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why, Heath, why?

I shared an elevator once with him. And now he’s dead. Which is, I suppose, probably not an unusual thing. I’ve probably shared many elevators with many people who have since died. But those now-dead people were and remain strangers. Movie stars never feel like strangers to us, and even among movie stars of his — and my — generation, few evinced such talent and even greater potential than Heath Ledger.

I’m not embarrassed to say that when I heard that Ledger was dead, I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. And I’m not a person who has that kind of reaction to even tragic celebrity news as a regular thing. Our tiny and — to him, completely oblivious — encounter has stuck in my mind because I remember how stunned I was to discover how tall he was. I’m not short — I’m five-nine — and even though he was hunched over, leaning against the wall, I was still at an eye level with his shoulders. I remember thinking, He just doesn’t come across as that physically large onscreen.
His personality and screen charisma, though… that was something else. Something huge. In my review of Casanova, I wrote that between his frisky and playful performance in that film and his haunted and beaten-down turn in Brokeback Mountain:

it feels like he really arrived in 2005 as a force to be reckoned with, and that feels spontaneous and unplanned and wonderfully surprising, not like it was the secret plan for world domination cooked up by a team of managers and agents and publicists but like the hard-earned payoff of a true artist who took chances instead of taking an easy route.

It’ll be quite a while before we know how Ledger died, but I’m not sure I believe that there’s truly such a thing as an accidental drug overdose. I hope I’m wrong about that. Because it’s hard to imagine that someone so gifted and with, clearly, so much further still to go could imagine that life is not worth living.

Oh, and big fuck-you to CNN, which can’t seem to get enough of showing a video clip of Ledger’s body-bagged corpse being removed from his apartment building. That’s class, CNN. Thanks.

And this is why you don’t let bots assemble your Web site:

Bastards.

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  • JT

    I read this on joblo.com and I’m completely stunned and devastated. It’s really hard to imagine that he’s gone forever.

  • MontyGurl

    When I first heard this it went right over my head. I wasn’t exactly a fan of his, but I liked him in every movie I ever saw him in. The more I think about it, the more I remember movies he was in and how talented he really was. He had so much more to give. It’s incredibly sad and such a terrible waste. I don’t even know how to express it, this just really hit home for me. This is a tragedy.

  • http://WWW.THERECSHOW.COM Ray

    Excellent article.

    Goodbye, Heath. Thank you.

    http://www.therecshow.com

  • http://www.flipsidemovies.com Rob Vaux

    I think some of the shock people feel is how out of the blue it all was. I’ve said this elsewhere: some public figures are clearly operating on a ticking clock. And then there are some you just take for granted — they seem to have everything together and you assume they’re going to have long and fruitful careers for decades. Ledger really seemed like one of those guys. It breaks my heart, all the more so if it turns out he succumbed to whatever demons he was battling. He’s leaving way, way too soon.

    Thank you for Brokeback, Heath. And for Ten Things I Hate About You. And Monster’s Ball. And all your other films: the good ones, the bad ones, the I’m-just-cashing-my-check ones. I’m sure you’re going to blow us all away in Dark Knight. I just wish it weren’t for the last time.

  • Mart

    I have just been reading on ABC that apparently there were ‘anti-anxiety’ pills at the scene…it would be VERY interesting to see which medication poor Heath was prescribed….especially after the reports of ‘anti-depressants’ having adverse effects, causing some young people to have an increased susceptibility to suicide….if that is indeed what has happened?

    RIP Heath Ledger

  • Jennifer

    I’m really a lot more upset than I thought I could be about someone I don’t know personally. Definitely has something to do with the shock of it, though now I’m just as shocked by how emotional I am. It’s just that I had this certainty that someday I’d feel about him how my parents feel about people like Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood. I had this realization a few years ago that people of my generation were growing up finally, existing as adults, as artists, not as pop stars, and doing good work. Though I’ve been noticing it more and more in visual art and music, that first moment of realization was based on actors, and Heath Ledger was one of them. He was a couple of years older than me. I’d already been an appreciator of his since Roar, since 1997, and I was already excited about what he’d be doing when he was 50.

  • Ruth

    Hadn’t seen Brokeback Mountain in a long while so I watched it again last saturday night. It made me blub like a baby and I remember thinking what a terrific actor Heath Ledger was, that he (and Ang Lee) had managed to reduce me to this blubbering mess with his performance. I also wondered about the great career he has ahead of him……he certainly had one, which makes his death a very sad event for the film industry as well as for his loved ones.

  • Steven

    I felt uneasy with how shocking/disturbing I found this news. Reading how many of us here seem to feel the same, I felt a little less puzzled with my response.

    He’d worked with a friend of mine on the television series. Later, he was an actor who showed spirit and uncommon dignity in his roles. And it was the last thing we expected to hear yesterday.

    Thank you all for expressing yourselves; there is comfort in knowing one is not alone in how something affected them.

  • PaulW

    This felt a lot like when Cobain was found dead back in 1994. You have someone reaching the pinnacle of success (Cobain at the head of the grunge sound, Ledger getting acting accolades), and that person dies by their own hand (for Cobain it was a suicide at the low arc of depression, for Ledger it’s too early to tell but it’s at least an accidental overdose of anxiety meds).

    It really hurts because we know there were still great things ahead for them: Cobain and Nirvana were just getting started that decade; Ledger was about to star (and from the promos it looked to be a successful performance) as an iconic villain in a major film.

    Even the LOLCats are stunned by the news. :(

  • http://www.clayj.com Clayj

    I was shocked when I got home from work last night to hear about Heath Ledger’s death. Even though he was obviously a good actor, what always struck me about Heath Ledger was that he seemed to be a genuinely nice guy and he didn’t seem to be carrying around any of the demons of drug use that plague so many in Hollywood. (Of course, whether he died of a drug overdose remains to be determined.)

    One coincidence that occurred to me last night: Heath Ledger and Brandon Lee were both 28 when they died (obviously due to different circumstances, but both tragically), and both of their final movie roles involved characters whose faces were covered in makeup.

    RIP, Heath.

  • Moe

    It’s like Brandon Lee all over again.

    I too felt punched in the stomach when i saw his face on CNN last afternoon. Kid wasn’t even 29 yet and he already had an oscar nod.

    I feel so sorry for his family and freinds. Mostly, his 2 yr old girl who’ll never know her father.

    Rest In Peace, Heath.

    P.S. The rumours going around about his sleeping pill overdose being for insomnia caused by his role as The Joker is enough to break my heart.

    I’ll be depressed for like a week now.

  • MaryAnn

    I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one finding herself more upset by this news than I would have expected to be. Well, not *glad,* exactly, but you know what I mean. I’ve been in a bit of a daze all day.

    And all your other films: the good ones, the bad ones, the I’m-just-cashing-my-check ones.

    You know, I’m not sure he ever did an “I’m just cashing the check” one. Oh, he was in a few bad movies, but you never got the sense that he wasn’t giving it everything he had. Like *The Order,* which is truly quite awful, except you knew he was better than it.

    I’m sure you’re going to blow us all away in Dark Knight.

    I suspect we’re going to see a whole new level in such a tormented character — and his performance of him — now. It’s going to make that new Batman movie, which I’d really, really been looking forward to, way more poignant than it should have been.

  • Nathan

    this reminded me of Cobain as well. that was the last time until now that i felt hurt by a celebrity death.

    i keep thinking of A Knight’s Tale or the final scenes of Brokeback and i am just indescribably sad. we can’t denounce him and we can’t celebrate him. it just is what it is.

  • http://www.myspace.com/hellboy82 Hdj

    Like Moe said this is like Brandon Lee all over again. They get the big ticket and they don’t get to use it because of a bad mistake.
    There really isn’t any movie I was waiting to see just for a performance of an actor .I really was eager to see Heath as the Joker. I was skeptical and when I saw the trailer not event 2 months ago I was so excited. I’ve been like saying “Hit me” Like he does in the trailer. Now he’s dead and I’m so bummed out. Its gunna be hard loving to hate his character when all the funs gone.
    I’m still going to see it. Like the crow the movies labeled a last one, just like Dark knight is his last one. And I really don’t think he saw this movie as his last one. I would imagine that he probably would have liked his last one to be the same caliber as Brokeback Mountain.

  • kr

    The thing that strikes me the most is the photos of him with his daughter. So sweet. So caring. You could tell he was so into her. I loved the fact he stayed under the radar. Like just a regular guy out with his daughter.

    I hope this sends a wake up call to young hollywood to get their acts together. This all can be gone in a flash, and Heath shouldn’t have been the one to find out.

    I feel for Matilda. She won’t even know what’s going on until she’s older. And sadly, won’t have the memories of his time with her. It just makes me want to hold my children all night.

    I do want to post a boycott to TMZ by all; they actually had a streaming video in front of the Funeral home live today, like it was a movie premier — have some f-ing respect. It made me so sick.

  • Spencer

    Wow is all I can say. I’m with you and pretty much everyone else in saying that he had SO MUCH POTENTIAL! I won’t repeat it all again, so I’ll just say wow. And sadly shake my head.

    On a side note, an accidental overdose is indeed possible if one is so befuddled from the prior doses that one does not know either 1) How much one is taking or 2) When to stop. I have heard several reports that playing the Joker really messed with his psyche (his words, not hungry journalists’) and caused him difficulty sleeping. If the box tells you to take no more than 2 Xanax and last night I took 4 and it did shit and I have been without decent sleep for 2 weeks straight and tonight I am REALLY freaking out, maybe I’d be fine taking 8-10. Or maybe part of me just doesn’t give a damn in the moment and I am so tripped out from lack of sleep and the cause for it that I don’t have all my reasoning faculties sufficiently intact.

    Maybe this could wake people up to the psychological dangers real and honest actors face when they truly immerse themselves in a role that is truly evil.

  • Moe

    You know what made me sick?

    For the first time, i watched Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight to see them pay tribute to Heath.

    What they did instead was try with all their might to make Heath out to be some crack addict that OD’d on his stash. Even the day after when police confirmed that there were no illegal substances found, they kept pushing that narrative.

    I don’t know how people watch that crap and buy tabloids when all it does is feed that publicity machine that Heath clearly hated.

  • Ken

    If you want another reason to hate the press, how about this:

    I came home Wednesday night to find a bunch of news crews hanging around the lobby of my building. I found out today that Ledger’s housekeeper lives in my building. Apparently the news crews will hound anyone to get the slightest snippet of irrelevant information that they can broadcast to the world.

  • Moe

    Christopher Nolan speaks about Heath:

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/105580

  • Moe

    Looks like it truly was an accident, MaryAnne.
    No drug OD and no suicide.

    Just an unfortunate and lethal combo of percription drugs just like Anna Nicole Smith.

    http://movies.msn.com/movies/article.aspx?news=299163&GT1=7701

  • http://www.dubhsidhestudios.com bronxbee

    while i concur that Heath Ledger’s death is sad and perhaps tragic, i always have my doubts about these “accidental” overdoses — warning labels, pharmarcy brochures and just plain common sense should tell anyone that mixing doses of even presecription medication are dangerous and possibly lethal. however, like the warning labels on cigarettes, some people have a determination to do themselves harm, while seemingly trying to feel better. i don’t know enough about HL to say his death was a suicide… but death by “just not giving a damn” seems likely.

  • MaryAnn

    What bronxbee said. That’s what I meant about not believing there is truly such a thing as an “accidental” drug overdose. If you’re so drugged up, even on prescription drugs, that you don’t know what drugs you’re taking, that’s a kind of giving up, too.

    This is all so horrible. What infuriates me the more I hear about this is that no one called 911 for so long after he was found. How do you find someone unconscious and NOT call an ambulance IMMEDIATELY?

  • Moe

    I know what you mean.

    The fact that it took to those ladies 30 mins to call 911 is infuriating but sad when considering that chances are good that Heath been dead for about an hour prior to his discovery.

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t think we can say those chances are good. Perhaps he could have been saved if he’d gotten help immediately. But he never had that chance.

  • Moe

    According to the police timeline, here’s how it went.
    http://fametastic.co.uk/archive/20080125/9458/police-revise-timeline-of-heath-ledgers-death/

    January 22, 2008.

    1:00 pm – The cleaning lady finds Heath asleep and snoring in his bed. Thinks nothing of it and goes about her day changing a lightbulb in his bedroom.

    2:45 pm – The message therapist arrives at his home for their scheduled appointment. She calls him repeatedly.

    3:00 pm – She searches for him after he doesn’t answer his cell. She knocks on Heath’s door and when he doesn’t answer, she enters. Thinking he’s asleep, starts setting up her table and when he doesn’t respond, tries to wake him up. She can’t.

    3:17 pm – She calls Mary Kate Olson (her number was listed in Heath’s cell) and she sends over her medically trained security team to asses the situation.

    3:20 pm – The cleaning lady calls Olson again and she recommends calling 911.

    3:24 pm – Another call to Olson. Content unknown.

    3:26 pm – The cleaning lady calls 911 and starts using CPR as instructed by the 911 operator.

    3:30 pm – The ambulance and Olson’s team arrive.
    The paramedics try to revive Heath.

    3:34 pm – Another call to Olson. Content unknown.

    3:36 pm – Heath Ledger is pronounced dead.

    Based on this, the police have placed his time of death somewhere when the cleaning lady found him at 1:00 pm and when the masseuse called him at 2:45pm.

    Although the fact that it took almost half an hour for the masseuse to call 911 is ridiculous, chances are that even in the best case scenario of the paramedics getting to Heath at 3:00 pm that it was already too late. He just died a very peaceful and painless death as he stopped breathing in his sleep. There just wasn’t anybody around to help in time.

    That’s what i meant.