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Gone But Not Forgotten: Heath Ledger

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Heath LedgerBy Luke Spiby

Last month marked the seven year anniversary of Heath Ledger’s death. Ledger overdosed in his home on 22nd January 2008 at the premature age of 28; his toxicology report revealed that a total of six different prescription drugs were found in his system. This tragedy came only a few months after a wrap was called on filming for The Dark Knight (2008). It is widely known that Ledger took his method acting to the next level whilst preparing for his role as The Joker, securing himself in a hotel room for weeks and spending the majority of his time writing in his “Joker Diary”. This diary contains many dark doodles and sinister scribbles from Ledger, and also a picture of himself as The Joker. Possibly the most distressing entry, however, is the words “BYE BYE” scrawled across the back page.

Ledger may have had a short-lived career – appearing in only 19 films – but his immense talent was internationally recognised, and he won almost 50 awards. Most of these came posthumously, however, with less than a quarter actually awarded to him during his life. Ledger’s accolades include an Academy Award, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award. The film industry really did lose one of its brightest stars.

Ledger died midway through filming what became his final farewell; Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus (2009). As he died before finishing his scenes, three friends stepped in to save the film. These alternative forms of Tony (Ledger’s character) appear once he walks through a magic mirror to a variety of parallel worlds, so Gilliam was only forced to rewrite four or five scenes. Not only did Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell combine to complete the final work of a mutual friend, but they also donated their wages to his daughter. It is always heart-warming when people come together during times of torment, which is why it was amazing to see three of Hollywood’s finest, united during such dark times.

Ledger’s Best Bits:

3. Lords Of Dogtown (2005). In this cinematic re-telling of the famous “Z-boys” story, Ledger plays Skip Engblom, the team’s inebriated mentor. Ledger’s character ticks pretty much every box for the ‘70s Californian surfer punk stereotype, but his performance was far from two-dimensional. Engblom is introduced as a relaxed but arrogant idol to the rest of his inner circle. By the finale, however, he resembles an abandoned child, injured and alone. It’s uncommon for actors to portray the same character in such contrasting ways, but here it seems faultless. Additionally, his subtlety whilst navigating through the displacement of power was unique.

2. Candy (2006). Here Ledger portrays part-time poet, full-time heroin addict Dan Carter, an optimistic but ultimately tortured soul. The film centers on Dan and his partner Candy (played by Abbie Cornish) and highlights how wrong life can go as a junkie. However, this is not just another film about chasing the dragon. It is in fact a dramatic storytelling of the downward spiral that can be experienced due to drug use. The script is haunting to say the least, but the conviction in Ledger’s commanding performance is what truly captivates the audience, from beginning to end.

1. The Dark Knight (2008). Ledger delved deep into his dark side to prepare for the role of The Joker, and it makes for a remarkable performance. Ledger focused on making his character more genuine than the original comic book villain by representing him as a psychopath with “little to no conscience towards his acts.” The realistic nature of Ledger’s portrayal actually caused Michael Caine to forget his lines during the famous fundraiser scene. More than 30 honors were posthumously awarded to Ledger for his participation in this film, and all were thoroughly deserved.

Heath Ledger was too young to die. He was the perfect example of an all-round actor, and it’s upsetting to know that he will never reach the heights that his potential would have allowed. Accomplished performances in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), The Patriot (2000) and A Knight’s Tale (2001) instigated his rise to fame; but it was not until his Academy Award nominated portrayal of Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain (2005) that he gained the admiration and respect of fans and critics everywhere. Still, it is his performance as The Joker that was truly inspired – and surely just a small glimpse into what Ledger could have accomplished, given time. It has been seven years since his death, but he’s still at the forefront of our minds. In fact, every time I click my fingers someone around the world starts a conversation about him. He may be gone but we will never forget Heath Ledger, because, let’s face it, he’s unforgettable.

Luke Spiby is a third year Chemistry student with a passion for film. Follow him on Twitter @LJSpibs 

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