomon had arrived at approximately 12:30 p.m. to do household chores, entered the bedroom circa 1 p.m. to change a light bulb in the adjacent bathroom, and found Ledger face down on the bed, with a sheet pulled to his shoulders, and snoring.[31] Masseuse Diana Wolozin arrived at approximately 2:45 p.m. to give Ledger a massage, and when he did not emerge by 3 p.m., called his cellphone and received no answer. Wolozin entered the bedroom, began to set up the massage table, and tried to awaken the unresponsive Ledger.[31] Wolozin called Ledger's friend, actress Mary-Kate Olsen, who replied she would call a security firm.[31] After again attempting to waken Ledger, Wolozin called Olsen again briefly, and 3:26 p.m. called emergency personnel via 911.[31] Medical workers moved Ledger to the floor, used a defibrillator and CPR, and pronounced Ledger dead at 3:36 p.m.[31]

Police said they found prescription medication in the bathroom and that there were "no obvious signs" of suicide, nor did they suspect foul play.[32] An initial autopsy on January 23 proved inconclusive at determining Ledger's cause of death. The medical examiner's office stated it will take about 10 days to complete the investigation.[33]

On January 23, 2008 (Australian time), Ledger's parents and sister appeared outside Ledger's mother's house in Applecross, Western Australia, a riverside Perth suburb, and read a short statement to the media:

"We, [Heath's family], confirm the very tragic, untimely and accidental passing of our dearly loved son, brother and doting father of Matilda, who was found in a peaceful sleep in his New York apartment by his housekeeper at 3:30pm [New York Time]. We would like to thank our friends and everyone around the world for their kind wishes at this time. Heath has touched so many people on so many different levels during his short life, but few had the pleasure to truly know him. He was a down-to-earth, generous, kind-hearted, life-loving and unselfish individual who was an extreme inspiration to many. Please now respect our family's need to grieve and come to terms with our loss privately.[34]"

In reaction to his death, former partner Michelle Williams was reported as saying that she was "devastated" at the loss and had boarded a plane from Trollhättan, Sweden to New York City.[35] Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd released a statement saying, "It was with great sadness that I have learned of the passing of Heath Ledger... It is tragic that we have lost one of our nation's finest actors in the prime of his life."[36]

Filmography[edit | edit source]

Year Title Role Other notes
1997 Paws Oberon
Blackrock Toby
1999 10 Things I Hate About You Patrick Verona
Two Hands Jimmy AFI Award nominee (Best Actor in a Leading Role)
2000 The Patriot Gabriel Martin
2001 Monster's Ball Sonny Grotowski
A Knight's Tale Sir William Thatcher/Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein of Gelderland
2002 The Four Feathers Harry Faversham
2003 The Order Alex Bernier
Ned Kelly Ned Kelly AFI Award nominee (Best Actor in a Leading Role)
2005 Casanova Giacomo Casanova
Brokeback Mountain Ennis del Mar Academy Award nominee (Best Lead Actor)
Golden Globe nominee (Best Lead Actor - Drama)
BAFTA Award nominee (Best Lead Actor)
SAG nominee (Best Lead Actor, Best Ensemble Cast)
AFI Award (Best Lead Actor)
The Brothers Grimm Jacob Grimm
Lords of Dogtown Skip Engblom
2006 Candy Dan AFI Award nominee (Best Actor in a Leading Role)
IF Award nominee (Best Actor)
FCCA Award nominee (Best Actor)
2007 I'm Not There. Robbie Clark
2007 Black Eyed Dog Unnamed Character Short film directed by and featuring Ledger. Set to 1974 song about depression written by Nick Drake
2008 The Dark Knight The Joker post-production
2009 The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus in production at time of death
1992 Clowning Around
1997 Home and Away Scott Irwin
Roar Conor
1996 Sweat Snowy Bowles

Awards and nominations[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Heath Ledger Biography (1979-). Filmreference.com. Retrieved on 2008-01-23.
  2. BANKS, Frederick & Annie. Western Australian Museum. Retrieved on 2008-01-23..
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 HEATH LEDGER BIOGRAPHY. Tiscali film & tv. Retrieved on 2008-01-23.
  4. Transcript. Rolling Stone interview. Rolling Stone (March 2006). Retrieved on 2008-01-23.
  5. Holden, Stephen (December 9, 2005). Brokeback Mountain - Riding the High Country, Finding and Losing Love. The New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
  6. Travers, Peter (December 1, 2005). Brokeback Mountain. Review. Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
  7. Academy Invites 120 to Membership. Press Release. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (July 5, 2006). Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
  8. Heath Ledger? It's TRUE. NEWS ARCHIVES 47. BATMAN ON FILM (July 21, 2006). Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
  9. Brady, Matt. "Heath Ledger Dies", Newsarama, 2008-01-23. Retrieved on 2008-01-22. 
  10. "Gilliam, Ledger reteam for film", Variety, 2007-10-31. Retrieved on 2007-12-30. 
  11. Adam Dawtrey. "'Parnassus' team faces dilemma", Variety, 2008-01-23. Retrieved on 2008-01-23. 
  12. Heath Ledger's Video For Nick Drake Song: Eerie Postscript To Actor's Death, by Jim Fraenkel, with additional reporting by Rodrigo Perez for MTV.com, Jan 22 2008 10:15 PM EST
  13. Ledger slams spitting claims. Sfgate.com (2006-01-12). Retrieved on 2008-01-23.
  14. Wenn (2006-06-08). Water pistol attack left Ledger in tears. Hollywood.com. Retrieved on 2008-01-23.
  15. Elizabeth Snead (2006-01-30). Ledger's strange SAG behavior. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 2008-01-23.
  16. Elizabeth Snead (2006-02-03). Heath explains his SAG giggles. Styles & Scenes. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 2008-01-23.
  17. Ledger in damage control. The Age (2005-02-12). Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
  18. Claire Sutherland and Mark Moor. "Heath Ledger angry at ban", Herald Sun (Australia), 2006-01-11. Retrieved on 2008-01-23. 
  19. When'd we stop stringing 'em up in West Virginia?. The Charleston Gazette (2006-01-16). Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
  20. Gary Susman (2003-10-01). Naomi Watts and Heath Ledger split. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved on 2008-01-23.
  21. Kiki King, Eva Simpson & Caroline Hedley (2006-03-03). THE HEATH IS ON. The Daily Mirror. Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
  22. Eva Simpson & Caroline Hedley (2007-01-24). MICHELLE MARRIES HEATH LEDGER. The Daily Mirror. Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
  23. Heath Ledger Chooses Jake Gyllenhaal as Daughter's Godfather
  24. Ledger hopes for $3m profit on beach house. The Age (2006-02-11). Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
  25. Saurine, Angela (2006-04-15). Why the rich are kings of the castle. The Daily Telegraph @ realestate.com.au. Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
  26. "Williams father confirms Ledger split", Hollywood.com, 2007-09-04. Retrieved on 2008-01-23. 
  27. Heath Ledger and Gemma Ward are 'dating'. National Nine News (2008-01-03). Archived from the original on 2012-07-14. Retrieved on 2008-01-23.
  28. Sewell Chan (2008-01-22). The Death of Heath Ledger. The New York Times. Retrieved on 2008-01-22.
  29. Tom Hays. "Heath Ledger Found Dead in NYC at Age 28", Associated Press, 2008-01-22. Retrieved on 2008-01-22. 
  30. Mitch Marconi. "Heath Ledger Dead, Academy Award Nominee Dies At 28, Drugs", The Post Chronicle, 2007-01-22. Retrieved on 2007-01-22. 
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 31.4 The New York Times City Room: "Police Give New Details on Ledger Death", by Al Baker, January 23, 2008, 5:15 p.m, updated 6:10 p.m.
  32. James Barron. "Heath Ledger, Actor, Is Found Dead at 28", The New York Times, 2008-01-23. Retrieved on 2008-01-23. 
  33. Tom Hays. "Heath Ledger autopsy inconclusive", Associated Press, 2008-01-23. Retrieved on 2008-01-23. 
  34. "Heath Ledger loved life, family tell", The Daily Telegraph (Australia), 2008-01-23. Retrieved on 2008-01-23. 
  35. "Michelle Williams 'Devastated' by Heath's Death", People, 2008-01-22. Retrieved on 2008-01-23. 
  36. Ledger's death a tragic accident: family. ninemsn (2008-01-23). Archived from the original on 2006-02-23. Retrieved on 2008-01-23.

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