Australian actor Heath Ledger made an impact in film very early on in his relatively brief career, with lauded performances in The Patriot, Brokeback Mountain, and The Dark Knight, the latter of which as the film’s antagonist, the Joker.
Born in Perth, Western Australia on April 4, 1979, Ledger began acting at a young age, following his sister Kate Ledger’s footsteps. At the age of 16, Ledger jumped fully into acting in mostly Australian films or television series. After a highly-acclaimed performance in the 1999 American film 10 Things I Hate About You, Ledger’s career really began to take off.
As Ennis Del Mar, Ledger received numerous awards and other nominations for his part in Brokeback Mountain. But Ledger’s arguably greatest acting performance would not come until The Dark Knight premiered in theaters several months after his premature death.
How did Heath Ledger die?
On Jan. 22, 2008, Ledger was found unconscious in his Manhattan home by his housekeeper and masseuse. Less than 40 minutes later, he was pronounced dead. He was 28 years old.
After an autopsy, it was determined that Ledger died as a result of accidental acute combined drug intoxication. The toxicology report stated Ledger had hydrocodone, diazepam, oxycodone, temazepam, doxylamine, and alprazolam in his system at the time of his death. Hydrocodone and oxycodone are both opioids, which are typically used to treat pain. Diazepam and alprazolam are used to treat anxiety, while temazepam and doxylamine can treat insomnia, which Ledger had told several people he struggled with, especially while shooting films.
Ledger’s death came as a major shock to fans around the world. He had just finished his performance in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and was in the process of filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which led to increased attention from fans and critics alike.
While The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus received generally favorable reviews, The Dark Knight, and particularly Ledger’s performance as the maniacal Joker, was applauded with unanimous praise. Capturing the psychotic, murderous character, Ledger won several awards, including an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, becoming the first posthumous winner in the category.