Date of Birth
4 December 1979, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
Heath Andrew Ledger
6' 1" (1.85 m)
22 December 2008, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA, accidental overdose of prescription drugs
When hunky, twenty-year-old heart-throb Heath Ledger first came to the attention of the public in 1999, it was all too easy to tag him as a "pretty boy" and an actor of little depth. He spent several years trying desperately to sway this image, but this was a double-edged sword.
Heath Ledger was born on the fourth of April 1979, in Perth, Western Australia, to Sally (Ramshaw), a teacher of French, and Kim Ledger, a mining engineer who also raced cars. As the story goes, in junior high school it was compulsory to take one of two electives, either cooking or drama. As Heath could not see himself in a cooking class he tried his hand at drama. Heath was talented, however the rest of the class did not acknowledge his talent. When he was seventeen he and a friend decided to pack up, leave school, take a car and rough it to Sydney. Heath believed Sydney to be the place where dreams were made or, at least, where actors could possibly get their big break. Upon arriving in Sydney with a purported sixty-nine cents to his name, Heath tried everything to get a break.
His first real acting job came in a low-budget movie called Blackrock (1997), a largely unimpressive clichÃ©; an adolescent angst film about one boy's struggle when he learns his best mate raped a girl. He only had a very small role in the film. After that small role Heath auditioned for a role in a T.V. show called Sweat (1996) about a group of young Olympic hopefuls. He was offered one of two roles, one as a swimmer, another as a gay cyclist. Heath accepted the latter because he felt to really stand out as an actor one had to accept unique roles that stood out from the bunch. It got him small notice, but unfortunately the show was quickly axed, forcing him to look for other roles. He was in Home and Away (1988) for a very short period, in which he played a surfer who falls in love with one of the girls of Summer Bay. Then came his very brief role in Paws (1997), a film which existed solely to cash in on guitar prodigy Nathan Cavaleri's brief moment of fame, where he was the hottest thing in Australia. Heath played a student in the film, involved in a stage production of a Shakespeare play, in which he played "Oberon". A very brief role, this offered him a small paycheck but did nothing to advance his career. Then came Two Hands (1999). He went to the U.S. trying to audition for film roles, showcasing his brief role in Roar (1997) opposite then unknown Vera Farmiga.
Then Australian director Gregor Jordan auditioned him for the lead in Two Hands (1999), which he got. An in your face Aussie crime thriller, Two Hands (1999) was outstanding and helped him secure a role in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999). After that, it seemed Heath was being typecast as a young hunk, which he did not like, so he accepted a role in a very serious war drama The Patriot (2000).
What followed was a stark inconsistency of roles, Ledger accepting virtually every single character role, anything to avoid being typecast. Some met with praise, like his short role in Monster's Ball (2001), but his version of Ned Kelly (2003) was an absolute flop, which led distributors hesitant to even release it outside Australia. Heath finally had deserved success with his role in Brokeback Mountain (2005), for which he was nominated for an Oscar and a B.A.F.T.A. Ledger was found dead on January 22, 2008 in his apartment in the Manhattan neighborhood of SoHo, with a bottle of prescription sleeping pills near-by. It was concluded weeks later that he died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs that included pain-killers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication. After his death he received more than thirty posthumous awards for his portrayal as the psychopathic clown prince of crime in The Dark Knight (2008) (including the Oscar, S.A.G., B.A.F.T.A., and Golden Globe)
He and his older sister, Kate Ledger, are named after the two main romantic characters of the Emily BrontÃ« novel, "Wuthering Heights".
Concentrated on drama and sports in school. When asked to choose between the two, he picked drama. Attended a private all-boys school called Guildford Grammar.
Auditioned for the part of Max on the TV show Roswell (1999). However, the show was originally developed for Fox and since he had already starred in Roar (1997), which was unsuccessful for Fox, they did not want to hire him.
Had three sisters: Catherine (Kate) Ledger, married to Nathan Buckey, and half sisters Olivia Ledger (b. 1997) and Ashleigh Bell (b. 1989).
Mother was Sally Bell nÃ©e Ramshaw (daughter of John and Jackie Ramshaw) and father was Kim Ledger (son of Colin and Es Ledger). Stepfather was Roger Bell and stepmother was Emma Brown. His great-grandfather was Sir Frank Ledger, son of Edson Ledger.
Named one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in 2001.
Was a part of the 1990 Kalamunda Field Hockey team. His father was president of the team from 1990-1992.
Was a men's-fashion judge at the Melbourne Cup Carnival in November 2001.
Was originally set to star in Oliver Stone's Alexander (2004) before Colin Farrell took over the role.
Was considered for the role of Kar in Bulletproof Monk (2003) but eventually turned it down. The role later went to Seann William Scott.
Was named "the new Matt Damon" in Josie and the Pussycats (2001). They now act side by side in The Brothers Grimm (2005)
Most of his wardrobe was designed by his friend Shem.
Heath was of English, Irish, and Scottish ancestry.
Starred in 3 films which screened at the 2005 Venice Film Festival. They included Brokeback Mountain (2005), The Brothers Grimm (2005) and the out-of-competition Casanova (2005).
Became a father for the 1st time, at age 26, when his fiancÃ©e Michelle Williams gave birth to their daughter, Matilda Ledger (Matilda Rose Ledger), on October 28, 2005.
Was selected in the State U17 squad in field hockey and was touted as one of the up and coming young stars, but chose to pack it in and try to make a career out of acting.
Was mentored by, lived with, and was very good friends with Martin Henderson.
Invited to join AMPAS in 2006.
Was the first non-American actor to portray the Joker.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Busy Philipps are his daughter's godparents.
Had been set to star in Baz Luhrmann's pre-WWII drama Australia (2008), but backed out to play The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008).
Was one of seven godparents of Elizabeth Hurley's son Damien.
Chosen by Empire Magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Movie Stars in the world (#79) 2007.
Resided in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Sydney.
Was found dead in his apartment at 421 Broome Street in the SoHo neighborhood in New York City at 3:26 p.m. EST by his housekeeper and a massage therapist, finding him face down and unconscious in his bed with sleeping pills on a nearby table. [January 2008]
Directed music videos for Ben Harper's song "Morning Yearning", N'fa Forster Jones' "Cause an Effect" and "Seduction is Evil", Modest Mouse's "King Rat".
Was painfully shy.
First acting role was as "Peter Pan", at age 10, at a local theater company.
Lived in Roman Way, Islington while filming his last movie ever in London in 2007.
Was friends with Russell Crowe.
Was considered for a role in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003).
Actor Daniel Day-Lewis made a dedication to him at the SAG Awards 2008.
As a child, he owned a pet kangaroo that was found by his mother.
Was good friends with Ben Harper.
He was the co-founder of record label Music Masses Co with singer Ben Harper, and directed Harper's video for the song 'Morning Yearning'.
The youngest actor to play the Joker in a Batman movie The Dark Knight (2008), as oppose to Jack Nicholson and Cesar Romero.
In 2006, took a year off from acting to raise his daughter Matilda Ledger while his girlfriend at the time, Michelle Williams, worked.
On February 9, 2008, a memorial service attended by several hundred invited guests was held at Penhros College in Perth, Western Australia followed by a private wake on Cottesloe Beach with his family and friends.
After his death his body was returned to Perth, Western Australia, where his body was cremated at Fremantle Cemetery, with his ashes to be "scattered in a family plot at Karrakatta Cemetery, next to two of his grandparents.
Before appearing with Christian Bale in The Dark Knight (2008), the two of them both played incarnations of Bob Dylan in I'm Not There. (2007). This makes Ledger the second Joker actor to share a role with a Batman actor. Previously, Cesar Romero shared the role of lawman John "Doc" Holliday with Adam West and Val Kilmer.
His favorite Australian bands and musicians were Spiderbait, Powderfinger, and Silverchair.
Was good friends with Jake Gyllenhaal, Joel Edgerton, Christian Bale, Joaquin Phoenix and Matt Damon.
Said in 1999 that his favorite actors and directors were Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Bob Fosse, Stanley Kubrick, Katharine Hepburn, Jack Nicholson, Marcel Cann, Terrence Malick, Mel Gibson, and Meryl Streep. Later, he went on to co-star with Gibson; and play The Joker (previously portrayed by Nicholson) with his character was partly inspired by Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971); and had almost been cast in Malick's The Tree of Life (2011).
In an interview shortly before his death, he stated that his favorite role so far in his career had been his role as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008).
Swiss actor and filmmaker Philippe Vonlanthen worked as his Body-double and stand-in on Roar (1997). Filming took place in Queensland, Australia.
Played the character of Scott Irwin in the long-running Australian soap opera Home and Away (1988) for 10 episodes in 1997. Scott was a local bad boy who took advantage of Sally Fletcher. It is said that the producers wanted to extend his stay with the show but Heath opted not to.
His Golden Globe Award win for The Dark Knight (2008) came eleven days before the first anniversary of his death.
When actress Nell Campbell moved back to her homeland of Australia, she sold her house to Ledger in 2005.
Received his Oscar-nomination for The Dark Knight (2008) on the first anniversary of his death, January 22, 2009.
He is not only the first and only actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of the Joker, but the first and only actor to secure an acting nomination for a Batman film.
In both his first and final complete roles, he portrayed a clown.
The day after he died, he was supposed to meet with Steven Spielberg to explore the idea of playing Tom Hayden in a movie about the Chicago 7.
Has co-starred with a Gyllenhaal sibling in his two most acclaimed roles: as Ennis Del Mar with Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain (2005), and as the Joker with Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight (2008).
Was awarded the 2009 Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his work as the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008). This made him the first person to win a posthumous acting Oscar in this category.
His daughter Matilda Ledger will be the recipient of his Oscar for The Dark Knight (2008) when she turns 18. Up until then the statuette will be in custody of his father Kim Ledger, mother Sally Bell and sister Kate Ledger, per Academy rules.
Very first performer to win an Oscar for acting in a comic movie-adaptation.
Was a great admirer of Johnny Depp's work. Like Depp, Ledger worked hard to avoid being typecast as a teen heartthrob early on, in the hopes of expanding his career options. Both actors enjoyed taking risky, physically unappealing roles that surprised audiences. Depp was one of the three actors who filled in for Ledger's last unfinished role after his death, in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009).
The second person to win a posthumous acting Oscar. The first was Peter Finch.
Won almost every award in which he was nominated for his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) including the quintuple crown (a Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, Critics' Choice Award, and Oscar).
Is one of 11 actors to have won the Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Critics' Choice Award, Golden Globe Award and SAG Award for the same performance. The others in chronological order are Geoffrey Rush for Shine (1996), Jamie Foxx for Ray (2004), Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote (2005), Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland (2006), Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men (2007), Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood (2007) and Lincoln (2012), Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds (2009), Colin Firth for The King's Speech (2010), Christopher Plummer for Beginners (2010), and J.K. Simmons for Whiplash (2014).
Appeared twice on the cover of GQ magazine: June '01 and February '06.
Among his hobbies were surfing, skateboarding, chess, photography, directing.
Pulled out of The Tree of Life (2011) before he died.
Did some of the stunts in his movies by himself; in The Four Feathers (2002) he leaps onto a horse at full gallop; in Brokeback Mountain (2005) he jumps off a high cliff into icy water.
Was planning to direct his first feature film based on the Walter Tevis 1983 novel "The Queen's Gambit".
Was offered the role of Peter Parker in Spider-Man (2002) which he turned down.
Was in talks to play the role of 'Llewelyn Moss' in No Country for Old Men (2007) but decided to take some time off instead.
Was encouraged by then girlfriend Naomi Watts to accept the role of Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain (2005).
Was very close with directors Terry Gilliam and Shekhar Kapur.
Was a big fan of Nick Drake. Directed and starred in a music video for Nick Drake's "Black Eyed Dog".
As a tribute, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law helped Terry Gilliam complete The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) by taking over Ledger's unfinished role. Thus the public was able to watch his last performance. The three actors donated their salaries to his daughter.
In an interview, he admitted that he disliked his portrayal of the titular character in Casanova (2005), saying he took the wrong approach to the role.
Ang Lee offered him the role of 'Ennis Del Mar' after being impressed with his performance in Monster's Ball (2001).
Met up with Christopher Nolan to exchange ideas about how he was going to play the Joker before there was even a script for The Dark Knight (2008). He was Christopher Nolan's first and only choice for the Joker.
He directed both homemade videos made by the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) himself.
Lived in a house in the forest while filming The Patriot (2000).
Liked to write poetry.
Was only 4 years older than Kate Mara who plays his teenage daughter in Brokeback Mountain (2005).
To get in character in Lords of Dogtown (2005) he wore some of Skip Engblom's old clothes.
In 2008, Australians in Film established the annual ''Heath Ledger Scholarship'' in his honor. Past judges include Jude Law, Rachel Griffiths, Jason Isaacs, Frances O'Connor, director Gregor Jordan and Ledger's former agent Steve Alexander.
Cousin of actor Luke Ledger.
He said the most difficult aspect of his performance as The Joker was getting the voice and laugh right.
Was in a relationship with Lisa Zane, Julia Stiles, Christina Cauchi, Heather Graham, Naomi Watts, Michelle Williams, Gemma Ward.
His acting mentor was Mel Gibson.
Never attended Drama school and had no formal training when he decided to pursue an acting career.
He was five years younger than Christian Bale, making him the first actor to play The Joker who was younger than the actor playing Batman.
Of all the actors who played the Joker and won Oscars, he is the only one to win for playing the Joker.
According to the 10th Anniversary commentary by his co-stars for 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), he and Julia Stiles began a relationship during the filming. They broke up in January 2000.
Was considered for the role of Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). In the original trilogy, Max was played by Mel Gibson, who played his father in The Patriot (2000). Tom Hardy took the role of Max in 2009. Hardy played Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012), the sequel to The Dark Knight (2008) in which Ledger played The Joker.
His parents, Kim Ledger and Sally Bell, and his sister Kate Ledger received his Oscar on his behalf.
In 2008, Australians in Film established the annual "Heath Ledger Scholarship" in honor of the late actor, who was an ambassador of the group. Heath's father, Kim Ledger, is the Patron of the scholarship. The first recipient was Oliver Ackland in 2009, followed by Bella Heathcote in 2010, Ryan Corr in 2011, Anna McGahan in 2012, James Mackay in 2013, Cody Fern in 2014 and Matt Levett in 2015.
Abbie Cornish dedicated her 2011 G'Day USA Excellence in Film award to him. They were co-stars in Candy (2006) [January 23, 2011].
In order to physicalize Ennis Del Mar's closed off nature in Brokeback Mountain (2005), Heath used the image of a clenched fist as inspiration.
Deep husky voice
Known for completely immersing himself in his roles
His warm smile
I only do this because Im having fun. The day I stop having fun, I'll just walk away. I wasn't going to have fun doing a teen movie again.... I don't want to do this for the rest of my life....I don't want to spend the rest of my youth doing this in this industry. There's so much I want to discover. (Vanity Fair, August 2000)
I prefer to date older women because they don't try to act older like younger girls but because they try to act younger.
It's a little uncomfortable doing love scenes in armor, but, you know, when the heat's on, the heat's on. (Access Hollywood (1996), August 2000)
[about the paparazzi] Most of the time you don't even know they're there. Now, that's the scary thing. It's really strange and invading, but I'm still working it all out. I try to not let it bother me. I really try and find the humour in all of it. And if I want to swim naked in my pool, I'm still going to do it. I certainly don't want to feel that I have to change everything in my life that I do to cater to them. I just won't let it happen. (National Post, May 2001)
I don't have a technique. I've never been a believer in having one set technique on how to act. There are no rules and there is no rulebook. At the end of the day, it all comes down to my instincts. That's the one thing that guides me through every decision professionally. Socially, also. That's my technique. Yeah, you read through the script 100 times. I guess I have little characteristics about myself. Sometimes, most often than not, once we start shooting I won't look at the script at all until we finished shooting. It's kind of like it's been imprinted in my head during rehearsals. You just let it go. (Reel.com, May 2001)
I'm the worst auditioner, really, really bad. I mean, you're being judged and I'm just so aware of it that it consumes me. I can't relax, I'm tied in knots, so the voice is very taut and tense. You're so aware that you're acting 'cause you're sitting across from this lady with a piece of paper who's going, ''I'm. Going. To. Shoot. You. If. You. Don't. Blah, blah, blah,'' in this emotionless voice. It's foul. I hate it. (EW.com, May 2001)
People just love to bash LA. People say it's so pretentious, so arrogant, so this and that. But it's truly a wonderful place. You don't have to go to the places where that stuff goes on. You don't have to go to Beverly Hills, you don't have to go to the parties. You can live up in the Lower Canyon and live such a perfectly healthy, beautiful, fun life with all your friends. You can drive two hours one way and be at the Joshua Tree desert, two hours one way you're skiing at Big Bear. Sure, it can get full-on and that's why it's good to get out. But it's too easy just to say, "Nup, I hate it. I'm not living there anymore." (NW Magazine, March 2000)
[about growing up with his mom and his sisters] I learned respect for women, and patience. You grow up with all those women around you...you learn to wait your turn. (Cosmopolitan, June 1998)
I never studied acting in Australia. I never had an empty stage and black pajamas to run around and express myself.
[on his character "Ennis" in Brokeback Mountain (2005)] The challenge was to capture the stillness of him. I have kind of semi-frantic, nervous energy. Harnessing that was something I thought I'd have to work out. Shooting in the wilderness, the stillness became like this innate quality.
Brooklyn seems to me the closest thing in America to Europe. The neighbors and locals are beautiful people. It's like a village.
[on daughter Matilda and being a father] 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 marvelous.
I'm not good at future planning. I don't plan at all. I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow. I don't have a day planner and I don't have a diary. I completely live in the now, not in the past, not in the future.
[on playing "The Joker" in The Dark Knight (2008)] The Joker, so far, is definitely the most fun I've had with any character. He's just out of control -- no empathy, he's a sociopath, uh, a psychotic, mass-murdering clown. And, uh, I'm just thoroughly, thoroughly enjoying it. It's just exceeded any expectations I had of what the experience would be like.
[on his choice of film projects] 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.
[on walking down the red carpet] Like diving into an Olympic pool, swimming the length underwater, then emerging gasping for breath. It's so noisy that it's quiet, you can't hear; the flashlights are so blinding that it's dark, you can't see.
I start to get bored, not with the choices I was making, because I didn't really have a choice. The choices were being made for me -- I was being thrown into projects. So I kind of put the brakes on that. In a sense, I destroyed my career to rebuild it again.
I like to do something I fear. I like to set up obstacles and defeat them. I like to be afraid of the project. I always am. When I get cast in something, I always believe I shouldn't have been cast. I fooled them again. I can't do it. I don't know how to do it. There's a huge amount of anxiety that drowns out any excitement I have toward the project.
No amount of money changes what I do between 'action' and 'cut'. Before I got into the industry, I never imagined I'd have anywhere near the money I have now. I don't need any more. It's not that I don't want the money, it's just that I would have been really happy sitting on a beach or surfing every morning. I never had money, and I was very happy without it. When I die, my money's not gonna come with me. My movies will live on - for people to judge what I was as a person. I just want to stay curious.
[on dropping the character once the shoot ends] I kind of save the living for the time between action and cut. I'm pretty good at dropping a character once it's over for the day. Certainly once the film is over, I throw it all away. Your life is what matters. (Chicago Sun Times, November 2007)
[on the directors he would have liked to work with] Look, most of them are dead. Fellini. Cassavettes. Bob Fosse. Stanley Kubrick. I would have loved to work with them. I would love to work with many people who are around, but they're not lining up just yet. Terrence Malick is one person who comes to mind. I would love to be in one of his visual poems. (Chicago Sun Times, November 2007)
[on his sleeping problems] Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night. I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going. (The New York Times, November 2007)
Some people find their shtick. I've never figured out who Heath Ledger is on film: 'This is what you expect when you hire me, and it will be recognizable.' People always feel compelled to sum you up, to presume that they have you and can describe you. That's fine. But there are many stories inside of me and a lot I want to achieve outside of one flat note. (The New York Times, November 2007)
I think [getting the role] was tougher for other people to comprehend than it was for me. I'm looking forward to it. A part of me feels like I've been warming up to [playing the Joker] for years. In The Brothers Grimm (2005), [director] Terry Gilliam helped me put on a sort of clown act and adjust to that sort of pace. And I feel it's something within me I know how to do. I like putting on a mask. It'll be dark and sinister and exciting. Not being a huge comic book fan, and not one to really follow comic book movies, I'm relaxed about it. (NY Daily News, November 2006)
I'm shy. People get confused. They think as an actor you can get up and be confident on the screen. "Why aren't you like this in normal life? Why can't you act in your social life?" Because I can't! (NY Post, 2001)
A lot of people think ambition or success and they think dollars. My ambition is all in my head. I'm on a f---ing journey. I'm on a walkabout. It's about collecting wisdom of emotions and heart and self and understanding. Being absolutely comfortable with your body and life and the earth, sun, and moon being the only truths. That's what my success is, getting underneath that. (Entertainment Weekly, 2001)
[on choosing his roles] I don't have that much forward planning about what I want to do in the future. But I guess once I find something, like if I'm doing Lords of Dogtown (2005), I really like to flip the scale on the next job I'm doing. It's almost like you are a switchboard in a sound booth and on one job you use one side and by the end of the job you are kind of exhausted by it, but you didn't use any of the other side over here so you have to find something that will mean you using this half of your brain, energy wise, and that's how Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Casanova complemented each other. Brokeback was excruciating and Casanova (2005) was drinking wine and eating pasta, it was like a holiday. But I've got no future plans, I don't know what I'm going to do next as along as it scares me, as long as it's something new, as long as I get to scare other people. As long as it's an opportunity to evolve and grow as an actor and a person and challenge myself.
Honesty always gets my attention. Not particularly someone who is honest to me, but someone who is honest with themselves. That is a quality I really enjoy, admire and love.
I love acting. Oh, God, I love it. But all this fame and all this bullshit attention. I'm not supernatural. I've done nothing extremely special to deserve the position. It happens every couple of years, and it's happened to hundreds of people before me. (Newsweek, July 2000)
I have never had great expectations of my performance or of a film. I try not to think about the outcome. If you look that far ahead, it sort of taints your choices as an actor. I try as hard as I can to believe that no one is ever going to see it and that it's not even a movie. Then you can allow yourself to bare more. Then, once a project is done, I tend to forget about it until it comes out. (Daily Telegraph, November 2007)
I don't have a method to my madness... For me, acting is more about self-exploration. I've learned a lot about myself in order to learn about the craft. I've always been very big on self-exploration and answering my own questions. (Vanity Fair, 2000)