Remembering Heath Ledger

Heathledgertribute_lLike you, the folks here at EW HQ thought it was a cruel hoax when reports started surfacing this afternoon that Heath Ledger was dead at 28, the second promising young star in less than a week to die. The exact cause and circumstances surrounding his death are still unknown, but we can only hope that the performer will be remembered mainly for his all-too-brief but triumphant acting career.

Most fans will remember Ledger for his Oscar-nominated turn in Brokeback Mountain (pictured), as well they should. His role marks one of the great, astonishing acting transformations of our time. I loved Ledger’s early, lighter work — his goofy romantic lead in the teen-Shakespeare farce 10 Things I Hate About You, his sly, tongue-in-cheek turn as a medieval sports hero in A Knight’s Tale — and I even enjoyed his dramatic posturing as the callow rebel of The Patriot and the resentful son of Monster’s Ball. But I’d never have guessed that he had that Brokeback performance in him. From his slow gait to his swallowed baritone speech, his lonesome cowpoke Ennis seemed like a brand new person, yet one the actor fully inhabited. Indeed, it’s now impossible to imagine that any of his contemporaries could have done a better job, so indelible is Ledger’s performance. And who didn’t cry at the end when he said, "Jack, I swear…"?

After Brokeback, Ledger’s characters began to take a darker turn. There was the drug-addiction drama Candy,which I fear I’ll never be able to watch again without cringing, andhis forthcoming turn as a bedraggled, scary-looking Joker in thissummer’s Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight.I’m sure no one will be able to watch that one either without seeingunintended ironies and eerie portents of doom. It’s always facile toread an actor’s off-screen life into his choice of roles (if you sawLedger’s depiction of Bob Dylan’s crumbling marriage in the recent I’m Not There,you could be forgiven for being reminded of the recent dissolution ofLedger’s off-screen union with Michelle Williams), but still, for now,I prefer to remember the jokey, cheerful, cheeseball Ledger of Knight’s Tale and 10 Things, movies enhanced by the sense they conveyed that Ledger was thoroughly enjoying himself. It’ll be a while before I can watch Brokeback again without getting misty-eyed for the wrong reason.

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  • Daniel

    Not gonna lie, I cried like a baby over this.

  • Leslie

    I know! They said it on the radio when I was driving home, and I couldn’t believe it. It was really startling. And so sad, because he truly was becoming one of the greats. RIP, Heath.

  • SuzieC

    He was and will always be one of my favorite actors. Such a talent.
    I can’t believe he’s gone. This feels like a bad dream. Someone let me wake up.

  • Lynny

    I shouted, ” Oh my God!” so loudly at the computer that people came over thinking something terrible had happened. So surprised and so so sad. My heart hurts and I keep thinking about his little Matilda.

  • Richard

    Horrible news! After seeing the trailer for The Dark Knight, I got chills thinking about what Heath was going to do with such an iconic role. Now it will be his last. RIP

  • Ruby

    I felt like someone punched me in the stomach when I read this earlier. I can’t stop getting teary eyed every time I think about it. His performance in Brokeback is so tremendous that I had to imdb him to see how many movies he’d done, and was surprised at how short his career actually was and now always will be. It always feels like 28 year olds should ever die, but to think everything Heath ever did and will ever do is in the can breaks my heart. And that he had a little girl that will only ever know him in movies. RIP Heath.

  • Cara

    Why?
    No, really, why? This isn’t throwaway curiosity, I demand a real answer. Why didn’t anyone see this coming? We watched him; we knew what what he had for lunch but we didn’t see it coming. We didn’t see it and nobody helped him.
    This doesn’t make sense. I swear there must have been a mixup somewhere. I’ve heard he was a nice guy–I’ve heard he was good and gentlemanly and polite. He wasn’t attention-seeking or decadent or out of control. There’s no way this is his death.
    None of it makes sense. Was it suicide? I’ve heard people say it was the method acting. I suppose I could see that, and it terrifies me. Suddenly I’m concerned for you, Christian Bale, for Daniel Day-Lewis and Viggo Mortensen. I don’t want you to get hurt. Please be careful.
    I’m upset. This is stupid. My world is rocked, a little, and I want him to come back, please. This is not okay, or even plausible. Snap your fingers and bring him back. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end.

  • Couldn’tWaitforDarkKnight

    I was driving home and this news literally took my breath away. I know I didn’t know this person, but what a loss. His performance in “Brokeback” was a defining performance of his generation. I have been looking forward to his Joker for months. Utterly heartbreaking for his daughter and for the acting community. Sigh.

  • Lola

    Cried like a baby doesn’t even begin to describe it…the news hit me like a brick. So unexpected, so sad. Heath was definitely one of the best young actors out there. His talent and charisma will be missed.

  • ka

    this sucks. I’ve loved him since the days of Roar. My mom and I noticed him right away, and I was thrilled when 10 things came out. As a teenage girl, my friends and I watched 10 things numerous times. I went to all his films, even the horrible priest one, simply because of his charm onscreen and off. I kind of feel like my high school boyfriend died. I’ll miss seeing him around.

  • ka

    this sucks. I’ve loved him since the days of Roar. My mom and I noticed him right away, and I was thrilled when 10 things came out. As a teenage girl, my friends and I watched 10 things numerous times. I went to all his films, even the horrible priest one, simply because of his charm onscreen and off. I kind of feel like my high school boyfriend died. I’ll miss seeing him around.

  • Lee

    I recently saw the trailer for Dark Knight and thought his performance was so amazing, and that was just the trailer! I was so excited to see his range. I will always remember him from 10TIHAY, but he had so much potential to do such great things.

  • donner

    this is so sad and I hope any other actors who are having substance issues will take this as a warning and seek help…rumour has it that Heath had a ‘secret’ drug problem – nothing overt like we’ve seen from Amy Winehouse or those Hollywood girls we all know…he was only 28 and this is just a sad day…

  • Anna

    I found out just before I left work and sat there stunned for about 10 minutes. I kept thinking there must have been some mistake. My sister were just talking about him recently and how awesome he was.

  • Kris

    I heard the news about an hour after he was announced dead through a text message and instantly thought it was a mean joke by her. I quickly jumped on CNN’s website where they had announced that the NYPD had confirmed his death. I felt physically ill. I wasn’t aware I liked Heath Ledger that much but I still keep waiting for someone to come on the TV and say, “PSYCH!” So sad. Even sadder due to its apparent suddenness.

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