Heath Ledger has the lofty distinction of being the only person besides a Backstreet Boy whose image I placed in my middle school locker. In my awkward, self-loathing, gangly middle school years (quite easily the worst years of my life, a sentiment I’m sure countless others can sympathize), I fell head over J-14 reading heels for Heath Ledger and fantasized about a better high school experience, in which I could be myself and find a man like Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You. That didn’t happen.
Well, I was able to be myself and it was in high school that I saw the cute actor I had a crush on years earlier in what was one of the most moving and heartbreaking films of the 2000s: Brokeback Mountain.
Heath’s performance as Ennis Del Mar has affected everyone in my family. My own mother and I have watched the film multiple times; I’ve lost count the number of times my mom has turned to me out of nowhere and say, “I’m feeling a little Brokeback.” Hours later, we’d be watching the film, usually ending in tears over the minute details of Heath’s weathered, sad-eyed face.
He moved from being a handsome movie star to being one of the best young actors I had the privilege of seeing on the screen. His career was my favorite to follow, and I had every confidence in his performance of the Joker, both as a comic book fan and as Heath Ledger fan.
Perhaps it was because I knew he was gone, this man who had meant so much to me for so many years, or perhaps it was because I was watching a jaw-dropping and perfect performance, but for the first several times I watched The Dark Knight, I broke down in tears.
I just want to celebrate the short but incredible career of a man who clearly did not want to be star, yet deserved it so much.
So happy birthday, Heath Ledger.
I’m so glad I got to experience your career and thank you for helping me get through some really tumultuous years.