I felt sick hearing the news this afternoon. So far it sounds like an accidental overdose. It's hard to imagine any other explanation for an actor who was at the top of his game like Heath Ledger was. Anyone who has landed the role of The Joker has to be at the top of his game (and the clips of him in The Dark Knight trailer looked terrific).
When I first saw Ledger in The Patriot I wasn't impressed. I assumed he was just another pretty boy who couldn't act. When I heard he had the lead role in Brokeback Mountain, I would have written the film off if I didn't have so much respect for the director, Ang Lee. Ledger's performance blew my mind. I had seen the private pain and struggles of so many closeted gay men, but never imagined I'd see it portrayed so compassionately up on the cinema screen, let alone by someone I had written off as a B actor. It was a gift to anyone who could see his own life's story in the character of Ennis Del Mar.
I respected Ledger not just for that performance but for proving me wrong. I was so looking forward to The Dark Knight. I still am, but after this news how can it not be painful to see?
I wrote a review for Brokeback Mountain shortly after I had seen it in the theater. You can read it here.