It's been almost eight years since Heath Ledger's untimely death, and I don't think the world has ever stopped reeling. Society has become alarmingly callous to celebrity deaths, but there was something about Heath's that continues to put us on edge.
Maybe it was the fact that his career was at its peak. Maybe it was because he had a two-year-old child who would never get to know her dad. Or, maybe it was the mysterious circumstances that surrounded his passing and the ongoing speculation about the circumstances.
We all know that Heath went to great lengths to fully embody the Joker for The Dark Knight, which led many grieving fans to speculate that the demands of the role may have directly impacted his death. The pragmatists among us insist that it was another celebrity drug overdose and nothing more. As we still try to come to grips with this loss, is there a better approach to rationalizing the pain?
While method acting is nothing new, actors are going to greater lengths than ever to achieve the perfect performance
Heath's Brokeback Mountain co-star Jake Gyllenhaal recently opened up about how actors today are almost expected to turn their entire lives into their roles. They begin taking dangerous risks to understand their characters (which can run the gamut from psychopaths to drug addicts):
Someone came to me and said, 'I'm going to play a drug addict - should I try the drug?' and I was like, 'no',
It's becoming commonplace to see an A-list star drop upwards of 60 lbs. for a role, often taking the most unhealthy roads to get there. To become the Joker, Heath's battle was much more mental than physical: locking himself away in a hotel room and entering the cold, chaotic mind of a killer.
Heath created an infamous diary to sink his teeth into the Joker
Revealed in the German documentary Too Young to Die, the actor's diary is something of a gateway into how he got into the headspace of his most memorable role. He identified with murderers and hyenas and built an entire persona around the most sinister character in the Batman universe.
Some reports assert that Heath developed health problems—insomnia, paranoia, and panic attacks—as a result of delving to deep, and that's why many believe that staring into the abyss led to this tragedy.
But, does that stance undermine Heath's death?
As a brutal, unexpected, and still-painful reality, we want Heath's death to be meaningful, but connecting it to his biggest role may do more harm than good. After all, he died from an accidental prescription drug overdose from an unreal combination of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine.
Even if you take the insomnia into account, there were way more issues going on than just the demons from a past role. Plus, he was in busy filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, already moving onto the next thing and supposedly enjoying himself tremendously during filming. On top of that, there are no reports from close family or friends who say Heath became the Joker and that affected his mental state.
Because of this, I do think it's a step too far to claim that playing the Joker caused Heath Ledger's untimely death, and we should be careful not to demean his life by making such sweeping statements. I understand seeing a connection, but Heath potentially had much more human issues that had nothing to do with his craft.
At the end of the day, no matter what stance you take, we lost a raw talent that cannot replaced. Whether you believe his death to be poetic or a stark reminder that mixing medications can be fatal, we should all be sure to learn something from Heath. And in that way, he'll truly never be forgotten.