Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger

Tragic Heath Ledger was one of the best actors on film of his generation.   He was born in 1979 in Perth, Western Australia.   He began his career In 2000 he went to the U.S,. to play Billy Bob Thornton’s son in “Monster’s Ball”.   “A Knight’s Tale” and “Ned Kelly” followed.   He delivered a stunning performance in 2005 in “Brokeback Mountain”.   He died suddenly in 2008 and was awarded a n Oscat for “The Dark Night” after his death.

TCM overview:

The handsome, curly-haired Australian Heath Ledger was introduced to American audiences as the young star of the Fox adventure series “Roar” (1997) and quickly rose through the ranks to become one of the busiest leading men of his generation, earning particular acclaim for his dramatic turn as a conflicted, closeted homosexual ranch hand in the bittersweet drama “Brokeback Mountain” (2005). Already a small screen veteran in his native land, the tall blond had been featured as the gay cyclist Snowy Bowles in the Australian TV drama “Sweat”, set at an elite training academy for young athletes. Ledger also did extensive guest work on Australian television, with appearances in the series “Ship to Shore”, “Bush Patrol” and “Corrigan”. Despite his status as an unknown in the USA, he was tapped to make his American television debut as the star of “Roar” (Fox, 1997), a medieval-set adventure in which he played Conor, a teenaged Celtic prince who becomes the leader of his people when the Romans murder his father and the rest of his family. With a job description that included bellowing a mighty roar before beating the baddies in addition to dealing with his inner turmoil, Ledger proved an impressive recruit, and was well loved by the series cult audience. Film appearances in the festival screened “Two Hands” (1998) and the teen comedy “10 Things I Hate About You” (1999) followed. The latter promised the rising player the opportunity for a great deal more exposure than a short-lived genre program could offer; he starred as Patrick Verona, a moody student with a reputed criminal past who is enlisted to woo Julia Stiles’ Kat in this modern retooling of “The Taming of the Shrew.” Ledger perhaps reached his widest audience to date, though, as Mel Gibson’s son in the much-heralded “The Patriot” (2000), a Revolutionary War saga about a pacifist (Gibson) forced to choose sides after his soldier son is captured by the enemy. Following the flurry of magazine covers and articles, the in-demand actor starred as medieval swashbuckler set to arena rock standards in “A Knight’s Tale” (2001), and he impressively held his own opposite Billy Bob Thorton as the anguished son of a cold-hearted prison guard in “Monster’s Ball” (2001). He signed on opposite Kate Hudson to headline yet another remake of “Four Feathers” (2002), directed by Shekhar Kapur, but the film made nary a ripple at the box office. Commencing a high-profile romance with slightly older actress Naomi Watts, Ledger quickly became a favorite subject of the paparazzi and entertainment media, and as his public profile rose he sought to shore up his professional reputation with his portrayal of renegade priest Father Alex Bernier who runs afoul of an ancient, secret and evil sect operating within the church in “The Order” (2003). In “Ned Kelly” (2004), Ledger played a good man driven to striking back at a corrupt British colonial system in 19th century Australia after serving a prison term on trumped-up charges for horse theft and the threat of more jail time for attempted murder. Reviews were mixed for the slow-moving western, and despite a cast that included Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush and Naomi Watts, “Ned Kelly” was released by Universal into less than 20 theaters. His next appearance was in “Lords of Dogtown” (2005), the fictionalized rags-to-riches tale of board rats Jay Adams, Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta, Southern California riff-raff who revolutionized skateboarding and propelled themselves into wanton celebrity. Ledger was virtually unrecognizable as Skip Engblom, the stoner surfer-dude who owns a surf shop and forms the skaters into the celebrated Zephyr Skateboard Team. He then teamed with Matt Damon to play totally fictionalized versions of the famed Bavarian fairy tale spinners “The Brothers Grimm” (2005), reimagined by director Terry Gilliam as a pair of curse-removing con artists who are suddenly tasked with solving a genuine magical mystery that ultimately inspires many of their famous stories. Ledger showed some range as the sensitive, conflicted Jacob, but the story ultimately left him too little to do, and the film lacked some of the spark and imagination expected of a Gilliam project. His next project, that same year, more than made up for “Grimm’s” shortcomings: director Ang Lee’s sensitive film adaptation of E. Annie Proulx’s revered short story “Brokeback Mountain,” expanded by screenwriter Larry McMurtry, cast Ledger as Ennis Del Mar, a manly, rough-around-the-edges ranch hand who explores his homosexuality while on a 1960s sheep drive through a mountain range with a fellow cowboy (Jake Gyllenhaal), but continues to live a closeted life with a wife (Michelle Williams) and children even as he continues his on-off gay relationship over the ensuring decades. Ledger’s haunting, convincingly tortured performance was a revelation, his best work to date as he seemed to literally inhabit a character entirely different from his own on-screen image and sparked a wave of awards-season buzz. Ledger, who by the time of filming had also ended his high-profile relationship with Watts, became involved with his co-star Williams, and the two had a child together by the time of the film’s release. Meanwhile, Ledger was honored by a slew of award nominations, including the Oscar for Best Actor, but failed to win much of anything besides a New York Film Critics Circle award thanks to the juggernaut known as Philip Seymour Hoffman. Just weeks after his triumphant performance in “Brokeback Mountain” hit theaters, his final 2005 film debuted: “Casanova,” director Lasse Hallstrom’s fictionalized account of the legendary lothario falling in love, was easily one of the most ill-conceived and disappointing films of the year, despite lavish production values and game performances by Ledger and the rest of the all-star cast. Hot off of the phenomenal success of “Brokeback Mountain” it was announced that Ledger would appear as the legendary comic book villain The Joker opposite Christian Bale’s Batman in “The Dark Knight” (scheduled for release in 2008) in the second film in director Christopher Nolan’s popular revival of the Caped Crusader’s film franchise.

 

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