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Monday, October 2, 2023


A lesson learned in Ledger’s death

I did not want to write this column. There were other topics I wanted to write about, yet I sit here penning a piece about a promising actor’s early demise.

Though I uncovered reports of Peoplesoft’s flaws dating back to 1999, though there are thousands of Palestinians flooding into Egypt in search of food and despite the fact there is now public access to a plethora of Nazi documents from the Holocaust, I have chosen to write about the death of Heath Ledger, who died Tuesday in a New York City apartment.

As I researched the other topics, I was struck by an online newspaper headline that boldly stated "NYPD: Heath Ledger Dead." I could not help but wonder if there was some other Heath Ledger to which the article was referring; however, reading the headline confirmed that it was the Oscar-nominated actor.

Ledger was only 28 years old, and though he had starring roles in the past, it was his turn as The Joker in the upcoming Batman film The Dark Knight that would have solidified him as a box office draw. In his short career he took roles which varied from the teen hunk he played in his American film debut 10 Things I Hate About You, an updated take on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Ledger may be best known for his role in Brokeback Mountain, as every news report about his passing has made this reference.

It was while filming Brokeback that Ledger met and became engaged to co-star Michelle Williams. Though the two separated, their relationship produced a daughter, Matilda, who is now 2 years old.

After reading about Ledger’s death, I thought of all the stars who died before their time, especially the ones whose end involved drugs (although at this time it is unknown if drugs played a part in Ledger’s death). I thought of how they died alone and if they were by themselves at that time, how incredibly lonely their lives must have been.

Such was the case with Ledger, who was found by a housekeeper and a massage therapist. Though tabloid magazines will quote anonymous "inside" sources close to the actor, it may never be known if Ledger was having problems, and if he was, how he was dealing with them.

CNN reported Ledger had been disturbed by his portrayal of The Joker, as the character is nothing more than a "psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy."

Many actors take great pains to become the people they are portraying. For instance, before playing Nathaniel Poe in The Last of the Mohicans, Daniel Day-Lewis lived in the wilderness for several months, hunting and fending for himself as his character would. From early previews of The Dark Knight, one can see Ledger must have had a hard time shaking the Joker persona, which might explain his reliance on sleeping pills to have more than the two hours a night he had been getting, according to CNN.

Though one’s ideal death may be in his bed at home, surrounded by loved ones, such is often not the case. We would all like to pass from this world to the next holding the hand of someone telling us that we are going to a better place – but for a 28-year-old guy with a daughter he adores and the movie role of a lifetime about to hit the silver screen, what place could be better?

It begs the question: Where were his friends?

I do not mean to assign blame or point a finger in anyone’s directions, but where were the people who made up his support system? Close friends, family, a poker buddy – anybody Ledger could have talked to about the problems he may have been suffering from. Friends are there for good times and bad. If he needed a sounding board, if he needed a pick-me-up or if he just wanted to hang out with someone – these are tasks one carries out with friends. This is not to say that a friend being there for him might have prevented Ledger’s death, but reaching out to someone is far better than trying to get a good night’s sleep with a handful of pills.

Often, friends do not realize how much their relationships mean to one another. Just picking up the phone and calling a comrade can do much to improve someone’s outlook. Kind words can go a long way; at the least, you keep a friendship rolling. At the most, you might be able to help out to a friend who is having a bit of trouble falling asleep.

There might have been more worldly topics which could have used the attention this column draws to them, and as much as I did not want to add to the print devoted to an early demise, Ledger’s passing points to how easy it is for someone to fall off the radar of those that love him. It may be easier to isolate one’s self and suffer in silence, but it is far better to prop yourself up on a good friend’s shoulder.

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