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Heathcliff Andrew (Heath) Ledger (1979–2008)

by Elaine Ford

from ABC News website

At the age of 28, Australian actor Heath Ledger's career was already full of success and acclaim.

Police confirmed Ledger was found dead in his home in New York on January 22, 2008.

Born in Perth in Western Australia in 1979, Ledger's first successful move into acting was a role in a children's television series Clowning Around in 1992.

After leaving school at 16, he scored another TV role in 1996 in the series Sweat, where he played a gay cyclist, and a stint in the short-lived fantasy-drama Roar.

He moved on to his first film roles in 1997, appearing in Blackrock and Paws.

He started to capture international attention when he starred in the 1999 teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You and had a leading role in the acclaimed Australian movie Two Hands.

From 2000, the young actor's career rose from strength to strength, with a string of major roles in films including The Patriot (2000), A Knight's Tale (2001), Monster's Ball (2001), Ned Kelly (2003) and Brokeback Mountain (2005).

His role as a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain earned Ledger Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.

The film's director Ang Lee hailed Ledger's performance as a "miracle" of acting, reminiscent of a young Marlon Brando.

In the New York Times review of the film, critic Stephen Holden agreed.

"Both Mr Ledger and Mr [Jake] 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," he said.

Ledger lost the Oscar for best actor in 2006 to Phillip Seymour Hoffman for his portrayal of author Truman Capote in Capote.

Brokeback Mountain went on to win three Academy Awards, including for best director.

The actor was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2006.

In 2007, he was one of six actors to portray different sides of singer Bob Dylan in the acclaimed film I'm Not There.

Ledger's interests in the creative world did not stop with acting, with an emerging desire to direct.

In 2006, Ledger directed three music videos.

He started a record company with singer Ben Harper and was directing Harper's music video for Morning Yearning.

He had also directed and produced Australian artist N'Fa's work, including his video Seduction is Evil (She's Hot) and Cause and Effect.

In July 2006, Ledger was confirmed to play comic book villain The Joker in The Dark Knight — the sequel to the 2005 film Batman Begins.

The film is set to debut on July 18, 2008.

Speaking about his role as The Joker, Ledger said it was definitely the most fun he had had with any character.

"He's just out of control — no empathy, he's a sociopath, uh, a psychotic, mass-murdering clown. I'm just thoroughly, thoroughly enjoying it. It's just exceeded any expectations I had of what the experience would be like," he said.

His last film venture was a role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, directed by Terry Gilliam. It is due for release next year.

Ledger said the reason he made such different choices with his film roles was because he did not want to "repeat himself".

"I feel like I'm wasting time if I repeat myself. I can't say I'm proud of my work. It's the same with everything I do: the day I say 'It's good' is the day I should start doing something else," he said.

Ledger has a two-year-old daughter, Matilda Rose, with his former fiancee Michelle Williams. They separated in September 2007.

He said becoming a father had exceeded his expectations.

"Matilda is adorable, and beautifully observant and wise. Michelle and I love her so much. Becoming a father exceeds all my expectations. It's the most remarkable experience I've ever had — it's marvellous," he said.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Heathcliff Andrew (Heath) Ledger

Citation details

Elaine Ford, 'Ledger, Heathcliff Andrew (Heath) (1979–2008)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 26 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 April, 1979
Perth, Western Australia, Australia


22 January, 2008 (aged 28)
New York, New York, United States of America

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