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Heath Ledger Background, Career and Death

Heath Ledger

Heathcliff Andrew Ledger was an Australian actor and director. After performing roles in several Australian television and film productions during the 1990s, Ledger left for the United States in 1998 to develop his film career. His work comprised nineteen films, including 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), The Patriot (2000), A Knight’s Tale (2001), Monster’s Ball (2001), Lords of Dogtown (2005), Brokeback Mountain (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) and the latter two being posthumous releases. He also produced and directed music videos and aspired to be a film director.

Heath Ledger Background

Ledger was born in Perth, Western Australia, the son of Sally Ledger (née Ramshaw), a French teacher, Kim Ledger, a racecar driver and mining engineer whose family established and owned the Ledger Engineering Foundry. The Sir Frank Ledger Charitable Trust is named after his great-grandfather. He had English, Irish, and Scottish ancestry.

Ledger attended Mary’s Mount Primary School in Gooseberry Hill and later Guildford Grammar School, where he had his first acting experiences, starring in a school production as Peter Pan at age 10. His parents separated when he was 10 and divorced when he was 11. Ledger’s older sister Kate, an actress and later a publicist, to whom he was very close, inspired his acting on stage, and his love of Gene Kelly inspired his successful choreography, leading to Guildford Grammar’s 60-member team’s “first all-boy victory” at the Rock Eisteddfod Challenge. Ledger’s two half-sisters are Ashleigh Bell (b. 1990), his mother’s daughter with her second husband and his stepfather Roger Bell and Olivia Ledger (b. 1996), his father’s daughter with second wife and his stepmother Emma Brown.

Heath Ledger Career

After sitting for early graduation exams at age 17, Ledger left school to pursue an acting career. With Trevor DiCarlo, his best friend since he was three years old, Ledger drove across Australia from Perth to Sydney, returning to Perth to take a small role in Clowning Around (1992), the first part of a two-part television series and to work on the TV series Sweat (1996) in which he played a gay cyclist. From 1993 to 1997, Ledger also had parts in the Perth television series Ship to Shore (1993); in the short-lived Fox Broadcasting Company fantasy-drama Roar (1997); in Home and Away (1997), one of Australia’s most successful television shows; and in the Australian film Blackrock (1997), his feature film debut. In 1999, he starred in the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You and in the acclaimed Australian crime film Two Hands, directed by Gregor Jordan.

From 2000 to 2005, he starred in supporting roles as Gabriel Martin, the eldest son of Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), in The Patriot (2000) and as Sonny Grotowski, the son of Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton), in Monster’s Ball (2000); and in leading or title roles in A Knight’s Tale (2001), The Four Feathers (2002), The Order (2003), Ned Kelly (2003), Casanova (2005), The Brothers Grimm (2005) and Lords of Dogtown (2005). In 2001, he won a ShoWest Award as “Male Star of Tomorrow”.

Ledger received “Best Actor of 2005” awards from both the New York Film Critics Circle and the San Francisco Film Critics Circle for his 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, making him, at age 26, the ninth-youngest nominee for a Best Actor Oscar.

In The New York Times review of the film, critic Stephen Holden writes: “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 great screen performance, as good as the best of Marlon Brando and Sean Penn.” In a review in Rolling Stone, Peter Travers states: “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.”

After Brokeback Mountain, Ledger costarred with fellow Australian Abbie Cornish in the 2006 Australian film Candy, an adaptation of the 1998 novel Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction, as young heroin addicts in love attempting to break free of their addiction, whose mentor is played by Geoffrey Rush; for his performance as sometime poet Dan, Ledger was nominated for three “Best Actor” awards, including one of the Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards, which both Cornish and Rush won in their categories.

Shortly after the release of Candy, Ledger was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As one of six actors embodying different aspects of the life of Bob Dylan in the 2007 film I’m Not There, directed by Todd Haynes, Ledger “won praise for his portrayal of ‘Robbie,’ a moody, counter-culture actor who represents the romanticist side of Dylan, but says accolades are never his motivation”. Posthumously, on 23 February 2008, he shared the 2007 Independent Spirit Robert Altman Award with the rest of the film’s ensemble cast, its director and its casting director.

Directorial work

Ledger had aspirations to become a film director and had made some music videos, which director Todd Haynes praised highly in his tribute to Ledger upon accepting the ISP Robert Altman Award, which Ledger posthumously shared, on 23 February 2008. In 2006, Ledger directed music videos for the title track on Australian hip hop artist N’fa’s CD debut solo album Cause An Effect and for the single “Seduction Is Evil (She’s Hot)”. Later that year, Ledger inaugurated a new record label, Masses Music, with singer Ben Harper and also directed a music video for Harper’s song “Morning Yearning”.

Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger

At a news conference at the 2007 Venice Film Festival, Ledger spoke of his desire to make a documentary film about the British singer-songwriter Nick Drake, who died in 1974, at the age of 26, from an overdose of an antidepressant. Ledger created and acted in a music video set to Drake’s recording of the singer’s 1974 song about depression “Black Eyed Dog” – a title “inspired by Winston Churchill’s descriptive term for depression” (black dog); it was shown publicly only twice, first at the Bumbershoot Festival, in Seattle, held from 1 to 3 September 2007; and secondly as part of “A Place To Be: A Celebration of Nick Drake”, with its screening of Their Place: Reflections On Nick Drake, “a series of short filmed homages to Nick Drake” (including Ledger’s), sponsored by American Cinematheque, at the Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, in Hollywood, on 5 October 2007. After Ledger’s death, his music video for “Black Eyed Dog” was shown on the Internet and excerpted in news clips distributed via YouTube.

He was working with Scottish screenwriter and producer Allan Scott on an adaptation of the 1983 novel The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis, which would have been his first feature film as a director. He also intended to act in the film, with Canadian actress Ellen Page proposed in the lead role. Ledger’s final directorial work, in which he shot two music videos before his death, premiered in 2009. The music videos, completed for Modest Mouse and Grace Woodroofe, include an animated feature for Modest Mouse’s song, “King Rat” and the Woodroofe video for her cover of David Bowie’s “Quicksand”. The “King Rat” video premiered on 4 August 2009.

Heath Ledger Death

At about 2:45 pm (EST), on 22 January 2008, Ledger was found unconscious in his bed by his housekeeper, Teresa Solomon and his masseuse, Diana Wolozin, in his fourth-floor loft apartment at 421 Broome Street in the SoHo neighbourhood of Manhattan.

According to the police, Wolozin, who had arrived early for a 3:00 pm appointment with Ledger, called Ledger’s friend Mary-Kate Olsen for help. Olsen, who was in California, directed a New York City private security guard to go to the scene. At 3:26 pm, “less than 15 minutes after she first saw him in bed and only a few moments after the first call to Ms. Olsen”, Wolozin telephoned 9-1-1 “to say that Mr. Ledger was not breathing”. At the urging of the 9-1-1 operator, Wolozin administered CPR, which was unsuccessful in reviving him.

Paramedics and emergency medical technicians arrived seven minutes later, at 3:33 pm (“at almost exactly the same moment as a private security guard summoned by Ms. Olsen”) but were also unable to revive him. At 3:36 pm , Ledger was pronounced dead and his body was removed from the apartment.


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