April 4, 2019 would have been actor Heath Ledger’s 40th birthday. His tragic death left a huge scar on the film industry, and many were left wondering just how career would have progressed had things been different. Ledger was just becoming recognized for his talents in a significant way: his performance as 'The Joker in The Dark Night was all the buzz in Hollywood in the months leading up to his death, and the Aussie heartthrob even earned a posthumous Oscar as Best Supporting Actor that year.
But while we may never know what could have been, we can still take a look back on a few most memorable films that earned him such a place in all our hearts and celebrate the man who went from teen idol to a major source of inspo for many actors.
10 Things I Hate About You
Oh, Patrick Verona. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. 10 Things I Hate About You is a modern take on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and Ledger’s first real breakout role. His bad boy charm won over hearts everywhere, and tweens and teens taped-up poster inserts from Seventeen magazine all over their rooms just to catch a glimpse of that perfect smile whenever they wanted.
Ledger plays a defiant son who just wants to fight in the American War of Independence. He and his father, played by Mel Gibson, eventually team up as rebels in this epic film that had entire audiences sobbing in their seats. It was the first time Ledger had showed us what he could do when cast in a more serious role.
Lords of Dogtown
In Lords of Dogtown, Ledger plays Skip Engblom, a mentor to a group of young and rebellious Santa Monica skater bros. After his death, a journalist wrote of Ledger’s performance: “He’s almost eerie in how precisely he nailed not only the mannerisms, cadence and physical presence of Skip, but also how he raises Skip’s spirit.”
The Dark Knight
2008 brought us the highly-anticipated blockbuster The Dark Knight, a film for which truly no one was prepared. Ledger went above and beyond preparing for that role, blurring the lines between himself and the character of the Joker a little too closely perhaps. Whatever he did, it worked, and earned him an Oscar even after he’d left us.
It speaks to the type of actor he was— the type of person, father, and human being we grew to know — that we still rave about him to this day, eleven years later. It seemed he made an impact on everyone he worked with, and I think we can all be in agreement that had he never passed away, we’d still be watching him on the big screen and applauding when he won awards.
So once again, Happy Birthday, Heath Ledger. We were lucky as heck to have you in our lives as long as we did.