On this day in 2008 Hollywood awoke to devastating news. The talented actor, and globally revered Heath Ledger, had sadly passed away. Aged just 28, the actor was found dead at his home in Manhattan by his housekeeper. The cause of death was announced as an accidental overdose of drugs prescribed for insomnia, anxiety, pain and the common cold.
At the tender age of 20, a young Heath Ledger first gained public attention playing the heart-throb lead in the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You. It would of been easy to label the actor as a standard heart throb and one with little depth to his acting ability, something that Heath reportedly hated, and dictated his future roles. Thus started a trend of inconsistent and contrasting roles, with Ledger accepting any role to avoid being type-casted. Below we take a look at some of his biggest roles.
First up was Heaths role in the serious war drama The Patriot (2000), co-starring alongside Mel Gibson who hand picked him for the film. Heath played Gabriel Martin, the son of Mel Gibson's Benjamin Martin. The film, set during the American revolution, follows peaceful farmer Benjamin Martin as he is driven to lead the Colonial Militia during the American Revolution when a sadistic British officer murders his son.
A relatively short role, but one met with vast praise. Ledger starred as Sonny Grotowski, a correctional officer in a local state prion in the Oscar nominated film Monsters Ball (2001) alongside Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton. The film focuses on a racist prison guard who reexamines his attitudes towards life, while falling in love with the African American wife of the last prisoner he executed. In the film, Heaths character finds it hard to deal with the dealings of death row. This leads to a tumultuous relationship with his father who labels him soft, ultimately resulting in his characters suicide. A hard hitting film.
A Knight's Tale
In 2001 Ledger starred in fan favorite 'A Knight's Tale'. The medieval adventure comedy-drama film was written, produced, and directed by Brian Helgeland. Heath Ledger plays the fabled romantic as a man who, after failing to win the affection of a particular Venetian woman, strives to discover the real meaning of love. Following the death of his master, and with a desire for food and glory, Ledgers character creates a new identity for himself as a knight and enters the world of medieval jousting. An international success, the film garnered $117,487,473 with a budget of $65 million.
Heath wasn't without his own movie flops. The 2003 film Ned Kelly cast Ledger alongside Orlando Bloom, Naomi Watts and Joel Edgerton, and follows the the life of Ned Kelly a legendary bushranger in northeast Victoria. The film garnered mixed reviews, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a fresh rating of an abysmal 55%. However, most critics were full of praise for Ledgers portrayal of Kelly. Clint Morris, a reviewer for Film Threat stated that "Heath Ledger is fantastic as Kelly. He gives a very immersing performance, and has misshapen himself into the character. When he wears that infamous tin helmet in the finale, we actually feel that’s the real deal".
The first film that gained Ledger any real success was the Ang lee directed Brokeback Mountain. Co-starring alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, the film was set in the American west between 1963 to 1983 and followed the complex romantic and sexual relationship between two cowboys. The film was greeted with international success, and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, the most nominations at the 78th Academy Awards, where it won three: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score.
The Dark Knight
Undoubtedly Heath Ledgers most famous and notorious role, as well as his last (fully completed). In 2007, Ledger undertook the role of the Joker in Christopher Nolan's epic Batman: The Dark Knight. Ledger stole the show, completely submerging himself into the psyche and character of the Joker. Something that has long been associated with actors sad demise. He famously kept a secretive 'Joker Diary', where he jot down all the thoughts he would have whilst in character, spending hours infront of the mirror preparing for the role. Starring alongside Christian Bale as Batman, Aaron Eckhart as Harvery Dent and Michael Caine as Alfred the film was met with international success, with over $1 billion in revenue worldwide, it is the 19th-highest-grossing film of all time. The film received eight Academy Award nominations, winning the award for Best Sound Editing and Ledger was posthumously awarded Best Supporting Actor. Based on 289 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 94% approval rating from critics, with an average score of 8.5/10.
Ledgers career portrays both the up side and down side of critical success and fame. As an actor, he strived to show that he was more than a pretty face, gaining critical acclaim for his portrayal of a cowboy coming to terms with his homosexuality, garnering Oscar, Golden Globe and Bafta nominations for his performance. This was the stepping stone for his future success. Unfortunately, Ledger would not be alive to accept this awards. After his death he received more than thirty posthumous awards for his portrayal as the psychopathic clown prince of crime in The Dark Knight (2008) including the Oscar, S.A.G., B.A.F.T.A., and a Golden Globe.