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Heath Ledger Biography


Home > Actors > L > Ledger, Heath > Biography


Birth Name: Heath Ledger
Born: 04/04/1979
Birth Place: Australia
Death Place: New York City, New York, USA
Died: 01/22/2008


Heathcliff Andrew Ledger was born on April 4, 1979 and raised in Perth, Australia by mother Emma, a French teacher, and father Kim, a mining engineer and amateur racecar driver. Because his parents were Wuthering Heights fans, they named their son Heathcliff and daughter Catherine after the star-crossed lovers in Emily Bronte's classic tearjerker. Indeed, young Ledger seemed to have a natural gift for drama himself, with an early interest in acting resulting in a stage debut with Perth's Globe Shakespeare Company when he was only 10 years old. Ledger's budding thespian tendencies were no secret at Guildford's Boys Grammar School, where he was a member of the school hockey team, but also choreographed and led a school dance troupe to victory in a national competition. As hard-working academically as he was on the stage and hockey rink, Ledger hit the books and passed his high school graduation exams at age 16 in order to move to Sydney in search of an acting career.

With his tall, masculine looks and dimpled charm, he quickly landed a role in the feature film "Blackrock" (1997), a gripping fictionalization of the rape and murder of a teenage girl in a surf community. Ledger's auspicious film debut led to a recurring role as Australian TV's first gay character, cyclist Snowy Bowles in the drama "Sweat," which was set at an elite training academy for young athletes. His career snowballed with a solid run of guest work on Australian TV series "Ship to Shore," "Bush Patrol," and "Home and Away" before he was tapped for American television as the star of "Roar" (Fox, 1997). In the medieval-set adventure, Ledger played a teenaged Celtic prince who becomes the leader of his people when Romans murder his family. With a job description that included bellowing a mighty roar before beating the baddies, in addition to dealing with his inner turmoil, Ledger proved an impressive recruit and was well loved by the series' cult audience. In 1999, Ledger starred in the crime thriller "Two Hands" (1998) from Australian director Gregor Jordan and earned a Best Actor nomination from the AFI Film Festival, where both the film and director earned top awards. Despite the independent accolades, Ledger earned considerably more attention for the American teen comedy, "10 Things I Hate About You" (1999). In this modern retooling of "The Taming of the Shrew," he starred as a moody student with a reputed criminal past who is enlisted to woo Julia Stiles. A teen heartthrob was born and now movieg rs on both sides of the pond were smitten.

Not surprisingly, the newcomer was barraged with Hollywood offers to repeat his onscreen success in a multitude of cookie cutter teen romantic comedies, but Ledger waited out the deluge until he found a vehicle that would show audiences another side of his talent. That opportunity was realized when Ledger played Mel Gibson's son in the much-heralded "The Patriot" (2000), a Revolutionary War saga about a pacifist (Gibson) forced to choose sides after his soldier son is captured by the enemy. Following the flurry of magazine covers and articles, the in-demand actor starred as medieval swashbuckler in a film set to arena rock standards in "A Knight's Tale" (2001) - with the tagline "He Will Rock You" reportedly embarrassing the young actor, who worried about the pressures of such a promise.

Determined to take another route than that predetermined by his rugged, blonde good looks, Ledger impressively held his own opposite Billy Bob Thorton as the anguished of a cold-hearted prison guard who kills himself in "Monster's Ball" (2001). He signed on opposite Kate Hudson to headline the Victorian military drama "Four Feathers" (2002), directed by Shekhar Kapur, but the film made nary a ripple at the box office. Commencing a high-profile and long-time romance with actress and fellow Aussie, Naomi Watts - ten years his senior - Ledger became a favorite subject of the paparazzi and entertainment media, particularly in the couple's homeland. As his public profile rose, he sought to shore up his professional reputation with a portrayal of a renegade priest who runs afoul of an ancient and evil sect operating within the church in "The Order" (2003).

Ledger again earned favor with AFI Festival critics for "Ned Kelly" (2004), playing a good man driven to striking back at a corrupt British colonial system in 19th century Australia, after serving a prison term on trumped-up charges. Despite AFI recognition and a cast that included Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush and Naomi Watts, "Ned Kelly" was released by Universal into less than 20 theaters. Ledger's next appearance was in "Lords of Dogtown" (2005), a fictionalized rags-to-riches tale of the Southern California figures who revolutionized skateboarding and propelled themselves into wanton celebrity. Ledger was virtually unrecognizable as Skip Engblom, who owns a surf shop and forms the skaters into the celebrated Zephyr Skateboard Team. Exploring still new territory, the hungry up-and-comer teamed with Matt Damon to play fictionalized versions of the famed Bavarian fairy tale spinners "The Brothers Grimm" (2005), re-imagined by director Terry Gilliam as a pair of curse-removing con artists who are suddenly tasked with solving a genuine magical mystery that ultimately inspires many of their famous stories.

The unfortunate misfire was soon forgotten, however, in the face of his following project - director Ang Lee's adaptation of the E. Annie Proulx's story "Brokeback Mountain." In the finest performance of his short career, Ledger played Ennis Del Mar, a stoic, rough-around-the-edges ranch hand who unwittingly finds himself in a sexual relationship with a fellow cowboy (Jake Gyllenhaal) while on a lengthy and remote sheep drive. Adding to his character's torment, the couple continues their complex relationship for the next 20 years, despite both getting married - with Ennis marrying Alma (Michelle Williams) and starting a family. Ledger's quiet, haunting, convincingly tortured performance was such a revelation, he was honored with a slew of nominations, including Oscar and Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor. By the time the film hit theaters, Watts and Ledger had broken up and he was dating his on-screen wife Williams, previously best known for her work on "Dawson's Creek" (WB, 1998-2003). The two had a daughter, Matilda Rose, on Oct. 28, 2005, and were often photographed in the midst of a remarkably normal looking life in a Brooklyn neighborhood.

Ledger's final 2005 film, "Casanova," was director Lasse Hallstrom's fictionalized account of the legendary lothario. It was easily one of the most disappointing films of the year, despite lavish production values and game performances by Ledger and the all-star cast. He bounced back with "I'm Not There" (2007), playing the "egomaniac superstar" incarnation of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' unique character study of the iconic singer. Ledger and Williams got some unwelcome ink after their breakup that year, but Ledger rebounded with news that he appear as the legendary comic book villain, The Joker, opposite Christian Bale's Batman in "The Dark Knight" (2008); the second film in director Christopher Nolan's popular revival of the Caped Crusader's film franchise. But before the "Dark Knight" was released, tragedy struck on Jan. 22, 2008, when Ledger was found dead in his Manhattan apartment. Authorities were called and arrived on scene, discovering no apparent foul play but numerous pills nearby and declared his body in "full cardiac arrest" upon their arrival.

At the same time the actor's body was being prepared for burial in Perth, Australia, the Chief Medical Examiner for the City of New York concluded in his report - based on the toxicology findings - that Ledger had suffered an "accidental overdose" by the combined effects of oxycodone (Oxycontin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), diazepam (Valium), temazepam (Restoril, a sedative), alprazolam (Xanax), and doxylamine (a sleep aid). Meanwhile, "The Dark Knight" was released in summer 2008 to huge fanfare and box office success, becoming the fourth highest grossing movie of all time. Though there was much to praise about the film - despite being a summertime blockbuster, it was deeply engaging and well-written - Ledger was singled out above all for his chilling, but darkly comic portrayal of The Joker. In fact, some felt that he bested Jack Nicholson's take from "Batman" (1989) by a large margin. Because of his memorable performance, Ledger was nominated for and won a Golden Globe for Best Performance By a Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture, which was accepted by Nolan. He was then honored with an Academy Award nomination in the same category, followed by a win for Outstanding Supporting Actor at the 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild awards. "Dark Knight" co-star Gary Oldman accepted on Ledger's behalf. To almost no one's surprise, Ledger won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. His family touchingly accepted the award on his behalf, leaving not a dry eye in the house.