Behind the scenes of the life of Heather Ledge

An actor in his prime burns out, the cloud of unreality deepening and spreading after we hear the news, feed on our e-mails, chase the crawls on TV.

The actor, who was dreamy, remote, maybe even emotionally autistic, brings out the inevitable “That’s so sad’, and “So tragic’, and then the sound of a trillion sentences dropping, and a line being formed at the ellipsis door. What to say?

A gossip columnist’s job is to always have something to say something, so, yes, this is slightly annoying. Though any requiem for Heath Ledger will probably start and end with the words Brokeback Mountain, my first and perhaps fondest memory of the guy was in one of the best teen comedies ever made: 10 Things I Hate About You. A lunchbox adaptation of the Bard’s The Taming of the Shrew, it had one scene that was utterly clichéd yet unforgettable, both full-of-life and in-love-with-love. It was a scene of Heath singing to Julia Stiles from a football stadium, accompanied by a full marching band, him taking on Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.

It was memorable for its sweet warble. Later, as the years went by, it was memorable for reminding us how the Aussie was deft enough to escape the bird-cage of hunky heartthrob-dom, eventually becoming more than just-a-pretty-face.
Four times. Four times Heath walked into my frame, over the years; each scene now taking on an unexpected acuity. Now, as the inevitable chorus of was-it-an-overdose-or-was-it-a-suicide? lifts, we start to get images of a Mona Lisa-in-motion Michelle Williams, and the little girl left without a daddy, Matilda.

The first frame? It was almost exactly four years ago this week, at Sundance. It stands out because it was a hoot. It stands out because it was a time I was thisclose to being kicked out of a party!

The party, hosted by a MAC, was small and intimate. Like really small and really intimate. So claustrophobic was this cloakroom-of-a-room that I couldn’t miss Naomi Watts sitting on Heath’s lap, as they pawed each other unmercilessly. The soiree featured crab-cakes and chocolate-chip cookies, but the only snacks that Watts and Ledger were interested in having was each other. A friend who was with me – a Heath-a-holic who’s sweet, but slightly mad – took a photo of the bodies in heat. And then another. And then, like a woman obsessed, just a few more. Security soon swoomped in, threatening to destroy a camera, as I took this opportunity to busy myself with the chocolate cookie platter and distance myself as much as possible from the robosnapper.
“I couldn’t help myself,” she said that night, and then for years later.

It was a crash course on the effect that Ledger, who would eventually go on to play Casanova, had on women and more than a few men. As matinee idols have had since the day they created matinee idols.

The second time I caught up with Heath was the next year at a Johnny Depp party held in Toronto. This stop-the-presses bash, held at Birks, has been mentioned several times in this space, as it entered into the annals of Toronto filmfest party history.

This is what I wrote then: “It was quite something watching Heath Ledger — the young actor who’s causing Oscar talk whiplash for his part in the movie Brokeback Mountain — try to schmooze Johnny Depp. He seemed as anxious to get his attention as the rest of us, standing idly at one point while Johnny boy talked to others, like a young male ballet star trying to take a meeting with Baryshnikov. An interesting peek into the celebrity food chain, always, watching a lesser star trying to schmooze a bigger star! Proof, too, that no matter how rich, famous and fabulous you get, there’s always someone richer, more famous, more fabulous than you.”

I gulp reading this now, especially following what one my favourite columnists, Roger Friedman from, had to spill yesterday about this cautionary tale. “ Ledger,” he said, “was morose over losing his life with Williams and their baby daughter in Brooklyn. He may not have committed suicide, but he carried on, my source says, with little regard for his health or well-being.
“It’s hard for the average movie fan, including yours truly, to totally grasp why a guy like Heath Ledger — drop-dead handsome, popular, incredibly talented — could be depressed about anything,” went on the columnist. But his source tried to give it context: “You’re being paid $10 million and wondering if you’re worth it. Then your girlfriend kicks you out, you’re separated from your child and you’re thinking: ‘I’m a big movie star but not popular at home.’ That’s when the trouble starts.”

But did trouble have its hints? In retrospect, there was a glimpse owhen he was back for the Fest in 2006. While Heath was at one point spotted sitting solo at Il Posto in Yorkvile, reading a book and eating soup, at night it was an open secret that he was partying rather hard. Notably, at Lobby on Bloor. I hinted just a little at this in my own column. Lainey, Canada’s online gossip queen, went further when she talked about a “supposed family man” and “serious actor” doing “he did so much blow it’s a wonder he hasn’t died from a heart attack.” She didn’t name names, but it wasn’t much of a riddle to those of us who follow these things.

Talking to Lainey yesterday we both agreed — even as people whose job sometimes is to put a stapler to celebs — that there’s a complicity when it comes to the likes of a Ledger. “His talent was never disputed,” she says now, and that was what was underneath her snark. “Like dude – don’t waste what you have …Especially since I think Brokeback was really just a taste of what he could offer.”
My last and happenstance sighting of The Joker-to-be? It was at a restaurant last year on Smith Street in Brooklyn, the equivalent of spotting an actual kangaroo in Australia. This was while Heath and Michelle were still playing the part of lawfully non-wedded hipster parents, and proving to us then, as Radar mag put in recently, that “sturdy, cable sweater-wearing, mortgage paying romance was not only possible, but in the right hands, even glamorous.”

A couple of months later Ledger and Williams split. Heath moved out, but maybe didn’t move on. The white truck that came to pick up his stuff while the actor made the short but fraught trek from Brooklyn to Manhattan? It had a big, plain ironic name on its side. It said Celebrity Moving.

we will not forget our casanova heather ledge

The Clues in Heath Ledger’s Death

Residents of New York City’s SoHo district are used to crossing paths with celebrities. But on Wednesday they grieved for one. Neighbors and fans erected a makeshift memorial outside the apartment building in which Heath Ledger was found dead on Tuesday afternoon. Among about a dozen bouquets of flowers, handwritten notes and flickering candles stood a hand-drawn portrait of the square-jawed actor, a cigarette jutting from his lips, reminiscent of James Dean, a Hollywood legend who also died young and famous. Ledger was at a point in his career where he had graduated from heartthrob (A Knight’s Tale) to serious screen actor (Brokeback Mountain) when a housekeeper came across his naked body in his Manhattan loft at 421 Broome Street. A day after that discovery, from across the street, passers-by gazed up at the building’s gray windows and snapped pictures with their camera-phones.

There are no immediate answers to how Ledger died. The city’s chief medical examiner’s office was unable to ascertain the cause of death based on an autopsy performed Wednesday morning. “We did the autopsy today and it was inconclusive,” Ellen Borakove, an office spokeswoman, told TIME. Further toxicology and tissue tests were needed to determine the cause of death, she said. It will be at least ten days before results become available.

Ledger’s body was discovered Tuesday by the housekeeper, who entered the bedroom of the fourth-floor loft he was renting in order to alert him that his masseuse had arrived for a scheduled appointment. (According to the New York Post, she said that at around noon she could still hear the actor snoring in bed.) Sleeping pills were found near the 28-year old actor. The actor had told the New York Times in late 2007 that he was having trouble sleeping; he also said slipping deep into character for his roles often exacted a personal toll. reported that the anti-anxiety medications Xanax and Valium were found in the apartment. According to the Times, police spokesman Paul Browne acknowledged that prescription drugs and a rolled-up $20 bill were found but denied the money had narcotic residue on it, as an earlier news report had alleged. The NYPD spokesman was adamant that no narcotics were found in the apartment. Nevertheless, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the bill was being tested further because of the way it was folded.

Police suggested the cause of death could be an accidental overdose and confirmed to TIME that foul play is not suspected. In a statement given to reporters in the actor’s hometown of Perth, Australia, Ledger’s father, Kim, denied the death was a suicide, calling his son’s passing “tragic, untimely and accidental.”

Though the late actor had taken on other roles since, it was his Oscar-nominated performance as Ennis Del Mar, a sheep rancher who discovers his homosexuality in Brokeback Mountain, that mourners referred to again and again. His death was particularly poignant to gay New Yorkers. “He is a gay icon,” says John Lopez, 22, who works in a gourmet food store that Ledger frequented. “To support us, he broke a lot of taboos.” From overseas, the film’s director Ang Lee said in a statement, “He brought to the role of Ennis more than any of us could have imagined — a thirst for life, for love, and for truth, and a vulnerability that made everyone who knew him love him. His death is heartbreaking.”

Brokeback Mountain kiss with Heather Ledge and Jake Gyllenhaal

Heather Ledge the complete story

The actor Heath Ledger will doubtless be best remembered for his incredibly moving, compassionate performance as Ennis Del Mar, a cowboy who finds a perplexing, forbidden and secret love with a fellow ranger, Jack Twist, in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005), and his death will revive the generally acknowledged lament that both his performance and the film should have won Oscars.

It was a painstakingly wrought performance, described by Rolling Stone magazine as “an acting miracle. He seems to tear it from his insides. Ledger doesn’t just know how Ennis moves, speaks and listens. He knows how he breathes. To see him inhale the scent of a shirt hanging in Jack’s closet is to take measure of the pain of love lost.”

Ledger, a handsome man, had refused to follow the easy route to fame and fortune in teen movie roles, but welcomed the opportunity to stretch his exceptional talents with parts that would prove challenging and fresh. “I feel like I’m wasting my time if I repeat myself,” he said. Other performances which demonstrated his range as well as his talent came in The Patriot (2000, in which he played Mel Gibson’s confrontational son), Monster’s Ball (2001), Ned Kelly (2003), The Brothers Grimm (2005) and Casanova (2005). He plays one of the six incarnations of Bob Dylan in the biopic I’m Not There (on current release) and a sinister Joker in the forthcoming Batman adventure The Dark Knight, and had recently visited London to film scenes for Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

The son of Kim Ledger, a mining engineer whose roots were Irish, and his wife Sally, a teacher of French with Scottish ancestry, Heathcliff Andrew Ledger was born in Perth, Western Australia, in 1979, and named after the hero of Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights – his older sister had already been named after the book’s heroine.

His parents divorced when he was a boy and he grew up with his mother, his sister and two half-sisters. “It taught me respect for women, and patience,” he said later. “Growing up with all those women around you, you learn to wait your turn.” Educated at a boys-only private school, Guildford Grammar, he was cast in a local stage production of Peter Pan when he was 10 and played occasional roles on television before dropping out of college in his teens to drive with a friend to Sydney. “I believed I could be an actor, and I left home at an early age to pursue that dream.”

After a year as a self-confessed “beach bum” (he was an avid surfer), he won roles in Australian soap operas, including Sweat (1996), a series about Olympic hopefuls in which he played a gay cyclist, and Home and Away (1998), in which he was a surfer, Scott Irwin. A recurring role as a Celtic warrior in Roar, a US-financed television series set in fifth-century Ireland and filmed in Australia, brought him to the attention of a Hollywood agent, but his first major break came when the Australian director Gregor Jordan gave him the leading role of an affable strip-club bouncer whose life is threatened in Two Hands (1999), a lively thriller that was favourably compared to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Its success led to Ledger being cast in his first American film, Gil Junger’s 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), an amusing transposition of The Taming of the Shrew to a high-school setting. Ledger later said that after acting in two screen hits – as the son of a farmer turned militia leader (Mel Gibson, who said he possessed “that unknown factor that sort of lights up the screen”) in a tale of America’s battle for independence, The Patriot (2000), and in A Knight’s Tale (2001), a medieval comedy in which he starred as a scruffy low-born who masquerades as a gallant knight in order to enter a jousting contest – he had to battle against typecasting as a teen idol. “I had to become slightly calculating to protect myself from my agents’ plans for my career,” he said. “It was ‘Let’s rake in as much money as we can from the kid because he may not have a career later on.’ They don’t see longevity in their clients, they see a short-term investment.”

Gregor Jordan said that “when Heath first started gaining movie-star status, there was a lot of pressure on him to become the next Brad Pitt or the next whatever. But he wanted to be an actor rather than a movie star.” He took the leading role in Ned Kelly (2003) as a favour to his friend Jordan, and replaced Jude Law (who wanted too much money) in The Four Feathers (2002), but he also took supporting roles in Monster’s Ball (2001, as Billy Bob Thornton’s suicidal son) and The Lords of Dogtown (2005) in order to stretch his range. “In a way, I had been spoon-fed a career,” he stated. “I never took an acting class, so I’ve made all my mistakes on film.”

Proof that he had become one of Hollywood’s finest actors, as well as a star, came in 2005, when he starred in three films which were shown at that year’s Venice Film Festival – Brokeback Mountain, Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm and Lasse Hallstrom’s Casanova. All three were in competition, with Brokeback Mountain winning the major prize. Set in the 1960s, it told of two cowboys who, spending a summer mustering sheep in the Wyoming mountains, have a brief affair which is resumed some years later when both are married with children, after which they meet once a year. From the time the project was first announced, Brokeback Mountain, an adaptation of a short story by E. Annie Proulx, had been referred to as “the gay cowboy movie”, which annoyed its director and stars. “For me, it was quite simple,” said Ledger. “I read the script and I found it to be a beautiful story and a beautiful representation of love. I have watched many films and read many books about love, and I feel they are all recycling themselves – they are all so stale. I thought this was such a refreshing take.” Proulx said, “Heath Ledger erased the image I had when I wrote it. He was so visceral. How did this actor get inside my head so well? He understood more about the character than I did.”

Physically, Ledger’s performance was remarkable, with his slightly bow-legged walk, slumped shoulders (“If you spend all day on horseback, and you hop off, you walk around like you still have a horse between your legs”) and particularly his facial immobility. “I wanted it to be part of the way Ennis sees the world,” he said. “I wanted the light to be too bright for him and the world to be too loud. But it’s also a real ranch-hand’s face, even the stiff top lip. It’s something that farmers do in Australia to keep the flies out of their mouth.”Of the love scenes, both tough and tender, Ledger said, “It was certainly a surreal moment the first time I had to kiss Jake. But once that was done, I quickly realised that it didn’t make me want to run out and do it again.” Brokeback Mountain won Ledger many awards, though neither performance nor film won the Oscar, and the 2006 ceremony will be remembered as the one in which Jack Nicholson shattered the convention that presenters should not betray their personal reaction by flinging wide his arms and shrugging in non-comprehension when he opened the envelope and saw that Crash had beaten Brokeback Mountain to win the best film award.
Ledger described his next film, Casanova, as a splendid way to wind down – it was shot in Venice, which he described as “like shooting a film inside a museum”. He and the actress Michelle Williams, with whom he had fallen in love “at first sight” when she played his wife in Brokeback Mountain, had by then moved to New York to live in Brooklyn (“the closest thing America has to Europe”) with their child, Matilda Rose. The couple parted last September, after three years together.

Ledger’s latest release was Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There, in which he is one of several actors who portray aspects of Bob Dylan. He described his recently completed role as the Joker in the latest Batman film The Dark Knight as “the most fun I’ve ever had with any character. He’s just out of control – no empathy, he’s a sociopath, a psychotic, mass-murdering clown.” Michael Caine, who co-stars in The Dark Knight, has described Ledger’s performance as “the big surprise. . . he’s fantastic”.

However, in one of his last interviews – with The New York Times last September – Ledger confessed that while making the film he was suffering from acute insomnia. “Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night. I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted but my mind just kept going.” He was found dead in his apartment in New York, of a suspected overdose; police have reported that drugs found nearby included sleeping pills.

Stop Westboro Baptist Church

Westboro Baptist Church, a fundamentalist church whose members demonstrate at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and believe God hates gays will protest the Academy Awards and the funeral of Heath Ledger, because the actor played a gay cowboy in the 2005 film “Brokeback Mountain.”
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., are trying to find out where the 28-year-old actor’s funeral will be held and have already made signs to hold outside the Oscars that read “God Hates Fags and Fag Enablers,” “Heath in Hell” and “Mourn for Your Sins,” Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the church’s controversial founder Pastor Fred Phelps, told

Though Ledger was not gay, the church believes he “misused the giant megaphone given to him by God Almighty to speak the truth about fags,” Phelps-Roper said, and instead “used his position of prominence to say God is a liar and that homosexuality is not an abomination.” The time and location of the Ledger’s funeral remain unknown, but it is widely believed it will take place in the actor’s native Australia.
George Amado, the general manager of New York City’s Frank E. Campbell funeral home, told The Associated Press that funeral arrangements for the actor are complete and his relatives are expected to arrive in New York City Friday. He refused to elaborate further, saying, “The family doesn’t want us to give out any information.”

“They are going to try and hide the body like a bunch of ghouls so we can’t protest. The only thing in this country people worship more than filthy sex acts is the dead,” Phelps-Roper said. She said members of the church had already purchased plane tickets to picket outside the Oscars, scheduled for Feb. 24 in Hollywood.

A press release posted to the church’s Web site,, reads: “Heath Ledger is now in Hell, and has begun serving his eternal sentence there — besides which, nothing else about Heath Ledger is relevant or consequential.”

According to the Web site, the church, founded in 1955, has held more than 34,000 protests. But Phelps-Roper said there are currently only 50 members.

Hate Group, or Religious Freedom?
The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the church a hate group because of its “platform, writings and statements by its leader, which are egregiously anti-gay,” said Mark Potok, director of the center’s Intelligence Project.
“The group is made up of people who are almost literally out of their minds,” Potok said. “In addition to regularly picketing the deaths of American soldiers killed in Iraq, they have picketed the funeral of little girls killed in a school bus crash because they wanted to link the death of children with ‘America’s sin.'”
Last year a Baltimore jury determined the Westboro Baptist Church was too vulgar and offensive to be covered by the First Amendment. The church was ordered to pay nearly $11 million to Albert Snyder, who brought a suit after the Phelps clan picketed the funeral of his 20-year-old son Matthew, who died while serving in Iraq.

The group routinely uses young children on its picket lines, sometimes giving them signs featuring explicit images to carry. According to Potok, the only members of the church are Fred Phelps’ family members. “I doubt there is anyone in America who thinks more about gay sex than Fred Phelps,” Potok said.

Ledger, 28, was found dead at the foot of his bed in his rented Soho loft Tuesday with several bottles of prescription drugs nearby. A preliminary autopsy completed Wednesday was unable to determine what killed the actor.

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