Heath Ledger was an Australian actor best known for his Academy Award-nominated role in Brokeback Mountain. His decision to take the part of a closeted gay ranch hand was typical of Ledger’s career, as he often passed up typical heartthrob roles in favor of more complex characters.
Ledger, born Heathcliff Andrew Ledger on April 4, 1979, grew up in western Australia, and began acting at age 10 when he was cast in a local production of Peter Pan. After some roles in Australian television and a few films, he moved to Los Angeles at age 20, quickly snagging a part opposite Julia Stiles in the teen romantic comedy 10 Things I Hate About You.
Despite 10 Things‘ success, Ledger turned down all teen-oriented scripts in favor of more grown-up parts, most notably in The Patriot, as Mel Gibson’s son; A Knight’s Tale, as a peasant-turned-warrior; and in Monster’s Ball, with Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry. Then in 2005 came Brokeback Mountain, which earned eight Oscar nominations, including a Best Actor nomination for Ledger.
Post-Brokeback, Ledger continued to be choosy about his roles. “I feel like I’m wasting time if I repeat myself,” he told the New York Times in 2007. Even his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight was a first, as he was the first non-American actor to play that particular nemesis of Batman.
Sadly, Ledger would not live to see the film air in July 2008; on January 22, 2008, he was found dead in a SoHo apartment of an accidental overdose. Ledger is survived by a daughter, Matilda, by his ex-fiancee and Brokeback Mountain co-star Michelle Williams.
— A. Wu