Dim the Spotlight on… Heath Ledger [#7]

THIS IS A SERIES ON MY BLOG WHICH CONSISTS OF ME LOOKING BACK AT ARTISTS I LOVE AND/OR HAVE INFLUENCED ME THAT ARE UNFORTUNATELY NO LONGER ALIVE. THEY MAY NOT HAVE NECESSARILY DIED DUE TO THEIR MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESS/ES, BUT DURING THEIR LIVES THEY SUFFERED FROM ONE OR MORE.

Heath Ledger has been without a doubt, the most requested public figure to talk about with regards mental health problems. I decided to cover him now because today is 10 years – yes, TEN – since his demise. I remember the day like it was yesterday, even though I was 14 years old at the time. My BFF and I cried – like, literally cried – because we loved him. Well, we still do, but growing up we watched 10 Things I Hate About You on repeat.

But we’re not here to talk about that, so on we go


His unexpected death in early 2008 shocked the world, because he wasn’t even 30 years old. Many blamed his death on the depression his latest role as The Joker in The Dark Knight brought upon him, but just last year, his sister Kate says otherwise:

“I was really shocked because that was him having fun. Every report was coming out that he was depressed and that [the role] was taking this toll on him, and we’re going, honestly, it was the absolute opposite. It couldn’t be more wrong.

He had an amazing sense of humour, and I guess maybe only his family and friends knew that, but he was having fun. He wasn’t depressed about the Joker!”

Heath
Ledger with his daughter, Matilda Rose

Obviously, it’s almost impossible to know what the actor’s state of mind but there’s no denying that playing such a dark role could have impacted on Ledger’s mental health.

If you haven’t yet summed it up, Heath Ledger is a method actor, which is defined as “a technique of acting in which an actor aspires to complete emotional identification with a part”. That said, in order for Ledger to really be The Joker, he would go hours on end locked up in his hotel room, writing and collaging images to help him get in his character’s head.

When Ledger spoke to Empire Online from the set of The Dark Knight in 2007, he explained his process.

I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices — it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath — someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts.

Brokeback Mountain Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal
Ledger alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain

For many, Heath had it all: a great career, fame, fortune, a relationship with the love of his life – actress Michelle Williams – and a beautiful baby girl, Matilda. He also had critical acclaim – including an Oscar nomination for his role in Brokeback Mountain – gilded the appeal of his good looks; his movie fees were measured in millions. The Australian died naked, alone and surrounded by prescription drugs. Was it accidental? Intentional? We may never know.

But Ledger, reportedly exhausted to the point of illness by his frantic work schedule, had long felt uncomfortable in the limelight. There had been panic attacks when he hit the big time. sleeplessness and strange, morbid thoughts.

He hated the attention, self-marketing and rootlessness that his profession demanded. According to his family, the latter had contributed to the ending of his engagement to Williams.

On set of A Knight’s Tale

In another interview he said he was almost physically repelled by his face on giant billboards promoting the film, adding: “I pretty much had anxiety attacks about just leaving the house.”

At one studio meeting Ledger snapped. He stood up and asked: “Could you wait one second, please?” and escaped to the bathroom where he burst into tears and began to hyperventilate, banging his head against the wall. His life was out of his control, it seemed.

There were stories that, depressed by his split from Michelle Williams, Ledger had developed a heroin addiction and entered rehab in September. If so, he also kept working very hard. And, as he had recently admitted, he used prescription drugs to help counter the insomnia and nerves that still afflicted him.

In one of his last interviews, in November 2007, he talked about taking the drug Ambien to deal with his insomnia while working on the latest Batman movie in which he played the Joker. The drug was among five found by his body.

“Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night,” he said. “I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted and my mind was still going.”


To see the category of ‘Dim the Spotlight’ with all other installments, click here.

BeYOUtiful – a weekly series on my blog

Some of my favorite mental health posts:

Things That Have Helped me Deal with Mental Health

“It all just got real…” – My Journey to Being Diagnosed

Songs that talk about mental health

New Year’s Resolution for People with Mental Health Problems/Illnesses

 

 

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