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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

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:


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