I’ve been thinking a lot about Heath Ledger’s recent passing since my friend Chelsea called me Tuesday afternoon and asked me if I was near a computer; her mother had sent her a text message after hearing the news herself.
Chelsea wasn’t near a computer and I was driving. She jumped off the phone to get to a computer to verify it, and called me back a couple of minutes later with the news that it was indeed true.
I got text messages from my friends Greg, Matt and Aaron, and a phone call from my friend Kareem. It was almost all that my friends Bob and Courtney and Melissa and Mike and I could talk about at dinner that night, and yesterday I stood outside the comic shop with another friend of mine named Aaron and talked Heath’s passing; Aaron saw Brokeback Mountain around the same time he lost his father, and he talked about how powerful a film it was and how he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to watch it again.
I remember calling Kareem the second I read that Heath had been cast as The Joker, just as I’d done a few years before at the exact moment I read that Christian Bale was going to be Batman.
Kareem and I talked about it for a little while last night, too, and he said something that really brought home a feeling I hadn’t yet figured out how to wrap words around. Kareem said that people like us who grew up loving comic book heroes were like a big family, and that when an actor is cast as a comic book character, they become a part of the family. It’s why we were all so sad when Bill Bixby passed away. It’s why, when Christopher Reeve died, we truly felt as though we’d lost Superman himself.
In that regard, Heath had very much become a part of the family. When he was cast as The Joker, we embraced him like a brother, and every new photo and every new trailer or IMAX prologue made us that much prouder of — and that much more excited for — what we’re going to see from him as The Joker in The Dark Knight on July 18.
And as I wrote a couple of nights ago, Heath Ledger will live on through his work, which will be seen and admired as long as there are people out there who love watching movies as much as he obviously loved making them.
We’ll miss you, brother.
I’ve been reading lots of beautiful remembrances of his life and talent that I’d like to share:
Heath’s father, Kim Ledger, said, “We would like to thank our friends and everyone around the world for their well wishes and kind thoughts at this time. Heath has touched so many people on so many different levels during his short life, but few had the pleasure of truly knowing him. He was a down-to-earth, generous, kind-hearted, life-loving and selfless individual who was extremely inspirational to many. Please now respect our family’s need to grieve and come to terms with our loss privately.”
Larry Williams, whose daughter, Michelle Williams, has a two-year-old daughter with Heath named Matilda Rose, said, “I think Tennyson got it right in the poem when he described someone as having died at a young age but burning the candles at both ends, and oh what a beautiful flame he made. That was Heath. What a beautiful flame he made, and a great talent. My heart goes out to everyone in his family and my family. The saddest thing is his two-year-old daughter, whom he just loved dearly.”
Ang Lee, who directed Heath to an Oscar nomination in Brokeback Mountain, said, “Working with Heath was one of the purest joys of my life. 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 producer James Schamus said, “Heath Ledger was a courageous actor, and a great soul. He gave us the gift of sharing his fearless and beautiful love — of his craft, and of all who worked with him — for which all of us will be eternally grateful.”
Jett is also trying to organize an opening-day Dark Knight memorial where fans can wear shirts bearing Ledger tributes to screenings of the film; more on that here.
Todd Haynes, who directed Heath in I’m Not There, said, “This is an unimaginable tragedy. Heath was a true artist, a deeply sensitive man, an explorer, gifted and wise beyond his years. There is no finer person on this earth.”
Heath’s I’m Not There co-star, Cate Blanchett, added, “I am shocked and very saddened by the news. I deeply respect Heath’s work and always admired his continuing development as an artist. My thoughts are with his family and close friends.”
Friend Helena Christensen said, “He was such a special and genuine person, so extraordinarily talented because he was so raw and honest with his feelings. He was so full of life, so electric. … This is immensely sad.”
Geoffrey Rush, who co-starred with Heath in Ned Kelly and Candy, said, “This is such a sad event. I admired Heath enormously. He was such a sensitive and committed and daring actor. This is truly a tragedy.”
Candy director Neil Armford said, “Heath was one of the greatest actors of his generation and was far from being a victim of the fame machine. Heath was an intensely private but intensely loving human being — a complex mixture of shyness and gregariousness. He was a young man with an incalculable number of great performances waiting to be created.”
Mel Gibson played Heath’s character’s father in The Patriot and offered, “I had such great hope for him. He was just taking off and to lose his life at such a young age is a tragic loss. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”
Kevin Rudd, prime minister of Heath’s homeland of Australia, said, “It is tragic that we have lost one of our nation’s finest actors in the prime of his life.”
Warner Bros. president Alan Horn said, “The entertainment community has lost an enormous talent. Heath was a brilliant actor and an exceptional person. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.”
Hotelier Jeff Klein shares a funny story about Heath right here.
Charlize Theron expresses her sadness and shock here.
Lords of Dogtown writer Stacy Peralta talks about Heath here.
MTV’s Josh Horowitz wrote a really nice tribute (with accompanying video) right here.
Lasse Hallstrom, who directed Heath in Casanova, said, “He was a wonderful talent, and smart.”
I’m trying to find two separate stories I’ve read over the past few days that had memorable comments posted below them; one was from a reader talking about a time she’d seen Heath playing with his daughter in Central Park and teaching her the difference between her left and right hands, and another was from a reader who wrote about a time she’d watched Heath play with his daughter at the airport while waiting for a flight. If anybody runs across those, please let me know. I can’t remember where I read them initially, and I can’t find them.
Neil G. Giuliano of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said of Heath’s work in Brokeback Mountain, “Heath Ledger will forever be remembered for his groundbreaking role as Ennis Del Mar. His powerful portrayal changed hearts and minds in immeasurable ways. He will be greatly missed.”
TV Guide’s Michael Ausiello writes a remembrance here.
If you find any others, please let me know and I’ll add them in.