Remembering Heath Ledger on the 10th Anniversary of his Death


Monday, January 22, 2018, marks the 10th anniversary of Heath Ledger’s death.  The life and talent of Ledger, who would have turned 39 this April, has only grown in stature since his accidental overdose from a lethal combination of drugs in 2008.  Ledger would be awarded a posthumous Academy Award for his portrayal of The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight.’  The role would be the final testament to his talent and would cruelly tease the world of all the future roles he would never perform in his tragically short life.


He lives on through Michelle Williams and their daughter, Matilda.


Michelle Williams and Heath Ledger began dating in 2004 after meeting on the set of Brokeback Mountain.  They played husband and wife and both received Oscar nominations for their performances.  They never married but remained together for three years and gave birth to daughter Matilda Ledger.


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Last year Williams spoke about how time has not make Heath’s untimely passing any easier for her.  In a cover story for Porter magazine, Williams admits she still has a hard time when it comes to thinking about Heath Ledger’s dead, particularly in terms of the couple’s 12-year-old daughter Matilda.  The actress went on to say it’s easier for her to accept the struggles but knowing that her daughter will grow up without a father breaks her heart.


Though it’s been ten years since Heath’s death, he’s still a huge part of Michelle Williams’ life through their daughter.


He lives on through his sister Kate Ledger and her family.


Kate Ledger is the actor’s older sister.  She spoke to WHO about her late brother, telling the magazine that the family stays in touch with his Michelle Williams and their 12-year-old daughter Matilda.


“We keep in constant contact with Michelle and Matilda and visit frequently,” Kate said.  “She is an amazing girl and a source of delight to us all.”


Although it can be painful to watch her brother’s performances, Kate says it’s one way for her children to get to know their uncle.  “Heath is hugely important in the lives of my children,” she shared.  “There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t share stories or talk about him.  He is very much alive in our house.”


Kate and her family would later accept Heath’s posthumous Oscar for his performance as The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight.’


He lives on through his filmography.

Heath Ledger’s filmography is surprisingly robust considering how young he was at the time of his death.  Here are my top 5 Heath Ledger performances that have stood the test of time and will introduce his gift of acting to generations to come:


  1. Monster’s Ball (2001)


Marc Foster’s raw tale on Louisianan mortality is widely known for Halle Berry’s Oscar win, albeit unconvincingly. But this grim movie gets its taste of spike with Heath Ledger’s troubled Sonny Grotowski, the son of prison guard Hank, played by Billy Bob Thornton.  Although he was on the screen for a very short period of time, Heath lived the role and showed the mental disturbances of the character so perfectly before, shockingly, committing suicide in front of his father.


Monster’s Ball was where everyone sat up and realized that perhaps Ledger wasn’t simply some prominently cheekboned teen heartthrob.


  1.  A Knight’s Tale (2001)


In Brian Helgeland’s fairytale adventure, Ledger showed just how dynamic he could be as William Thatcher, a peasant who lies about his noble birth in order to enter a jousting contest. The film was entertaining and Heath Ledger was uncharacteristically funny with his witty jokes and slapstick movements. He is cocky and humorous and it is his quirks that make this comedy stand on its own. If not anything else, this movie proved Heath’s versatility.  

Although the filmmaking has aged too well (it’s very Baz Luhrmann-y with its overuse of modern music in a period piece), Ledger’s charisma is perfectly suited for the role.

  1.  Lords of Dogtown (2005)


Catherine Hardwicke’s film marked something of a turning point for Ledger.  He plays Skip Engblom, the Jedi-like mentor of the young skaters.  One only needs to watch ‘Dogtown and Z-Boys,’ the documentary on which the film is based, to understand the degree that Ledger immersed himself into the role to capture the essence of the real Enblom. Sporting a blond look, he perfected the character’s Cassius like manipulative nature. He was vicious, brash and selfish with a cockiness that sprouts instant dislike.


It is an underrated movie with one of the most underrated performances of this great actor.

  1.  The Dark Knight (2008)


The character of Joker is one of the most portrayed ones in film and animation, with legends like Mark Hamill and Jack Nicholson breathing life into the complex comic character. Heath Ledger took it several notches higher, making Joker one of the most iconic movie villains of all time, in a performance that can be hailed as one of the very best of all time. No one could have predicted his fierce, anarchic version of the character. And that’s the key to his larger-than-life performance: every tic, gesture, line-reading is unpredictable, making the character into a destructive force of nature that feels genuinely dangerous.


On occasion, a posthumous Oscar can feel a little forced, but Ledger’s awarding of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2009 for his performance as The Joker was all-too-deserving.


  1.  Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Ang Lee’s multiple-award-winning drama about the decades-long, tragic love affair between two ranchers showcased Ledger’s range with his most restrained and interior performance.  As Ennis Del Mar, the Wyoming ranch hand in love with a man, Heath gave his finest performance in his too-brief life. He manages to convince the audience of his deep-rooted need for Jack Twist in a period where homosexuality was prejudiced. His subtle movements and nervous twitches made the seemingly emotionally inert Ennis a symbol of passionate love.  


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The breakdown when Jack leaves him, his frustration and eventual passion on reunion spoke volumes of his excellent understanding of the complex role of Ennis. As he creeps into middle age, his self-loathing at what he’s done turns into self-loathing at what he didn’t do.  Ledger never makes Ennis into a martyr: he’s quiet, curt, sometimes even cruel. But it’s a testament to his finest performance that you feel so much for him by the end.


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