heath ledger: 1979-2008

  Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain
I wasn’t planning on writing a post about this, but I just have to. I was literally lying awake the other night thinking about the sudden death of Oscar nominated actor Heath Ledger, so I knew I’d have to write.

Because that’s what I do when I need to work through something.

And seeing as though nearly a week has passed since Ledger’s death but it hasn’t strayed far from my mind for more than a few minutes at a time, clearly I need to work through this.

I wasn’t a particularly huge Heath Ledger fan, and I’m not one to be emotionally involved in the lives of celebrities in general, so what’s the deal here? Why does the mere thought of his smiling face send me into an emotional downward spiral?

I don’t know how many 28-year-olds die every day in the world. However many it is, it’s too many, and each one of those deaths is tragic. But it’s Ledger who has made me stop and look squarely at death.

Death that comes at all ages, sometimes when we expect it, but more often when we don’t.

And I think of Ledger’s 2-year-old daughter Matilda, who, by all accounts, he simply adored. Indeed, being a father was a “cosmic” experience for Ledger–and it showed to anyone who caught of a glimpse of him and his little girl around New York City.

And then I think of his former fiancée and mother of his child, Michelle Williams, just four years younger than I am, raising her daughter in a world without Ledger.

Obviously I don’t know what happened between them, but as their split is only a few months old after three years and a child together, well, I have to believe that there are still a lot of deep feelings involved. My heart truly goes out to her–and to all young parents who have lost their partner in raising a child.

It’d be nice if the media would leave Williams and her daughter alone right now, but we know that won’t happen.

Here on the homefront, P didn’t know precisely who Ledger was until I pointed him out (P’s not great with names of foreign actors), but once he realized who Ledger was, P, too, was drawn into a pool of sadness–very unlike him, might I add. He’s not what I’d call into the whole celebrity gossip scene.

Sono sempre i migliori quelli che se ne vanno,” he said while shaking his head–the rough Italian equivalent of “only the good die young,” a sentiment that Robin expressed the other day as well and to which I replied that I couldn’t help thinking of Natalie Merchant’s song “River” about the tragic death of 23-year-old River Phoenix in 1993. Not all the lyrics apply, but they’re pretty close to how I feel about Ledger’s situation as well.

A piece from the The Huffington Post written by Star Jones entitled Reporting on the Dead also does a good job.

Toxicology reports and the final word on what caused Ledger’s death will be coming in soon, but honestly, it doesn’t matter to me what killed him–unless, of course, it was, as suspected, a fatal prescription drug combination that others may learn from.

What I mean is that no matter how Ledger died, his life, his work, his passion, his down-to-earth way of living touched millions of people, and perhaps in death, he’s reaching out to even more of us.

I still can’t put my finger on why this has affected me so deeply, but I know that others feel the same way. Even though they didn’t know one another, actor Daniel Day-Lewis couldn’t get Ledger off his mind during an interview with Oprah Winfrey during which he was supposed to be discussing his Oscar nomination for There Will Be Blood:

“I didn’t know him. I have an impression, a strong impression, I would have liked him very much as a man if I had. I’d already marveled at some of his work, and had looked forward so much to seeing the work that he would do in the future.”

I think this sums up how a lot of us feel about Ledger–he just seemed like a guy you’d love to hang out with at the pub and yet also someone who took his work, his craft, and his family so seriously that you couldn’t have anything but respect for him as a man.

And I do hope this remains his legacy. He deserves nothing less.

Heath Ledger sidewalk memorial


[tags]heath ledger, michelle williams, river phoenix, daniel day-lewis[/tags]

29 Beans of Wisdom to “heath ledger: 1979-2008”
  1. 01.28.2008

    thank you for a very thoughtful post. you summed some feelings up well.

    erin’s last blog post..an exciting afternoon

    Thanks Erin.

  2. 01.28.2008

    You beautifully put into words what so many of us are feeling right now. His death has affected me a lot too and just like you I can’t really figure out why – but that quote from Daniel Day-Lewis says it all, doesn’t it. I’m dreading the Oscars, because I know they will honor him there in some way and I know I’m going to cry.

    Annika’s last blog post..wingclipped

    Ugh the Oscars. You’re so right. I’m always a bit saddened by the tribute to those we lost over the past year, but this year will be actual tears for sure 🙁

  3. 01.28.2008

    Beautifully written post, Michelle. Heath will be truly missed by his fans, especially by his family. Have you seen photos of Matilda? She has Heath’s eyes.

    Grace’s last blog post..close encounters of the humped kind

    Unfortunately (meaning I wish photographers hadn’t snapped this) I saw a photo of Williams returning home with Matilda in which Matilda is smiling that gorgeous smile–she’s the spitting image of him all around. So adorable.

  4. 01.28.2008

    Yesterday I sat back and watched his films

    Hmmm… I can’t put my finger on it… I don’t follow celebrities’ lives, either, but something about this struck a nerve in many of us as few things can. There’s a universal theme with him that many of us identify, what is it? I’m working through this one, too.

    roam 2 rome’s last blog post..My Little Farfallina…

    Farfallina, I think it may be a combination of a lot of things–certain characteristics of him as well as what’s going on in the celebrity world, the world at large…such an interesting time we’re living in….

  5. 01.28.2008

    I find myself in your same predicament. I’m so sad about this young man (gawd, I sound like an old fart!) and yet, I really do not know why. I loved his performance in Brokeback Mountain and quite honestly, I don’t know if I’ve seen any of his other films. I was looking forward (still am) to his performance in Dark Knight, but I can’t shake this overwhelming sadness at his passing.

    I agree with your P., i migliori se ne vanno davvero troppo presto and think back at other “young ones” who have passed too early. I thought I would post more than just my little RIP on my blog, but I just don’t seem to have the words or the gumption to do it. I’m glad you did though, allowing me to give my two cents in your comments.


    ro’s last blog post..Karaoke Fun

    Hi Ro, “overwhelming sadness” is a great way to describe what I’ve been feeling as well. Finding the words wasn’t easy for me either–it’s taken several days, in fact. I thought the sadness would pass if I just tried to put it out of my mind, but I’m happy I wrote this. Thank *you* for taking the time to respond.

  6. 01.28.2008

    The media reports, invents and hounds survivors because the public has a seemingly endless taste for it.

    I have watched this change from when one mourned one’s own and wrote letters of sympathy to those we knew and at the most one may have bowed one’s head as a funeral passed by. Some time back we started wanting to know how everyone died, even wanted to look at them dead– I wonder why? We started throwing printed cards at those we knew and those we didn’t. Now we toss cheap floral displays and teddy bears into piles to “honor” dead we don’t even know. And we require that the media dig until every possible factoid and imaginative detail has been printed for our delectation. We no longer remember that it was once impossibly crass to send a printed card to a mourner. We want to see the coroner’s report and we even make hit series about coroners.

    The more insistent we are that we know everything and mourn everybody, the less we actually really care about anybody. Was that what it was all about? Were we filling ourselves with so much death that we would no longer suffer from it when it touched us?

    Judith in Umbria’s last blog post..Back in a moment

    I think with death there is an inherent fascination–death is our greatest unknown, and one that we’ll never fully understand until it’s too late to tell anyone what we know. But we’re also just more involved in everyone else’s lives these days…and I’m not just talking about celebrities. Look at how many more people we know just through blogging and would and are touched by deaths (and births and marriages and new jobs, etc.) in their lives!

    And since we feel closer to celebrities with the ever-shrinking world, I think it’s probably a natural progression that we (although not me) desire to see the bodies, know what killed them, etc.–viewing the dead body has been a tradition in many cultures for ages as has offering objects to show respect for the dead. Sure, it used to be only for those we knew, but now we feel like we know everyone!

    Again, this isn’t something I do (even in my own family I think sending flowers is a waste of time and money–I’d much rather make a phone call), but I think a lot of this just may be an extension of the world getting smaller, of the every day person feeling somehow connected to even the biggest of celebrities. The make us feel big, they make us feel small, and most importantly, they make us feel.

    I do agree that it’s the public’s quest for “knowledge” or more precisely, details, drives the media’s search, but what would happen if all the media just stopped? Would the world end? Would the publishing industry end? Nah. I don’t think one can only blame the public lust as the media does have a choice. Indeed, several media outlets *have* refused to publish the “money shot” photos–the body bag, Michelle Williams and Matilda returning home–and have been applauded for these decisions and are still selling whatever they do print.

    I don’t think, though, that by mourning everyone we don’t really care about anyone–I think it could be just the opposite in fact. We’re (each individual is) caring about more human lives than any generation before us…of course that’s not translating into much good when we keep fighting wars (and killing the planet) though. Perhaps if *those* such deaths were made to touch us each on a personal level on a more frequent basis, all of the dying wouldn’t be for naught.


  7. Mary

    I am definitely not someone who follows the life of the stars either. But his death has affected me somewhat also. I think the reason is that it’s a shock to see someone die who is young, full of talent, seems to have everything going for him and a bright future. When all of that potential gets snuffed out in an instant, it’s almost as if we lose a little bit of hope.

    Mary’s last blog post..Letters from the Past: Part I

    I think you’ve hit on a big part of it Mary–I do feel like some hope has been lost. When you see someone who seems to be doing the right things, making it the right way, to see that disappear is depressing. Of course we don’t know the whole story (either of his life or death), but still….

  8. Rosa (something...)

    What struck me is that a man so young and in his position had no one to turn to in his desperation. Or not anyone that was able to make a difference in any case.

    Well Rosa at this point, it’s not even clear whether he was in despair–or to what extent such despair may have been; I’ve read some conflicting reports on this indeed. He had prescriptions for anti-anxiety meds and for help sleeping, but so do a lot of people these days. Just so tragic.

  9. 01.28.2008

    I think the fact that people, far and wide, who never really knew him, but felt in their hearts that they did, is a testiment to his wonderful acting abilities coupled with the fact that he stayed out of the spotlight and didn’t like the whole *Hollywood* scene. I think people saw him as a talent AND a really great guy. And a great father. There was just something very special about him. I really loved him as an actor and will miss him. Can’t wait to see him in *Dark Knight*!!!

    My Melange’s last blog post..Discovering Venice

    Goodness he already looks fabulous as The Joker, doesn’t he? Special indeed.

  10. 01.28.2008

    Thanks for writing a sensitive, yet also sensible post about a talented young man -whose death however it happened -is truly a shame. I’m not all that caught up in the “celebrity” thing but having lost a cousin, along with a very good friend, who died by their own doing, my heart does go out to his family as it is a terrible thing to have happen in anyone’s life.

    jeni Hill Ertmer’s last blog post..“Hot” Merchandise

    Thanks Jeni; I think we’re all thinking about those who were closest to him. Such a horrible experience to live with.

  11. 01.28.2008

    I’m with you. It’s funny how things strike us and make us think about things perhaps more personal. And I think in moments like this, we realize celebrities are more than these figures who are in TV shows and movies. They’re actual people too. The statements released by his sister and father were really heartbreaking.

    So true LJ. The humanity of these larger-than-life figures really becomes clear during the worst of times. And yes, his families’ sentiments have been truly touching.

  12. I work in the “biz” and even those who are jaded are shocked by Heath’s death. He did stay out of the Hollywood craziness instead moving to NYC with his young family.

    He was so talented but more importantly from those who knew him, a good person. Yes he had flaws and most very creative people have some issues to work out. No one of us is perfect.

    It’s still not clear how he died, the police are saying it could be simply natural causes. My heart goes out to his family.

    Thanks for this post Michelle and for posting Daniel Day-Lewis’ remarks. I saw that clip earlier and it choked me up again.

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Bill’s comment about South Carolina, a new low.

    I was hoping you’d comment NYC/Caribbean girl; thanks for sharing an inside perspective. I saw that Day-Lewis also dedicated his SAG award to Ledger. It’s really quite wonderful to see Hollywood (for lack of a better term) pull together during such a difficult time.

  13. 01.28.2008

    Isn’t it weird? I’ve the same way and am not sure why. Maybe because I love “Knight’s Tale”…who knows, but it really has bothered me. i was watching Oprah during the Daniel Day-Lewis interview and it totally choked me up to hear his words and see his tears. i just find it tragic, whatever the cause. I feel so sad for the family and his cute little daughter, who is so young. 🙁

    stacy’s last blog post..It’s raining and I’m bored

    I’m kind of glad I haven’t been able to see the Daniel Day-Lewis thing on Oprah….

  14. 01.28.2008

    This was a great post, Michelle. I’ve particularly been thinking of Matilda and Michelle – no matter where their romantic relationship was, he was still a devoted dad – a great treasure for your little girl.

    And he was an extraordinary artist. Ennis was one of the great characters of all time.

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..Music Monday – “So Happy Together” The Turtles

    I’m with you Jen. He seemed to play the role of Daddy best but was also an extraordinary actor.

  15. 01.28.2008

    wow, what a moving tribute to the young man, father, actor. And the mom in me goes out to his daughter. Losing her father so young. The media frenzy and speculation has been a bit much though. I was glad to read your thoughtful post. You expressed a lot of my own thoughts.

    kacey’s last blog post..Winter Blues

    Thanks Kacey. I wasn’t sure whether I should write this, but now I’m happy that I did–seems like quite a few of us were struggling with this even though we weren’t personally affected.

  16. Thanks for posting this Michelle. I feel much the same way. To the point that I couldn’t even watch the TV. It just hurt too much. So much good in his life, so much going for him. I could relate to him – he seemed like a real person, so full of life. It hurts on a universal level to know that this person has left this earth. Even though we did not know him, we feel his passing in the universal conciousness. My heart goes out to Michelle, Matilda and his family. Roberto lost his brother to prescription drugs and so I guess for us, it is too close to home, too.

    JennDZ_The Leftover Queen’s last blog post..Daring Bakers Challenge: Recipe: Lemon Meringue Pie (Tartlettes)

    So sorry to hear about Roberto’s brother. Prescription drugs, they say, are the new illegal drugs if you will. Very dangerous–and even more so b/c people don’t fully appreciate the dangers especially of mixing them.

  17. Eryn

    very touching post. as pretty much everyone has stated…you put into words what we’ve been trying to make sense of and work through as well!

    when i read the news online a few hours after it happened it struck me like a sack of bricks. my breath was taken away and i just had to sit back.

    i think his purity and wisdom is what i’ll miss. even though i never was a huge fan, i guess it’s when you lose something is when you really start to appreciate it…….sadly.

    I had a very similar reaction when I heard–I had been standing, ready to turn the TV off when an Italian news channel mentioned it. I literally said “Cosa?!” (What?!) out loud and had to sit down, and I know my mouth was wide open for quite a few minutes.

  18. 01.28.2008

    i know how you feel. i’ve always thought he is such an amazing actor who choose his roles carefully and stayed out of the young hollywood crowd and i really respected him for that. but i guess the reason why i am so deeply affected by his tragic death is that, like you said, he is so young (my age actually) and he has so much potential in him, not only as an actor but as an individual. he strikes me as someone who is very passionate, who doesn’t compromise, and who’d try to do his best on whatever it is that he is passionate about. and now when i think about little matilda growing up without his father, i just want to cry. ah, i don’t even want to see the Oscar’s anymore.

    thank you for this post!

    Odessa’s last blog post..i’m still here

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Odessa. The Oscars are definitely going to be tough for a lot of people.

  19. SabineM

    Very nice post! I am with you! Not necessarily a huge Heath fan but his death really touched me!
    What a fabulous man and actor and such a short life and sad ending!

    SabineM’s last blog post..Maya’s Blogging DebutFar too short, I agree Sabine 🙁

  20. 01.28.2008


    Once again you’ve written a beautifully worded and thought provoking post about something we all seem to have somehow been affected by. I touched upon this very briefly in my blog, but like other commenters have said, I couldn’t really elaborate, because I couldn’t quite pinpoint why it was that I was so affected by this. You mention River Phoenix and that’s exactly what I thought of when I heard of Heath’s untimely death. Another tragic death of an extremely talented young actor. But it is much more than that, isn’t it? I still can’t pinpoint exactly what it is that touches me so deeply about this particular loss, but there it is.

    You’ve pretty much hit upon all of the thoughts I’ve had in the last week.

    I think the fact that this has touched so many so deeply, from P to Daniel Day Lewis, to others who didn’t know him…it shows he had something, some message, some mission…something…above and beyond what we normally get from a celebrity. There are unfortunately many deaths in “hollywood” yearly, and of those, many of them are young…but there are a select few that have the impact Heath’s death had…River, James Dean, Marylin Monroe…just a few…There is just something about these individuals that touches us in a different way…

    Karina’s last blog post..What I’ve got cooking

    Thanks Karina for sharing your thoughts here. I find it so interesting that so many of us are struggling with words, with the exact reason why this has affected us….

  21. 01.28.2008

    I’m sorry to take this in a different direction, but I am having kind of a unique experience in processing this man’s mysterious death.

    I’m kind of coming at it from even more of a distance than your Paolo, as we’re such cultural snobs that we don’t have a TV and almost never watch American film. So I literally had no idea who this dude was, and as usual with these sorts of things, the first I learned of his death was while waiting in the grocery checkout line.

    I had heard of “Brokeback Mountain” but never saw it. Other than People magazine, the only reaction I was exposed to was when a blog-friend pointed out that some stronzo on Fox News was making fun of him – I forget the exact quote (mercifully), but it was some sort of gay-bashing nonsense. Separate from the fact that HE WAS NOT GAY (it’s called “acting,” hello), it was a sign to me that things gotten so bad in this country that people on the cosidetto “other side” are now not entitled to basic human compassion.

    I apologise for bringing such darkness into a very human thread, but I haven’t had much of an opportunity to process this yet…

    Paolo’s last blog post..the joy of HDR

    Certainly no need to apologize. Yes, I saw those comments too–never an inappropriate time to bash homosexuality even when the person you’re referring to is *ficitional.* Sheesh. Thanks for reminding me of this ridiculous part of it all.

  22. 01.28.2008

    Whether people admired his work or not, his death is a reminder of how fragile life is, how sad and tragic it is to experience the loss of someone young — no matter what the circumstances, a tragedy — and why it is we should tell our children, parents, friends, etc. often that we love them.

    Susan’s last blog post..Did someone just call me “Zuul”?

    So true Susan. So true.

  23. 01.28.2008

    I’m feeling much the same way. Such a tragic loss. My heart just breaks for his daughter.

    Shan’s last blog post..maybe one day i’ll throw on jeans and really blow her mind

    So sad for Matilda indeed 🙁

  24. 01.29.2008

    I was shocked when I read the headline on the net.
    I had a couple of thoughts.
    The world does feel a bit smaller.
    I now call home where this young man grew up.
    I knew it would be felt strongly here.
    I also have two friends who worked with him and had spent some time with him.
    Even though brief, they had befriended one another.

    This post got me to think about quite a few things. (I should write it down and I don’t)
    I didn’t read all the comments but I have to say I do see Judith’s point.
    It’s a tricky web we weave.

    I feel sadness as well. I feel compassion for those who loved and knew him.
    I feel pain and sorrow for his daughter and the mother of his child. I’m also sure that there is still fresh pain from the split.
    I dislike speculation and media frenzy and the need for “it” that fuels it.

    cheeky’s last blog post..A Sign of Promise

    Write it down Cheeky whether you share it with anyone or not. There’s just something here that has touched so many of us–acknowledging and honoring it just feels right for me anyway.

  25. 01.29.2008

    What a wonderful post. I think many of us have been feeling like this, very unsettled. I’ve been reading so many different accounts of peoples’ interactions with him and they all seem very similar. Here’s a nice one.

    Remembering my interview with Heath

    He just seemed like a really down to earth good man. When I first heard, I too thought about his young daughter and just hurt for her.

    Anali’s last blog post..Maybe Why I Love Flowers

    Thanks so much for sharing that Anali, and for sharing your thoughts here.

  26. 01.29.2008

    Yeah, you know, I’m not a big celebrity watcher either, but I was in my car when I heard about this and about drove off the road. Very, very sad.

    You know, if an actor is good enough he can pretend to be anything to anybody, and the Hollywood publicity machine is all about selling personalities, concepts of people as opposed to real people, in order to sell tickets and merchandise. I get that. Also, I didn’t see all Ledger’s work and, not being a fan of either latter-day Mel Gibson or the Batman franchise, probably never will. But I did observe a deep well of kindness in his acting that I have to believe is impossible to fake. Seeing any little light of kindness extinguished, but especially one in a young person, because it’s so easy not to be kind when we are young, and even if after all it really was faked, a careful work of art and business, something none of us who didn’t know the man personally can ever know for sure, that kind of loss is always especially heartbreaking.

    Thank you for writing this Sara–I love the part about the deep well of kindness in his acting. I think you touched on something there that a lot of people felt and feel about him. And yes, very, very sad 🙁

  27. Jane

    It was a sad day when Heath died. I remember being truly shocked at the headline and trust me, nothing really surprises me anymore.

    Shock is definitely a good word to describe how I felt too Jane.

  28. Cleopantha

    lm glad you posted on Heaths passing. l was also affected by this. l think that it puts us in touch with that very vulnerable place that we all have deep within us. It was very touching to see such an overwhelming display of love and compassion, something our world is in great need of. Even in his passing he still touched the world. Now may be rest in peace and may all those close to him be comforted.

    Cleopantha’s last blog post..Hooray for Bollywood!

    I completely agree with your point about love and compassion–sometimes it’s just nice to be reminded that it still exists even if this is the only way it comes out 🙁

  29. 01.30.2008

    I was shocked, too, to hear of his death, and surprised at how much it affected me. beautiful post 🙂

    Janet’s last blog post..I can’t breathe!

    Thanks Janet. Looks like more details of his life and death are coming out every day. I just wish they’d stop.

Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

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