Heath Andrew Ledger, or more popularly known as Heath Ledger, was an Academy Award-winning, Australian actor best known for his roles in The Dark Knight and Brokeback Mountain. He was born on April 4, 1979, in Perth, Australia. His mother, Sally Ledger Bell was a French teacher while his father, Kim Ledger, was a racecar driver and mining specialist.
Heath Ledger had a sister named Kate and both of them were reportedly named after two main characters in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. He also had two half-sisters who were both born into his parent’s second marriage but he was closest with Kate whom he later credited for spurring his acting career.
In Heath Ledger’s early life, he found a passion for playing chess. He won Western Australia’s Junior Chess Championship when he was 10 years old. It was also around that time when he found an interest in becoming a stage performer when he performed the lead role of Peter Pan in Guildford Grammar School’s production. However, while Ledger was enjoying his life as a 10-year-old boy, his parents found themselves growing apart and in the same year, they separated.
When Heath turned 11, his parents got divorced and he found emotional release in acting, choreography, and dance. He continued seeking out roles in his grammar school and eventually tried his hand on the big screen. He started out as an extra in the movie Clowning Around and later on appeared in the Ship to Shore TV series.
Heath Ledger in Hollywood
Heath Ledger completed his early graduation exams at the age of 16. After that, he traveled cross-country to Sydney to pursue an acting career together with Trevor Dicarlo, his long-time friend. Heath had worked different, small roles in television and in 1997, his feature film debut came in the emotional drama Blackrock.
That debut film led Heath to a starring role in pilot series Roar which was a medieval fantasy costarring Keri Russell and backed by Financiers in the United States. The series was nominated for several awards which exposed Heath Ledger to American audiences and Fox executives. His then-girlfriend Liza Zane who also appeared in the series urged him to sought out an American agent and at the age of 19, he followed Zane back to Los Angeles.
In 1999, Heath Ledger’s breakout role opposite Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You, made him fully exposed to an international audience. Despite Heath’s young age and relative experience, he soon had major roles in Hollywood blockbuster films. In 2000, Heath Ledger was cast by Mel Gibson as his son Gabriel Martin in The Patriot. His talent was also tested in a lower budget film, Monster’s Ball. In 2001, Heath Ledger’s abilities as a true leading man were displayed on the highly experimental A Knight’s Tale. With his exposure in these films together with his growing reputation as a Hollywood playboy, the People magazine named him one of its “50 Most Beautiful People” in 2001.
Heath Ledger continued working on many different independent films until he was once again pushed into the spotlight in 2005 with his contribution to one of the most controversial films to date. His performance in Brokeback Mountain earned him the Best Actor of 2005 awards from both the New York Film Critics Circle and the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.
In the film, Heath Ledger played the role of Ennis Del Mar who have a life-long love affair with Jack Twist, an aspiring rodeo rider which was played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Heath also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in Drama, as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance. At the age of 26, Heath Ledger was the 9th youngest nominee for a Best Actor Oscar.
It was also on the set of Brokeback Mountain where Heath Ledger met actress Michelle Williams. They had a daughter, Matilda Rose, who was born on October 28, 2005, in New York City. Ledger eventually sold his house in Bronte, New South Wales due to paparazzi problems. He moved to the United States and shared an apartment with Williams in Brooklyn from 2005 to 2007. However, in September 2007, Michelle Williams’ father, Larry, confirmed to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph that Heath and Michelle had ended their relationship.
Heath Ledger’s Death
Heath Ledger was found unconscious in his bed by his housekeeper, Teresa Solomon, and his masseuse, Diana Wolozin at his apartment in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan on January 22, 2008. Based on police reports, Wolozin used Heath Ledger’s cell phone to call Mary-Kate Olsen, Ledger’s friend for help. At 3:33 PM, emergency medical technicians arrived at Ledger’s apartment but they were unable to revive him. At 3:36 PM, he was pronounced dead and his body was removed from his apartment.
After Heath Ledger’s death, erroneous reports began to surface. There were even some who claimed that the apartment he was staying in was Mary-Kate Olsen’s but it was confirmed that Olsen did not and had never owned the apartment. It was also reported that Diana Wolozin called Olsen before calling authorities because Olsen and Ledger had been casually dating months before his death.
Based on Ledger’s interview with the New York Times in November 2007, he told them that he was taking Ambien, which is a prescription medication to treat insomnia. He also shared the difficulty he was experiencing with portraying The Joker in Batman sequel, The Dark Knight (2008). According to Ledger, the character was a psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy. He also shared that there was a week where he only slept an average of two hours a night and that he could not stop thinking. Even when his body was exhausted, his mind was still going.
It is believed that Heath Ledger’s death was caused by an overdose of sleep aid combined with other prescription drugs found in his system post-mortem. With this, his death was ruled by the coroner an accident.
Before Heath Ledger died, he was able to complete the filming of The Dark Knight. The blockbuster film was rumored to have been Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance. The film was able to earn more than $400 million in just 18 days.
Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as The Joker in The Dark Knight.
In May 2017, a feature-length documentary titled “I Am Heath Ledger” was released in theaters and aired on Spike. It was a documentary celebrating his life using footages he had filmed himself.