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Heathcliff Andrew Ledger (April 4, 1979 – January 22, 2008) was an Academy Award-nominated Australian actor. After appearing in television roles during the 1990s, Ledger developed a Hollywood career. He starred in both critical and financial successes, including The Patriot, Monster’s Ball, and Brokeback Mountain, and completed the role of The Joker in the forthcoming The Dark Knight. Ledger died in New York City on January 22, 2008.
Early life and family
Ledger was born in Perth, Western Australia, the son of Sally Ledger Bell (née Ramshaw), a French teacher, and Kim Ledger, a race car driver and mining engineer. Ledger’s mother is descended from the Clan Campbell of Scotland and his father comes from a family known in Perth for their ownership of the Ledger Engineering Foundry.Heath (Heathcliff) and his sister Katherine were named after the two main characters in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The Sir Frank Ledger Charitable Trust was named after his great-grandfather. Ledger attended Guildford Grammar School, where he had his first acting experiences, starring in a school production as Peter Pan at age 10.
At sixteen, Ledger sat for early graduation exams, and left school to pursue an acting career with girlfriend Jenna Sorrell. With his best friend, Trevor DiCarlo, Ledger made the cross-country drive to Sydney. He returned to Perth for the TV series Sweat (1996), in which he played a gay cyclist.
Heath Ledger as Ennis del Mar in Brokeback MountainIn 1996, prior to his film debut in the 1997 Australian movie Blackrock, Heath Ledger was involved in the short lived Fox Broadcasting Company fantasy-drama Roar. In 1999, Ledger starred in the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You and also had the lead role in the acclaimed Australian movie Two Hands, directed by Gregor Jordan.
From 2000 to 2005 he starred in The Patriot, Monster’s Ball, A Knight’s Tale, The Four Feathers, Ned Kelly, The Order, and The Brothers Grimm. In 2001, he won a ShoWest Award for the Male Star of Tomorrow based on his performance in The Patriot, and worldwide release of A Knight’s Tale. In 2003, he was named one of Australian GQ’s Men of the Year for acting.
Ledger received «Best Actor of 2005» awards from both the New York Film Critics Circle and the San Francisco Film Critics Circle for his acclaimed performance in Brokeback Mountain, in which he plays Wyoming ranch hand Ennis Del Mar, who has a love affair with aspiring rodeo rider Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. He also received a nomination for Golden Globe Best Actor in a Drama and a nomination for Academy Award for Best Actor for this performance. In the New York Times review of the film, critic Stephen Holden wrote:
«Both Mr. Ledger and Mr. Gyllenhaal make this anguished love story physically palpable. Mr. Ledger magically and mysteriously disappears beneath the skin of his lean, sinewy character. It is a screen performance, as good as the best of Marlon Brando and Sean Penn.»
In another review in Rolling Stone, Peter Travers wrote:
«Ledger’s magnificent performance is an acting miracle. He seems to tear it from
his insides. Ledger doesn’t just know how Ennis moves, speaks and listens; he
knows how he breathes. To see him inhale the scent of a shirt hanging in Jack’s
closet is to take measure of the pain of love lost.»
Also in 2005, Ledger played a fictionalized version of Giacomo Casanova in Casanova. The film, a romantic comedy which co-starred Sienna Miller, drew mixed reviews from critics and failed to find a significant audience among general moviegoers.
In 2006, Ledger was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 2007, he was one of six actors to portray different sides of singer Bob Dylan in the film I’m Not There.
Ledger played iconic comic book villain The Joker in The Dark Knight, the sequel to the 2005 film Batman Begins, opposite fellow I’m Not There star Christian Bale. The film is set to debut on July 18, 2008.
The film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, in which he had been cast, was in production at the time of his death.
Ledger started a record company with singer Ben Harper. His first step in the music business was directing Harper’s music video for «Morning Yearning». In 2006, Ledger directed three music videos: «Cause an Effect» and «Seduction Is Evil (She’s Hot)» for Australian hip-hop artist N’fa, as well as «Morning Yearning» for Ben Harper.
In 2007, Ledger spoke at a news conference at the Venice Film Festival about his desire to direct a music video set to the music of Nick Drake, even though he also said at the conference that such hopes had faded away. It was found out after Ledger’s death that he had, in his final days, created a music video for Nick Drake’s 1974 song «Black Eyed Dog», one of the last songs recorded by Drake. The black-and-white video, which has not been released to the public, shows the camera being turned on Ledger, who, at the end of the video, drowns in a bathtub.
Ledger had a turbulent relationship with paparazzi photographers. It is alleged that he spat at and assaulted a photographer in Sydney in 2004, while a relative also is alleged to have spat on a photographer in 2005. Ledger strongly denied the accusation. On January 13, 2006, several photographers retaliated, squirting Ledger with water pistols as he walked the red carpet for the Sydney premiere of Brokeback Mountain.
Ledger was also subject to criticism in the press following his performance on stage at the 2005 Screen Actors Guild Awards. Ledger was seen giggling when presenting Brokeback Mountain as a nominee for Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. The Los Angeles Times described his behavior as «some kind of gay spoof.»Ledger later called the Times to explain that his actions were the result of stage fright, saying that he was only told he would be presenting the award minutes beforehand. «I am so sorry and I apologize for my nervousness,» Ledger told the newspaper.
Ledger came under fire after he was quoted in January 2006 in Australia’s Herald Sun as saying that West Virginia had banned Brokeback Mountain (which it had not). He also referred to the state as having had lynchings as recently as the 1980s. These statements have been roundly disputed by archivists and historians, who state that the last extra-legal public hanging in West Virginia occurred in 1931.
From August 2002 to April 2004, Ledger had a relationship with actress Naomi Watts, whom he met during the filming of Ned Kelly.Previously, he had dated actresses Lisa Zane and Heather Graham.
Ledger was engaged to actress Michelle Williams, whom he met on the set of Brokeback Mountain.Their daughter, Matilda Rose, was born on October 28, 2005 in New York City. The child’s godparents are Ledger’s Brokeback costar Jake Gyllenhaal and Williams’ Dawson’s Creek castmate Busy Phillips. Ledger and his family divided their time between Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Sydney.Ledger sold his Australian residence in Bronte, New South Wales, for A$7 million.
In August 2007, Us Weekly reported that Ledger and Williams ended their relationship because of their busy schedules. Neither Ledger nor Williams confirmed the rumor at that time. In September, 2007, Williams’ father, Larry, confirmed to Sydney Daily Telegraph that Ledger and Williams had indeed split.
In early 2008, Ledger was reported to have been seeing model Gemma Ward after media articles linked the two together at end of 2007 holiday celebrations.
Australian actor Heath Ledger found dead in New York CityLedger was found dead in his fourth-floor apartment at 421 Broome Street in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City on January 22, 2008. He was found at 3:26 p.m. EST by a housekeeper and a massage therapist, who entered the bedroom to find him face down and unconscious at the foot of his bed with sleeping pills on a nearby night table. Police said that they also found prescription medication in the bathroom and that there were «no obvious signs» of suicide, nor did they suspect foul play.
On January 23, 2008 Ledger’s parents and sister—who learned of his death from a radio broadcast—appeared outside Ledger’s mother’s house in Applecross, a riverside Perth suburb, and read a short statement to the media:
«We, Heath’s family, confirm the very tragic, untimely and accidental passing
of our dearly loved son, brother and doting father of Matilda, who was found in
a peaceful sleep in his New York apartment by his housekeeper at 3:30pm [New
York Time]. We would like to thank our friends and everyone around the world for
their kind wishes at this time. Heath has touched so many people on so many
different levels during his short life, but few had the pleasure to truly know
him. He was a down-to-earth, generous, kind-hearted, life-loving and unselfish
individual who was an extreme inspiration to many. Please now respect our
family’s need to grieve and come to terms with our loss privately.»
1999 10 Things I Hate About You
2000 The Patriot
2001 Monster’s Ball
A Knight’s Tale
2002 The Four Feathers
2003 The Order
The Brothers Grimm
Lords of Dogtown
2007 I’m Not There.
2008 The Dark Knight
Tree of Life never completed
2009 The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus in production at time of death
1997 Home and Away
2006 – Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Brokeback Mountain (Nominated)
Australian Film Institute Awards
1999 – Best Lead Actor, Two Hands (Nominated)
2003 – Best Lead Actor, Ned Kelly (Nominated)
2006 – Best Lead Actor, Candy (Nominated)
2006 – Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Brokeback Mountain (Nominated)
Golden Globe Awards
2006 – Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, Brokeback Mountain (Nominated)
Independent Spirit Awards
2008 – Robert Altman Award, I’m Not There. (Won) *shared w/ cast and crew.
2006 – Best Male Lead, Brokeback Mountain (Nominated)
MTV Movie Awards
2006 – Best Kiss, Brokeback Mountain (Won) *shared w/ Jake Gyllenhaal
2002 – Best Kiss, A Knight’s Tale (Nominated) *shared w/ Shannyn Sossamon
2002 – Best Musical Sequence A Knight’s Tale (Nominated) *shared w/ Shannyn Sossamon
2000 – Best Musical Sequence 10 Things I Hate About You (Nominated)
Screen Actors Guild Awards
2006 – Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, Brokeback Mountain (Nominated)
2006 – Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, Brokeback Mountain (Nominated)
& remember «A verbis ad verbera»
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