Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In Memoriam: Heath Ledger

It's really only the people who have known me well for the last 2 or more years that can really understand how impossible this is for me to write successfully. Everything I've felt regarding Heath Ledger and what he's done for me with his work has been impossible to explain. At least, impossible to explain succinctly. So in the matter fitting post-Brokeback Mountain discussion, this will not be short.

To say I am still in a state of shock doesn't quite begin to express it. To say that I still can't really believe it's true would be an understatement. It feels as though time has stopped; nothing else is happening and no one else exists while my brain is trying to process — not only the event — but how to express how it makes me feel. Things like this don't happen. Young, successful artists don't just drop dead this way. NOT at the height of their career. Or, at least, none have for a while.

I am sitting in silence, in a class about Chicano Theatre, waiting to explode in a mountain of grief for Heath, his daughter, and the world who has lost — potentially — the greatest young Method actor since Marlon Brando. But an explosion doesn't come. The shock is too much. And waiting for the explosion that I know will be a doozy is more frightening than I can say.

Heath Andrew Ledger was born April 4, 1979 in Perth, Australia. His acting career was rather short-lived, breaking out as a star in America in 1999's 10 Things I Hate About You, which has resonated as one of the defining teen comedies of this generation. Everything that followed, though sometimes fluffy (A Knight's Tale) and poorly received (The Four Feathers, The Brothers Grimm), led Heath down a path to an array of vastly different and strikingly emotional roles in some really quality films. The Patriot, Monster's Ball, Lords of Dogtown, Brokeback Mountain, I'm Not There, and, soon, The Dark Knight. These are the roles he'll be remembered for.

That was the obligatory "in the career of..." portion of this post. I certainly couldn't leave out a few basic facts. On to my personal thoughts...

I "met" Heath Ledger in January of 2006. Met certainly isn't the right word, because I didn't introduce myself and there wasn't much talking going on. But I met him, as much as a fan amid an ocean of other fans can meet someone, getting his autograph, taking pictures (see left, with Michelle Williams), and telling him how much his performance had moved me.

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival honored Heath with Breakthrough Performance of the Year at the Lobero Theatre. And I was there, with my dear friend Jessie, to see it. (To read extensively about the event and see all the pictures, go to my old blog here.) It meant something to me, more than I can express. It meant something because Heath Ledger, as Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain, meant something to me beyond what words can describe.

After seeing Brokeback Mountain during its limited release in LA on December 7, 2005, the molecular makeup of my very being shifted and morphed. I had trouble explaining it then; I have trouble explaining it now. Heath created a character so sad, so lost, so genuine that he entered into my soul and took root there. That is not an attempt at poetry; that is exactly what happened.

His pain and the subtlety of his expression established Heath, in my eyes, as the next Marlon Brando: pained, emotional, struggling, but capable of tapping into a part of the human expression that is beyond most people's reach. When he lost the Best Actor Academy Award to Philip Seymour Hoffman, I felt as though I was the only person who knew it had been a mistake. What Heath had created was so unique, so fragile and so relatable on the most devastating scale that it is undoubtedly one of the greatest original performances in the last 20 years. That is no small task.

I knew then — I felt then — that although he had been brutally snubbed by the Academy, his time would come. He would make another mark on film that defied anything that came before it. He'd done it with Brokeback, he would do it again. I need not even express how terrible the reality of this truly is. It's possible, and likely, that Heath's performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight will be so breath-taking, so original, so mind-blowing that the Academy may recognize it despite his death. That is, of course, not important in the long-run. But in my mind, were he still alive, he would be headed to the Oscars with that performance anyway.

It is early yet. People are still finding out. I think the shock will grow. Hollywood and the world it touches will know and understand what has been lost here. I don't know what happened to Heath. I don't know how sad his life may have been — how anxious or alone or depressed he may have felt. He couldn't hold still, that I knew from seeing him be interviewed live. Sleeping pills, at this time, seem to be the likely culprit, and we'll know more as the days, weeks, months pass.

Is he destined to become this century's James Dean — lost and gone before reaching his full potential? Perhaps. Perhaps not. To me, this echoes River Phoenix (one of the acting loves of my life), who grew and grew, so close to proving a skill beyond any other actor of his time.

Either way, Heath Ledger will be remembered. He may have been young. He may have started as a teen heartthrob. But his performances are nothing to scoff at. Before the age of 29, Heath managed to create several career defining performances, Ennis Del Mar and, likely, The Joker being above and beyond the rest.

To Heath Ledger: You've grabbed and moved my soul in a way that it never will be again. You've shown me what an actor is capable of. You've illustrated the beauty of subtlety, the strength and impact of emotions. You've shown how dedication and creativity could resonate. I'll always wonder what you could have become, and how the world of film will be at a loss without you there.

love, support, and devotion always,

(My heart goes out to Matilda Rose, Michelle Williams and all of Heath's family, friends, and fans. Best wishes and deepest condolences to all. God bless.)


  1. I am devastated - I have tried to see everyone of his films. He was a brillant actor and I delighted in the selection of characters he chose to portray. He stood above - he will always stand above. Many say Johnny Depp is brillant for the parts he has chosen to act - I say Heath would have been one of the best, very very best actors of his generation. I am saddened beyond words. These words do no justice for the loss I feel. Prayers to his family and God Bless them all. If you knew him, celebrate that fact - you are a luckier person than I -we will celebrate him forever.

  2. This was very well written Stacy. I know it must have been hard for you. Believe me as soon as I heard, after thinking of what a loss this is to the world of cinema, I immediately thought of you and wish I could be with you through this when you do explode.
    I love you so much.

    He was easily one of the most talented actors the world will ever know.

  3. Very beautifully written, Stacy. I knew you'd have some powerful words to say. I immediately thought of you, as well, when I heard this news from Cassie. Your memoriam is a powerful testament to his effect on the film community.

    You should try to spread this around to other Heath fans... I don't know, post the link somewhere. I think people, his fans especially, would love to read this.

    Love you.

  4. Too beautiful for words. Too tragic. A loving tribute, Stacy.

  5. Beautiful, Stacy. I still can't believe that it's actually happened. There was so much more that he could have, and was getting ready, to show the world. I wrote a bit on my blog (on Blogger, not LJ) if you want to check it out.

    I definitely thought of you when I heard what happened. This death is quite tragic enough to fully express in words, but you did quite well in your words. Absolutely beautiful.

  6. That was truly moving Stacy, thank you.

  7. Beautiful words.

    You express a lot.


  8. Beautiful words, Stacy. My thoughts are with Heath, his family, and with you.

  9. excellent points and the details are more specific than elsewhere, thanks.

    - Norman