Despite a short-lived start on series television, actor Heath Ledger moved into features as a heartthrob in teen films, quickly developing into one of Hollywood’s most prominent and gifted talents, as well as a tabloid favorite for his very public relationships with actresses Naomi Watts and Michelle Williams. After a notable turn in his native Australia’s “Blackrock” (1997), Ledger went on to stardom by way of leading roles in “10 Things I Hate About You” (1999), "The Patriot" (2000) and “A Knight’s Tale” (2001). Though he languished a bit in little-seen features like “The Four Feathers” (2002) and “Ned Kelly” (2004), Ledger exploded into a bona fide star with his Oscar-nominated turn as a closeted homosexual ranch hand in Ang Lee’s acclaimed "Brokeback Mountain" (2005). Building off the enormity of his “Brokeback” success, Ledger landed the role of a lifetime, playing The Joker in “The Dark Knight” (2008) and setting the stage for becoming a huge international star. But unfortunately – and quite shockingly – tragedy struck in early 2008, when Ledger was found dead in his apartment of a possible drug overdose, ending one of the most promising careers of his generation.
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 moviegoers 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), reimagined 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.
Sometimes Credited As:
Heathcliff Andrew Ledger
daughter:Matilda Ledger (Born Oct. 28, 2005 in Brooklyn, NY; mother, Michelle Williams)
father:Kim Ledger (Divorced Ledger's mother c. 1989; lives with Emma Brown)
half-sister:Olivia Ledger (Born c. 1997)
half-sister:Ashleigh Bell (Born c. 1989)
mother:Sally Bell (Divorced Ledger's father c. 1989; remarried)
sister:Catherine Ledger (Older; named for the heroine of "Wuthering Heights")
Christina Cauchi , Companion , ```..Reportedly lived together in early 2000; no longer together
Heather Graham , Companion , ```..Dated from October 2000 to June 2001
Lisa Zane , Companion , ```..Sister of actor Billy Zane; became involved during the filming of "Roar" (1997); no longer together
Michelle Williams , Companion , ```..Met in 2004, while filming "Brokeback Mountain" (2005); mother of his daughter Matilda; separated amicably in August 2007
Naomi Watts , Companion , ```..Began dating in Summer 2002; split in October 2003; rekindled relationship in November 2003; split May 2004
Marys Mount Primary School Gooseberry Hill, Australia
Guildford Grammar School Guildford, Australia
MTV Movie Award Best Kiss "Brokeback Mountain" 2006
New York Film Critics Circle Award Best Actor "Brokeback Mountain" 2005
San Francisco Film Critics Award Best Actor "Brokeback Mountain" 2005
ShoWest Award Male Star of Tomorrow 2001
2008 Was filming Terry Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" at the time of his death
2007 Portrayed Bob Dylan at one distinct stage of his life, in Todd Haynes' film, "I'm Not There"
2006 Directed the music video, "Morning Yearning" for Ben Harper
2006 Played a drug addict in "Candy" opposite Abbie Cornish
2005 Portrayed Skip Engblom, co-owner of the Zepher surf shop in Catherine Hardwicke's "Lords of Dogtown" a fictionalized take on a group of skateboarders that originated in Venice, California during the 1
2005 Co-star opposite Matt Damon in Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm"
2005 Cast as a ranch hand who falls in love with Jake Gyllenhaal in Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain"; earned Oscar, Independent Spirit Award, Golden Globe and SAG nominations for Best Actor
2004 Cast as legendary Australian outlaw Ned Kelly in the film "Ned Kelly"
2003 Reunited with Helgeland and co-stars Mark Addy and Shannyn Sossamon in "The Order"
2002 Starred in the remake of "Four Feathers"
2001 Cast in the lead in "A Knight's Tale," directed by Brian Helgeland
2001 Played Billy Bob Thornton's son in "Monster's Ball"
2000 Played Mel Gibson's son in the Revolutionary War drama "The Patriot"
1999 Co-starred with Julia Stiles in "10 Things I Hate About You," an updated take on "The Taming of the Shrew"
1998 Had a starring role opposite Bryan Brown in the gangster comedy "Two Hands"
1997 Feature acting debut, "Blackrock"
1997 Starred as a Celtic warrior prince in the Fox summer series "Roar"
1996 Appeared in the Australian TV series "Sweat" as Snowey Bowles, a gay bicyclist hoping to land a spot on an Olympic team
Raised in Perth, Australia
Had been cast to play the Devil in "End of Days," but was replaced when another director assumed the reins
Cast as the Joker in the upcoming Batman sequel "The Dark Knight" with Christopher Nolan returning to direct (lensed in 2007)