I’ve been thinking a lot about Heath Ledger recently. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I was just watching The Dark Knight or maybe it’s because we just passed the fifth anniversary of his death in January. I don’t know. In any case, it doesn’t matter how much time goes by, every time I see him in one of his movies, I still feel the emptiness and the loss of one of the world’s best actors.
I don’t usually get attached to famous people. Whenever I hear of someone’s premature death, sure, I think it’s tragic and sad and I pray for them and their families, but it doesn’t really affect me like the death of a family member or a friend would. Usually. But there was one celebrity whose death not only shocked me, but hit me like a semi when I heard it. That happened on January 23, 2008, when I learned of the passing of Heath Ledger.
Even though I didn’t know him personally, I miss him. I miss seeing him in new movies. I miss hearing about his brilliant roles. I miss hearing about him winning a new award. He had so much talent, so much charisma, and so much to live for. His death left me with a sense of complete astonishment and confusion. It makes you wonder how the hell these kinds of things can happen to some of the best, most talented people in the world. How could someone with so much going for him die so young?
And of course, when it happened everyone in the media kept talking about drugs and depression but the fact is that when he passed away, he was sober and clean. He had health problems that were private and personal but also, he had a hard time sleeping and was taking prescription drugs for it. In the end, this is what killed him when he took a toxic combination to treat both the insomnia and pneumonia he was suffering at the time. If I were to blame anyone, it would be the doctors who prescribed these drugs to him.
His acting career really only spanned a matter of 8 or 9 years and in such a short period of time, he made a major impact on the world. It makes me wonder, if only someone had been there to help him. If only someone had seen what was happening and stopped it. If he had continued on living, just think of what he could have accomplished. Just think of all the people he could have touched with his genius and his passion.
Heath wasn’t just a good actor. He was an artist and he was brilliant. What I mean by that is that he didn’t just play a part in a movie. He didn’t just act out the characters. He transformed them and made them unforgettable to the point where the movies he made are remembered because of his performance. He had the remarkable ability to reach out of the movie screen and grab you and he didn’t let you go until he was finished. Very few actors and actresses can do this.
It’s easy to tell the difference between someone who is just an actor (no matter how good) and someone who is truly an artist. The difference is this: actors are replaceable; artists are not. Artists don’t just act out their characters; they own them. I remember reading that the filmmakers of The Dark Knight Rises were going to have the opening scene showing the Joker on trial, but they didn’t. Why? Because they couldn’t. Because Heath Ledger owned that Joker. He created him and there was no one else in the world who could have done Nolan’s Joker like him. If they had tried, they would have failed. Heath, I think, understood this difference between actors and artists because in his last interview he said:
“If it was Tim Burton doing the Batman film again and he asked me to play the Joker, I probably wouldn’t have done it because it would have meant having to fill Jack’s shoes, which is impossible because he was brilliant and perfect in Tim’s style of Batman.”
He says it here in this video of his last interview, at the end:
I wonder if Hollywood takes this into consideration when they are giving out awards – the difference between actors and artists. Who knows. Maybe they do, but at least I was glad to see that they recognized Heath for his performance as the Joker, awarding him an Oscar and giving him a farewell tribute:
Here is another video I found where his little girl is saying farewell. Don’t play this video unless you have a box of tissues with you. This one is hard to watch:
So, yeah, Heath’s death. That one hurt. A lot. His story is tragic and heartbreaking – a brilliant star who burned out too quickly. Everyone felt it. The truth is that his death left a huge hole behind that can never be filled by anyone else. Ever.
God bless you, Heath. If you’re up there listening, you should know that the world misses you. But I’m glad that you’re in a much better place now. I will continue to pray for you and the loved ones you left behind. Rest in peace.