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Heath Ledger would be turning 45 years old: Get to know the actor who left us at such young age

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

Heath Ledger, a name synonymous with captivating performances and undeniable talent, would be celebrating his 45th birthday today. Born in Australia, Ledger’s charm and charisma were evident from a young age, leading him to pursue acting throughout his teenage years. His career trajectory took him from his native country to Hollywood, where he quickly established himself as a rising star.

Despite his promising future, the world was tragically robbed of his brilliance when he passed away in 2008. Though his time on this earth was cut short, Ledger left behind a remarkable body of work that continues to inspire and enthrall audiences to this day. Let’s delve deeper into the life and legacy of this exceptional actor, exploring the roles that cemented his place in cinematic history and the impact he left on the world.

The Beginning of His Career 

Heathcliff (known as “Heath”) Andrew Ledger was born on April 4th, 1979, in Perth, Australia. His mother, Sally Ledger Bell, was a French teacher and his father, Kim Ledger, was a racecar driver and mining specialist. He had three sisters, Katherine, Olivia and Ashleigh Bell. 

Heath’s first experience as an actor was at the age of 10, when he played the lead role in Guildford Grammar School’s production of Peter Pan. After that, he continued seeking more performances in his school. Acting, choreography and dance were an emotional release for him.  

Being a 16-year-old boy, he completed his early graduation exams at school and moved to Sydney in order to pursue an acting career with his best friend Trevor DiCarlo. Ledger’s first roles were on television, acting on the Australian soap opera Home and Away and in the series Roar. His feature film debut happened in 1997, when he starred in the drama Blackrock.

Making it in Hollywood with “10 Things I Hate About You”

In 1999, Heath Ledger became the center of the spotlight right after playing Patrick Verona in the teen romantic comedy movie “10 Things I Hate About You”, directed by Gil Junger and starring Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Larisa Oleynik. It became a huge success among young audiences.

Inspired by William Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of The Shrew, the story takes place in a late 1990s American High School and follows the new student’s plan, Cameron James (Gordon-Levitt), to date Bianca Stratford (Oleynik), a sophomore student whose father has strict rules on dating: the older sister Kat (Stiles) has to be the first one to have a boyfriend, so that the younger can have one too. He attempts to convince the school bad boy Patrick to hang out with Kat, an antisocial girl who has a completely different personality from her sister. 

After his role in this teen movie, the actor didn’t want to play characters like Patrick again. He was popular for taking different roles. At such a young age and early acting career, Ledger was soon being cast for blockbusters Hollywood films, starring as Mel Gibson’s son in The Patriot (2000),Monster’s Ball (2000) along with Billy Bob Thornton and A Knight’s Tale (2001).

“Brokeback Mountain”: The controversial movie that marked his career

Once again, Heath Ledger was thrust into the spotlight by playing a film role. However, this time it was because of its controversial movie plot. Brokeback Mountain, released in 2005 and directed by Ang Lee, is an American Western romantic drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway and Michele Williams

Taking place in Wyoming, the story is narrated in the 60s and it follows the “prohibited” relationship between two American cowboys, Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) who met each other at work, after both being hired to herd Joe Aguirre’s sheep through the summer. During this period of time, they develop a sexual and emotional relationship. Years pass and both get engaged. Ennis married Alma Beers (Williams) and had children; Jack married Lureen Newsome (Hathaway) and had a son. Despite their marriage, they have never forgotten each other. 

The movie was the target of criticism from conservative media. The sexuality of the main characters was the center of discussion. 

Being considered one of the best movies from the 2000s, it meant a turning point on the approach of queer cinema. Ledger received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in Drama and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance. 

The Role of His Career: The Joker in “The Dark Knight”

For sure, playing the Joker was the highlight of Heath’s acting trajectory. Released in 2008, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is based on the DC Comics superhero Batman, being a sequel to the movie “Batman Begins”. Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman, the movie is the second in The Dark Knight trilogy.

The star studded movie story happens in Gotham City and the plot is around the vigilant Batman (Bale), the police lieutenant James Gordon (Oldman) and the district attorney Harvey Dent (Eckhart) who form an alliance to fight the organized crime in the city. The antagonist is the Joker (Ledger), the main enemy of Batman who is always testing him by bringing chaos to Gotham

Ledger’s performance as Joker has been praised by critics and the public, as he brought a psychopathic and terrifying version of the villain to the screen. Heath’s recognizable work was a result of weeks of preparation. The actor isolated himself in a hotel room before he started recording the film. He explained that he wrote a diary, using it during the filming, and experimented with different voices for the role, because, according to him, the Joker is “a psychopath with a full lack of empathy”. 

Heath Ledger was not only involved in the acting, but also in the physical characterization. The makeup designer John Caglione Jr. revealed to IGN in 2008 that the actor would scrunch and contort his face as the makeup was being applied in order to achieve that imperfect look. In addition, the fact that in the movie the villain had the habit to lick his lips was not only part of the character’s construction, but also a necessity. The fake scar prosthetics would start to fall out as the actor spoke, so he found a way to keep them in place. 

However, performing the Joker was physically and mentally draining to Ledger. Rumors at that time suggested that the role affected him, as it intensified his already troubled sleep. In an interview to The New York Times in November 2007, the actor said that he was taking a prescription medication for his insomnia treatment. 

Tragic Death At The Age of 28

On January 22, 2008, Heath Ledger was found dead in his bed by his housekeeper, Teresa Solomon, and his masseuse, Diane Wolozin, at his apartment in SoHo. 

Officially, Ledger’s cause of death was attributed to an accidental overdose combined with sleep aid and other prescription medications. The spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office, Ellen Borakove, said in a statement in February 2008 that he died as the result of “acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine”, according to ABC News.  

At the time of his death, he was filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, directed by Terry Gilliam. Ledger’s role was recast to have Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farewell performing his “physically transformed versions” in the movie. 

In 2009, Heath Ledger was awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar posthumously for his iconic performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight.

Fun Facts About Him

  1. Heath Ledger’s mother named him after Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, her favorite novel. 
  1. Since he was little, Ledger had a passion for playing chess. As a grown man, he used to play it at  the Washington Square Park in New York.
  1. On the set of “Brokeback Mountain” he met his future wife Michele Williams, with whom he had a daughter called Matilda Rose that was born on October 28th, 2005.
  1. Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath became great friends after starring in a movie together. Jake is his daughter’s godfather. 
  1. There is a documentary called “I Am Heath Ledger” that presents interviews with his friends, family and collaborators. Unpublished homemade footage of him are shown in the film, which proves he also had talent as a movie director. 


The article above was edited by Mariana do Patrocínio.

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Larissa Buzon Cardoso

Casper Libero '26

Journalism student who loves writing. I am keen on fashion, music, art and TV series.