22 January 2008

Heath Ledger: 1979-2008

Cripes, what a waste. It's always a tragedy when someone's life is over before they're even 30, when they leave a child fatherless, and when in terms of their craft, are actually good. Here was a brave young actor maturing into an eclectic career that could've rivaled that of Johnny Depp.

I couldn't believe it when at, about 4 PM today, a coworker told me that Ledger was found dead in New York of a possible drug overdose. Within a few hours, rumours abounded of suicide. As of this writing, there's been no official statement, other than his masseuse found him dead in a Soho apartment.
He had recently become separated from actress Michelle Williams, whom he'd met on the set of Brokeback Mountain.

I was largely indifferent to Ledger during the early part of his career, but I had enjoyed him in Brian Hegeland's delightfully anachronistic A Knight's Tale. By the time I'd seen his breakout turn in Brokeback, the Ang Lee drama had already become the subject of too many trite, Morning Zoo punchlines, with many uninformed and amateur evaluations of Hedger's performance as nothing more than series of grunts and shuffles. I was surprised, then, to find that he entirely made the film for me, with his embodiment of Ennis' Cronenbergian war-within-himself tragic and moving and welcomely underplayed and thus entirely deserving of his Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.

Time will hopefully be kinder to his unjustly-dismissed role as one of The Brothers Grimm (Gilliam's breezy, imaginative, slapstick hoot) opposite Matt Damon, and he was also memorable as one of the many Bob Dylan incarnations in Todd Haynes' I'm Not There. He won acclaim for his turn in last year's gritty drama Candy as a drug addict--a part of his legacy that as details surface could become all the more bittersweet.

Canoe reports that during an interview with Ledger during the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival to promote Candy, he confessed "I had no real desire to play a junkie", and had autographed for a passing fan: "don't do drugs."

Of course, the Bat-fan in me was thrilled to learn that Ledger had been cast as The Joker in Christopher Nolan's upcoming sequel The Dark Knight--I expected nothing less than a dazzling, unconventional interpretation of this iconic character and the footage unveiled this past Xmas season confirmed my highest of fanboy hopes. It's a pity that the role that will win him his largest following will be branded with such senseless loss.

As Entertainment Weekly put it in their 2007 review, these days it sucks to be a celebrity. Whereas once the public regarded Hollywood as an enviable Dream Factory, these days its more akin to a Roman Coliseum where scandals and downward spirals are celebrated with such smug vigour and sanctimonious armchair moralizing that can only be extinguished by some poor bastard's death--yes, even a rich and famous one--before moving on to the next lame Leno punchline. If the perils of Spears, Lohan, Wilson, and Downey Jr. have taught us anything, it's a reinforcement of the Jack Chick-worthy mantra that fame can buy you not only the best things in the world, but the worst things, too.

Mind you, if Ledger's death is ultimately ruled a suicide, then I'll be tempted to climb on board with those who have likely already dismissed him as a vain, shallow showbiz brat who got what he deserved. Don't misunderstand me--he took the coward's way out, which his two-year-old daughter Matilda Rose most certainly did not deserve--but it's a terrible thing that for all of his acclaim, he found himself in a situation where he'd not only die young, but alone.

In show business, actors are commodities, and since Ledger is due to be packaged as a plastic action figure next summer, I hope we can hold out on our harsh judgements for a little while longer and not forget that he was a human being first. And just 28...