Australian-American screen actor Heath Ledger is dead. Ledger was an Oscar-nominated leading man with an admirable career both artistically and at the box office—he may currently be seen in 2007's art-house sleeper I'm Not There and he'll soon be opening across the nation as the iconic Joker, the lead villain in next chapter in the Batman film franchise. He died in Manhattan. He was 28.
Ledger was born in Australia, achieved some degree of teenaged fame on Australian TV, and decamped for America where he quickly became a likable heartthrob in movies destined to be camp favorites (10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight's Tale probably share nothing in common but stars and fates as nostalgia fodder). His turn as Mel Gibson's son in The Patriot earned him a GQ cover. Then he got serious.
He became both a gay icon and an acclaimed thespian with his role as Ennis del Mar in Brokeback Mountain—and in addition to the Academy Award nomination, people were suddenly bestowing upon him the dangerous mantle of "young Brando."
And while he attacked his share of paparazzi, as all young guns must, Ledger became a New York icon not through phone-throwing and cop-slugging but through embodying a certain mid-2000s trend of quiet Brooklyn cohabitation.
In Brooklyn, with fiancee Michelle Williams, Heath Ledger became a Hollywood actor that the more sensitive among us could love, or at least tolerate. Why? Well, he lived in Brooklyn, wasn't afraid to kiss a dude in Brokeback Mountain, and showed us all that achieving (temporary, at least) domestic happiness was indeed possible. He and Williams went to community meetings to protest the Atlantic Yards development, hung out in the same places the rest of the parents in their neighborhood, took their kid to Prospect Park, and just generally behaved like normal people.
In a November piece in the New York Times (tracked down by commenter TedSez), Ledger, in the midst of playing a criminal psychopath in a perhaps unhealthily Method fashion, admitted to being distressed. He popped Ambien.
He leaves behind a surprisingly short and almost as surprisingly consistent filmography. And he's survived by a two-year-old daughter, Matilda Rose.