News

A grim end to a promising career for Heath Ledger

Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

(Gregorio Binuya/Abaca Press/MCT)

Heath Ledger's performance in "Brokeback Mountain" revealed a major talent with a hunger for emotional truth.

Ledger was found dead Tuesday afternoon in a Manhattan apartment. New York City police said a housekeeper and a masseuse discovered Ledger's naked body near a bed, with prescription sleeping pills beside him. He was 28.

Police said they did not suspect foul play. There was no sign that Ledger had been drinking, and no illegal drugs were found at the SoHo apartment, which he was renting, police said. They said there was no obvious indication of suicide, such as a note. An autopsy was planned for Wednesday.

It was a grim end to a richly promising career. Ledger, who most recently played a film star spiraling out of control in the impressionistic Bob Dylan reverie "I'm Not There," brought a fierce yet subtle quality to every portrayal. He was no stranger to dark shadows, having played Billy Bob Thornton's suicidal son in "Monster's Ball" and a manic heroin addict in "Candy," a small, harsh independent picture made two years ago in his native Australia.

Last year the actor had completed principal photography, mostly in Chicago, on "The Dark Knight," director Christopher Nolan's sequel to "Batman Begins." Ledger plays the Joker in the movie, due in theaters this summer.

"It was a very great challenge for Heath," Nolan told an interviewer earlier this month. "He's extremely original, extremely frightening, tremendously edgy."

Last year Ledger told The New York Times that he "stressed out a little too much" while filming "I'm Not There," and had problems sleeping while portraying the Joker, whom he called a "psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy."

"Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night," the actor said in that 2007 interview. "I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going."

When images of Ledger as the Joker emerged last year, fans were ecstatic. Now his death is sure to lend his farewell picture a ghostly aura.

Perhaps not since James Dean's demise in 1955 before the release of "Giant" has the death of a talented screen star in his 20s cast such a pall over a film's imminent release.

Ledger's death came two years and nearly three months after the birth of his daughter, Matilda, with actress Michelle Williams, his "Brokeback" co-star. Ledger and Williams separated last year.

Ledger had a way of diving straight into the most complicated paradoxes afforded by a role. Yet he was subtle, more determined to slip into a character's skin than he was interested in showboating.

Even in the puffball Shakespearean update "10 Things I Hate About You," made when Ledger was 20, the actor made the arrogant hunk based on "The Taming of the Shrew" character Petruchio easygoing and likable in his arrogance.

Six years later, the 2005 release of "Brokeback Mountain," a love story about two bisexual ranchhands, announced the arrival of a first-rate actor. Ledger was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor for his role.

Jake Gyllenhaal had the film's most quoted and parodied line - "I wish I knew how to quit you!" - but Ledger's performance as Ennis Del Mar spoke volumes, even in silent torment.

The film wouldn't have been half as strong without Ledger. Delivering his lines in a tight-lipped drawl, the actor made Ennis heartbreaking in his guarded joy and buried sorrow.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pay Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.