Bil Browning

Heath Ledger has died

Filed By Bil Browning | January 22, 2008 4:51 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Brokeback Mountain, Heath Ledger, New York, obituary

I just heard on CNN that Heath Ledger has been found dead in his Manhattan home. He was 28.

Ledger will be known forever as one half of the famous Brokeback Mountain love story. Ledger credited his uncle, Neil Bell, as his inspiration for the role as a closeted gay man.

heath_ledger.jpgLedger said his uncle's difficult early life and tough personal experiences helped him forge what is being acclaimed as one of the strongest and most emotionally powerful performances in recent cinema history.
"His father approached him when he was 20 and said: 'Are you gay?'," Ledger said. "He was about to deny it, because his dad was very Victorian, very stern. But he said 'yes'. "Two weeks later, his father came back to him and said, 'I believe you're ill, and I want you to go to hospital and get fixed. If you don't go, I want you to leave the family'."

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I was just posting this too. Ennis wasn't the only gay character he played. He played a gay cyclist in an Australian TV series...

I loved his movie The Order.

Michael Bedwell | January 22, 2008 6:48 PM

Friend this letter....

"Heath Ledger is just almost really beyond description as far as I'm concerned. He got inside the story more deeply than I did. All that thinking about the character of Ennis that was so hard for me to get, Ledger just was there. He did indeed move inside the skin of the character, not just in the shirt but inside the person. It was remarkable. – Annie Proulx

Heath Ledger’s wrenching performance is the stuff of Hollywood history.” – Manohla Dargis, NY Times

Mr. Ledger magically and mysteriously disappears beneath the skin of his lean, sinewy character. It is a great screen performance, as good as the best of Marlon Brando and Sean Penn. – Stephen Holden, NY Times

But maybe anyone would look thin next to Ledger's Ennis Del Mar. The actor hunches over and pulls his emotions under his canvas coat; he doesn't age so much as slowly cave in. That's fitting: Ennis is both ennobled and shamed by feelings he doesn't possess words to describe. ''This thing we have" is the closest he comes, and yet it's the only real part of his life, despite the damage left in its wake. Ledger turns the classic iconography of the Western male -- a cowboy hat pulled low, a measured drawl that says no more than it absolutely has to -- into protective coloring. The genius of the performance is in how little he shows and how much he suggests. – Ty Burr, Boston Globe

Both actors do memorable work, but Ledger has the better role, and he makes the strongest choices. He gives Ennis a voice and mannerisms that are utterly idiosyncratic, and then inhabits those choices psychologically, making sense of the locked-down speech, the haunted look and the strong but diffident manner. He completely transforms himself. It's a performance that was thought through in detail and then lived in the moment, and it's one of the most beautiful things in movies this year. – Mick LaSalle, SF Chronicle

Jack, a shade more comfortable with his nature, talks of getting a ranch together, but Ennis will have none of it: Stung by childhood memories of a rancher who lived with a man and got bashed for it, he fears — he knows — that exposure could kill them. In the classic Westerns, the cowboys were often men of few words, but Heath Ledger speaks in tones so low and gruff and raspy his words just about scrape ground, and he doesn't string a whole lot of those words together. Ennis' inexpressiveness is truly ...inexpressive, yet ironically eloquent for that very reason, as tiny glimmers of soul escape his rigid facade. Ennis says nothing he doesn't mean; he's incapable of guile, yet he erupts in tantrums — the anger of a man who can't be what he is and doesn't realize the quandary is eating him alive. Ledger, with beady eyes and pursed lips, gives a performance of extraordinary, gnarled tenderness. Revolutionary. A film in which love feels almost as if it were being invented. - Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

More than any of the others, Ledger brings this film alive by going so deeply into his character you wonder if he'll be able to come back. Aside from his small but strong part in "Monster's Ball," nothing in the Australian-born Ledger's previous credits prepares us for the power and authenticity of his work here as a laconic, interior man of the West, a performance so persuasive that "Brokeback Mountain" could not have succeeded without it. Ennis' pain, his rage, his sense of longing and loss are real for the actor, and that makes them unforgettable for everyone else. – Kenneth Turan, LA Times

Ledger's magnificent performance is an acting miracle. He seems to tear it from his insides. Ledger doesn't just know how Ennis moves, speaks and listens; he knows how he breathes. To see him inhale the scent of a shirt hanging in Jack's closet is to take measure of the pain of love lost. As Jack told him once, "That ol' Brokeback got us good." It hits you like a shot in the heart. – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

What Jack remembered and craved in a way he could neither help nor understand was the time that distant summer on Brokeback when Ennis had come up behind him and pulled him close, the silent embrace satisfying some shared and sexless hunger. They had stood that way for a long time in front of the fire, its burning tossing ruddy chunks of light, the shadow of their bodies a single column against the rock. The minutes ticked by from the round watch in Ennis's pocket, from the sticks in the fire settling into coals. Stars bit through the wavy heat layers above the fire. Ennis's breath came slow and quiet, he hummed, rocked a little in the sparklight and Jack leaned against the steady heartbeat, the vibrations of the humming like faint electricity and, standing, he fell into sleep that was not sleep but something else drowsy and tranced until Ennis, dredging up a rusty but still useable phrase from the childhood time before his mother died, said, "Time to hit the hay, cowboy. I got a go. Come on, you're sleepin on your feet like a horse," and gave Jack a shake, a push, and went off in the darkness. – Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx


I just saw this over the news. It actually caused me a pang of sadness, surprisingly. Seemed like a sweet man.

For some reason I can see the RR touting this as an end result of associating with the homosexual lifestyle, causing him to face perdition and meet the sad end that all sodomites and liberal sympathizers are to meet.

Jen Jorczak Jen Jorczak | January 22, 2008 8:34 PM

B and I are heartbroken.

Ledger was always a favorite actor of mine from when he was in his early 20s. Often he got cast in silly films, like "A Knight's Tale," by producers who wanted to promote his hunky physique over his huge acting talent. Anybody who saw him in "Four Feathers" knew that he had much more to bring to the screen. We finally saw that "more" in "Brokeback Mountain."

The wild rumors are flying, and it will probably be days before we get any clear idea of why and how he died. I'm saddened by some of the heartless comments I've seen posted around on the entertainment sites. Freedom of speech on the Web means that some stupid and vicious people take the chance to vent their stupidity for all the world to see.

The mountain he's crossing now is that the Great Divide with the stars beyond, on a horse whose hoofs make no sound. He leaves that shirt of his hanging in all our minds, with its elusive and unforgettable story. Ride safely and bravely, cowboy. You are remembered here.

I enjoyed "A Knight's Tale" just because of Heath's physique. And there's a reason why when I was searching for a pic of Heath to use on this post, the naked screenshots from Brokeback Mountain was front and center in the 1st ten results. Heath's sex appeal was part of his success.

there's a reason why when I was searching for a pic of Heath to use on this post, the naked screenshots from Brokeback Mountain was front and center in the 1st ten results. Heath's sex appeal was part of his success.

How did I miss that? Mine is just that sweet pic from the "You're standing on your feet like a horse," scene (God, I actually have dialogue from that story/movie memorized!)

Judging from what I've read though, he did want to be taken seriously.

I've always had mixed feelings about the story and the film-- how dare a heterosexual woman (Annie Proulx) presume to speak for me. Especially when most writing by gay authors themselves is ghetto-ized as "gay fiction." Still, I can hardly deny the quality or impact of the story.

Or Ledger's performance...

this is very sad - he and his girlfriend we spotted frequently near my neighborhood in Brooklyn with their little girl - then they broke up and he moved into Manhattan

such a shame - he was talented and seemed to have a very open mind and free spirit

This sucks and sucks hard. What's worse are the rumors and speculation. Sadly sometimes young people just die of natural causes. This young man was just about to explode in the public eye (IMO) with his upcoming role in Batman the Dark Knight as the Joker. The world will sorely miss such a talented artist for what he could have done.

His death makes me realize my own mortality being a scant year younger than he was. I feel for his wife and young child who have now lost a father and husband.

Heath Ledger we knew ye too little.

Until the next life rest in peace and tranquility.

And what's with the whole "He was found at Mary Kate Olsen's apartment" thing? How in the world did she get dragged into the middle of this?

So with all the news reports mentioning the bottles of pills strewn around him, do you think it was a suicide or an overdose? The first thing I thought of was Owen Wilson's suicide attempt and how little we really know these poor souls who entertain us.

Michael Bedwell | January 23, 2008 11:58 AM

As much as I would like to be able to trade his life for those of Britney, Paris, Martha, Ross the Intern, Huckabee, Romney, Guiliani, Bush pere and fils, fill-in-the-blanks, I don't care how he died. I only care that he will never again capture lightning in a bottle for us the way he did in BBM. Do any of you know how hard that is to do given how films are made? I only care about the muffled sound of crying in the theatre when I saw it in Indianapolis at the same time the Star was filled with rabid letters condemning the mere idea of extending civil rights to Sodomites in the city. I only care about the gay Internet friend who, at 50, and, yes, even these many years after Stonewall, had just ended his THIRD attempt at straight marriage and wrote me that the only way he could keep from screaming out his tears and sense of irretrievable personal loss as he watched the story of Jake and Ennis unfurl on the screen was to grit his teeth so hard for two hours they nearly broke. I only care that, whether or not they follow through, the Phelpsites are promising to picket the funeral and no one beat an immobilizing fear of ever again rubbing their toxic hate in the face of those who mourn twenty funerals ago. I only care that "Good Morning America" spent 30 seconds this a.m. on his passing and nearly five minutes on the just found prodigal white trash Romeo & Juliet from Michigan. I only care about those who bray that the stock market crash story was eclipsed by stories of his death [it wasn't], and that the economy will always be more important than the death of any mere actor. To them I respectfully recommend the lyrics of Mimi Farina spun from a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim:

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: Bread and Roses! Bread and Roses!
As we go marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women's children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.
As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.
As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses, bread and roses.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; bread and roses, bread and roses.

I thought it was a suicide even before I heard about the pills...don't ask me why. Just a hunch.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised but I am-- WBC is protesting Ledger's funeral.