I surprised myself tonight, by the extent to which I was saddened upon hearing of the death of Heath Ledger. On the one hand such sadness is completely understandable. He was only 28 years old, at the beginning of in all likelihood a long and successful career, and leaves behind a 2 year old daughter. It is utterly tragic.
But I don’t know him. I’ve never met the guy and have no idea of his true character or personality. I’ve merely watched a few of his films. Yet despite this fact, I was genuinely shocked and distressed at the news. The easiest way of explaining it would probably be to attribute it to today’s culture of celebrity. There are certainly some actors and actresses who make it their business to be in the papers every day, shamelessly promoting their latest piece of sub-standard entertainment and giving the public an intimate (if often false) portrait of their lives. But to my mind Ledger wasn’t one of those. He kept himself to himself, made good films (for the most part) and got on with his life.
I think that eventually it must come down to his work on the screen. Despite of (or perhaps because of) their lightweight nature, 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale are two of my favourite films. In both of them Ledger is charismatic and appealing, bringing an easy style of acting to his roles with very little fuss or bother. He puts in consistently good performances even when the films don’t quite match the standard of his acting; see Ned Kelly or The Brothers Grimm. No doubt he’ll be remembered largely for his Oscar nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain, although I have a feeling that his role as The Joker in the upcoming Batman film may prove more iconic.
No doubt it will be used over and over again in the coming days, but tragic really is the only word to describe it.