Heath Ledger

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Dark Knight Joker movie poster more Dark Knight posters
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Heath Andrew Ledger (April 4, 1979 – January 22, 2008) was an Australian television and film actor. He was considered one of the most promising talents of his generation before his accidental death at age 28.

A few months before his death, Ledger had finished filming his widely-praised penultimate performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight.


From 2000 to 2005, he starred in supporting roles as Gabriel Martin, the eldest son of Mel Gibson, in The Patriot (2000), and as Sonny Grotowski, the son of Billy Bob Thornton, in Monster's Ball (2000); and in leading or title roles in A Knight's Tale (2001), The Four Feathers (2002), The Order (2003), Ned Kelly (2003), Casanova (2005), The Brothers Grimm (2005), and Lords of Dogtown (2005).

In his penultimate film performance, Ledger plays the Joker in The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan, the sequel to the 2005 film Batman Begins, first released, in Australia, on July 16, 2008, nearly six months after his death. While still working on the film, in London, Ledger told Sarah Lyall, in their interview published in the New York Times on November 4, 2007, that he viewed The Dark Knight's Joker as a "psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy." To prepare for the role, Ledger told Empire, "I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices — it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath — someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts"; after reiterating his view of the character as "just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown," he added that Nolan had given him "free rein" to create the role, which he found "fun, because there are no real boundaries to what The Joker would say or do. Nothing intimidates him, and everything is a big joke."

At the time of his death, on January 22, 2008, Ledger had completed about half of his final film performance as Tony in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Ledger's death affected the marketing campaign for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008) and also both the production and marketing of Terry Gilliam's forthcoming film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, with both directors intending to celebrate and pay tribute to his work in these films. Although Gilliam temporarily suspended production on the latter film, he expressed determination to "salvage" it, perhaps using computer-generated imagery (CGI), and plans to dedicate it to Ledger. In February 2008, as a "memorial tribute to the man many have called one of the best actors of his generation," Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell signed on to take over Ledger's role, becoming multiple incarnations of his character, Tony, transformed in this "magical re-telling of the Faust story," and the three actors have donated their fees for the film to Ledger's and Williams' daughter.

Speaking of editing The Dark Knight, on which Ledger had completed his work in October 2007, Nolan recalled, "It was tremendously emotional, right when he passed, having to go back in and look at him every day. ... But the truth is, I feel very lucky to have something productive to do, to have a performance that he was very, very proud of, and that he had entrusted to me to finish." All of Ledger's scenes appear as he completed them in the filming; in editing the film, Nolan added no "digital effects" to alter Ledger's actual performance posthumously. Nolan dedicated the film in part to Ledger's memory, as well as to the memory of technician Conway Wickliffe, who was killed during a car accident while preparing one of the film's stunts.

Released in July 2008, The Dark Knight broke several box office records and received both popular and critical accolades, especially with regard to Ledger's performance as the Joker. Even film critic David Denby, who does not praise the film overall in his pre-release review in The New Yorker, evaluates Ledger's work highly, describing his performance as both "sinister and frightening" and Ledger as "mesmerising in every scene", concluding: "His performance is a heroic, unsettling final act: this young actor looked into the abyss." Attempting to dispel widespread speculations that Ledger's performance as the Joker had in any way led to his death (as Denby and others suggest), Ledger's costar and friend Christian Bale, who played opposite him as Batman, has stressed that, as an actor, Ledger greatly enjoyed meeting the challenges of creating that role, an experience that Ledger himself described as "the most fun I’ve ever had, or probably ever will have, playing a character." Along with other film critics, audience members, and many of Ledger's colleagues in the film community, his other costars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Michael Caine have joined Bale in calling for and predicting a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor nomination in recognition of Ledger's achievement in his penultimate film.

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