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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

R.I.P. Heath Ledger

I've been pretty bummed about Heath Ledger's death today. Most of the time I don't get caught up in celebrity deaths. Usually I'm not interested in the celebrity anyway or, in the case they were interesting and important, they're older so death isn't so unexpected and "out of the blue". However, Heath Ledger's death was a complete surprise and has resonated with me. First off, he was only 28, 3 years older than me. Secondly, some of his recent work has been great and I held him as one of the most talented young actors around. His work in "I'm Not There" and especially "Brokeback Mountain" was phenomenal. And I'm saddened about his passing because I personally rooted for the guy.
You have to remember that Heath Ledger was never supposed to be an important actor. His first U.S. film was "10 Things I Hate About You" and he was just a pretty face that could share Teenybopper magazine covers with N'sync and JTT. However, after appearing in crappy, popular movies initially, Heath rejected the easy career route of being the heartthrob in trite populist films for a more challenging, important career in films. He was an artist who wanted to stretch his acting muscles in more important roles. He also shunned the Hollywood scene and lived in relative obscurity in New York City, which is admirable in today's media-whoring landscape.
The apex of his career was his Academy Award-nominated turn as Ennis Del Mar in "Brokeback Mountain", a character (and film in whole) that is as close to perfect as you can achieve. He completely embodied that character. This went beyond acting: Heath transformed into this tragic cowboy on screen. Film critic Peter Travers wrote " 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". The only acting I've seen that comes close to Heath's performance is Daniel Day-Lewis's recent turn as Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood". And that's the saddest part for us the public: we won't be blessed with any more great performances by the potentially legendary actor.
But at least he left us with one.

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