Most people know that Heath Ledger lost his life tragically on January 22, 2008, after a drug overdose. However, there is more to the story of how the unforgettable Australian actor died at just 28 years of age.
The most shocking fact about Ledger's death was that he was at the top of his game at the time. Dying was the last thing his legions of adoring fans would have expected of the young actor.
However, the truth was that, although his professional life was as good as it could get, his personal life was not doing so well.
Drugs And Struggles With Insomnia Were His Undoing
Reportedly, there were nights Ledger would spend only 2 hours sleeping. He was also abusing drugs.
Ledger was also dealing with the end of his relationship with his partner, Michelle Williams.
How Ledger Rose To Fame
Heath Ledger was born in Perth, Australia, on April 4, 1979. A local theater cast him in the role of Peter Pan when he was just ten years old.
This was about the same time his parents split up.
He was also playing field hockey, but his coach forced him to choose between the game and drama. He chose acting, and as they say, the rest is history.
Ledger's star rose, and he played minor roles in Australian movies and television shows while still schooling. He had already made the transition to Los Angeles by the age of 19, and he starred in 10 Things I Hate About You in 1999.
With his great acting talent, he was quickly a huge hit in Hollywood. That came with roles in movies like Monster's Ball and The Patriot.
His performance in Brokeback Mountain proved to the world that Ledger was worth taking seriously. Ledger impressed both audiences and critics with his role as a gay cowboy.
The New York Times compared his skill to the best performances by Marlon Brando and Sean Penn. Ledger even managed to get an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance in Brokeback Mountain.
He was only 26 at the time, which meant he was one of the youngest actors ever nominated for the prestigious award.
Relationship With Michelle Williams
Ledger may not have bagged the award, but he managed to meet Michelle Williams on the set of the film, and they started a whirlwind romance. Later, they moved in together in Brooklyn, New York, and had a daughter towards the end of 2005.
By all appearances, Ledger was a rising superstar. Little did people know that time was running out.
Where It All Went Wrong
Soon after Brokeback Mountain, he played a role in I'm Not There. He would soon take on his inspiring role in The Dark Knight, where he played the role of Joker.
However, while his star was clearly rising, his personal life was not doing so great.
For starters, his relationship with Williams had broken down, and the two parted ways in September 2007. Ledger moved out to Manhattan, and the tabloids took a tremendous interest in him.
Apparently, Williams kicked him out of their Brooklyn home. Rumors claimed that she had had enough of his lifestyle and drug abuse.
Even the media didn't know this. In fact, according to gossip columns, he was a young man enjoying his freedom by dating models.
Not Everything Was As It Seemed
Things were not as they seemed. Ledger was dealing with problems with his acting career, and he said he wasn't too happy with his performance in I'm Not There.
He made these strange statements while working on The Dark Knight. It was apparent from the interview that taking on the role of the Joker was no walk in the park.
Ledger said that the Joker was "a psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy."
According to Christopher Nolan, Ledger was completely immersed in his role and was trying to be unpredictable in everything he did. Not even the director knew what he was going to do on set.
His insomnia worsened at this time, which was increasingly a concern for those close to him.
The role was stressful for him, as getting into the mindset of the ruthless villain was too intense. Ledger explained that he had locked himself in a room for about a month and tried various voices.
He also wrote down unsettling entries about the character in the Joker Diary. That made his insomnia worse, and during the interview, he said that he slept "an average of two hours a night."
"I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going."
He even took an Ambien and then another because the first didn't work. After an hour, he got up, and his mind was still racing.
Everyone Started To Notice His Struggles, Including His Family
Gerry Grennell, his friend and dialect coach, saw Ledger struggle with insomnia weeks before his death. Gerry heard him wandering around when he should have been sleeping. Ledger would say, "I can't sleep, man."
Ledger's struggle with insomnia was apparent while he was in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. His co-actors said he had "walking pneumonia."
Other than the sleep problems, he had trouble getting over his ex, Williams. He missed her and his little girl and wanted to see her.
According to Gerry, he was "desperately sad."
His family was also concerned about his worsening state, and his sister called him the night before his death to tell him not to take any prescription medications with the sleeping pills. However, he assured her that he was fine:
"Katie, Katie, I'm fine. I know what I'm doing."
How Heath Ledger Died
Ledger was found dead on January 22, 2008, in his New York apartment. His housekeeper thought he was asleep since she had heard him snoring at 12:30 p.m.
When his masseuse came at 2:45 p.m., they discovered he was not answering to knocks on his bedroom door.
When the housekeeper and the masseuse pushed the door open, they found him naked and unconscious on the floor. They were unsuccessful in their attempts to revive him, and they called for help.
Unfortunately, Heath Ledger had already died at the age of 28.
The report from the New York City medical examiner claimed that Heath Ledger died from an accidental overdose after taking prescription medications. Apparently, he combined sleeping pills, painkillers, and anti-anxiety drugs.
As a result, he succumbed to "acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine," which, according to experts, can cause the brain and the brain stem to "fall asleep."
Although authorities said that Ledger died of accidental overdose, there were other unanswered questions.
Apparently, his masseuse had made a call to actress Mary-Kate Olsen soon after finding his body. The two were close, and that made people wonder if Ledger had gotten the drugs from Olsen.
The suspicions seemed more serious when Olsen said she would not work with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) without getting immunity from future prosecution.
What made the situation stranger was that she had private security people go to his apartment in place of real police officers.
However, her lawyer, Michael C. Miller, came out to address media speculation that Olsen might know how Ledger got his hands on the drugs that ended his life:
"Mary-Kate Olsen had nothing whatsoever to do with the drugs found in Heath Ledger's home or his body, and she does not know where he obtained them."
No Signs Of Foul Play
In the end, prosecutors concluded that there was "no viable target" as far as giving Ledger the painkillers was concerned. Doctors in California and Texas had legally prescribed the anti-anxiety medication and sleeping pills.
The police did not suspect foul play. There was also no obvious sign that he had committed suicide.
According to his neighbors, he was a friendly man who was sometimes seen walking with his 2-year-old daughter.
However, even today, it is not apparent how Ledger got the painkillers that killed him. His father said that nobody was to blame for his death but himself.
"It was totally his fault. It was no one else's – he reached for them. He put them in his system. You can't blame anyone else in that situation. That's hard to accept because I loved him so much and was so proud of him."
Ledger's death at the age of 28 ended his incredibly promising career. His death was also a huge blow to his family and friends, including Michelle Williams.
She said that her heart was broken and added that their daughter Matilda "will be brought up in the best memories of him."
Heath Ledger Was A Great Guy
Despite the troubles in his personal life and his towering career as a Hollywood star, Ledger was still a very down-to-earth guy. The fame did not get in his head, and neighbors had many great things to say about him.
At one point, when a guy fell off a motorcycle outside a restaurant, Ledger apparently rushed to see if the guy was doing fine.
A lot of people also thought he was doing alright until they learned that he had passed away. His uncle said he was in good spirits and had a great time filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which was his final role.
He didn't complete filming this movie, and other actors such as Johnny Depp, Colin Ferrell, and Jude Law had to help complete his part. The movie portrays him as a magician with the ability to take his audience to a magical realm where they can explore their deepest secrets.
His sister Kate, who talked to him the night before he passed away, said that he showed no signs of depression. She also didn't notice any signs indicating that he was suicidal.
However, it is believed that his elusive search for rest took a huge toll on his health and led him down a dangerous path.
At the time of his death, The Dark Knight was in post-production.
Although Heath Ledger's legacy didn't last long, it will not be soon forgotten, thanks to his iconic film roles. His immense talent and on-screen charisma pretty much guarantee this.