I don't usually write up obits for celebrities who pass on, but this one struck me surprisingly hard. Maybe it's because we're basically the same age, or perhaps because I've followed him from the beginning of his career to now, I'm not sure. Most likely, however, it is because I've watched him transition from clever work in teen-oriented films to full-fledged brilliancy as a character actor and it is a shame to see so much promise disappear so quickly.
I recall seeing Mr. Ledger first in 1999's 10 Things I Hate About You. It was a surprisingly amusing teen comedy in which Ledger stole the show from his cast-mates (With actors like Julia Stiles and Joseph Gordon Levitt, that is actually a pretty mean feat.), and could have easily coasted through the rest of his career doing the heart throb stuff. But that was too simple.
His role opposite Mel Gibson in The Patriot hinted that he could very well have the same career as his older co-star. Like Gibson, he was an electric performer who chose to play down his sex appeal in favour of more character-based work. A Knight's Tale was a fun jaunt, that dared to try something different with the genre, and not follow conventions, and his performance in Monster's Ball was darkly heartbreaking.
While he hit a bit of a slump in the early '00's, 2005 signalled the emergence of a full-formed professional with the potential of a young De Niro or Day-Lewis. He was far and away the best thing in Terry Gilliam's The Brother's Grimm, and achieved a career high with his Oscar-nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain. The ways in which he altered his voice and mannerisms were stunning, and he ultimately is the reason the film is the masterpiece it is. He is the heart of the film, and there was no reason to not expect an amazing career to follow. I used to like to think the reason he didn't win the Oscar was because the Academy had faith he'd be back.
This was likely the year that he would have hit the big time. The Dark Knight is tracking as the most anticipated film of the year, and that is about 99% (with a 1% margin of error) due to his shocking transformation into the Joker. I just hope he took some comfort in knowing that, despite all early objections, the fans were truly excited and behind him, as he looks to have created a terrifying performance (Not to mention a definitive Clown Prince of Crime) that will be long held in the annals of great on-screen villainy.
He was an exciting actor in a time where there is little to no mystery left in our assorted cardboard superstars. I was always eager to see where he was going to go next because I knew it wouldn't be what I expected. Allas, another great talent has burned out too soon, leaving a sense of frustration for what might have been... But I'd just like to thank him for what he accomplished while he was here. May his family find peace, and may he live on forever in the wonderful films he made.