The late Heath Ledger is featured on the cover and in the pages of the new issue of Vanity Fair magazine whose coverstory is all about Heath‘s last days alive. The article compiles interviews with friends of Ledger and is meant as a tribute to the late actor’s memory. Here is the cover of the new issue of Vanity Fair magazine:
Why was Heath Ledger so ambivalent about his own stardom, and what happened at the end of his life? Vanity Fair contributing editor Peter Biskind sheds new light on these difficult-to-answer questions as he writes about the actor’s remarkable talent and untimely death in the August cover story, “The Last of Heath.” In his article, Biskind explores Ledger’s final movie role, his uncertainty about Hollywood, his devotion to his young daughter, and what happened in the days and weeks leading up to his death as he battled chronic insomnia, pneumonia, and exhaustion. Here are some of the revelations contained in Biskind’s story.
How he cleaned up his act: Cinematographer Nicola Pecorini, who worked with Ledger on his last film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, says Ledger “used to smoke marijuana on a regular basis, like probably 50 percent of Americans.” But after it became an issue, Ledger “went clean as a whistle.” And vocal coach Gerry Grennell, who worked and lived with the actor during the filming of The Dark Knight, says Ledger even stopped drinking: “Heath would happily go to the bar, buy a round of drinks for friends, and come back and have a soda or juice, never once drinking alcohol.”
How chronic insomnia may have led to his death: Ledger’s use of sleeping medication to combat chronic insomnia at the end of his life was of more concern to Grennell. “I’d say, ‘If you can possibly bear it to stop taking the medications, do, because they don’t seem to be doing you any good.’ He agreed. It is very difficult for me to imagine how close he came to not taking them.” Ledger would typically spend night after night awake, diverting himself with time killers, Biskind reports, such as re-arranging the furniture in whatever space he happened to be living in at the moment. Grennell coached him in the Alexander Technique, which helped him to sleep for a few hours at a time, but he still struggled. “Everyone has a different view of how he passed away,” Grennell tells Biskind. “From my perspective, and knowing him as well as I did, and being around him as much as I was, it was a combination of exhaustion, sleeping medication … and perhaps the aftereffects of the flu. I guess his body just stopped breathing.”
How his relationship failed: Terry Gilliam—Ledger’s friend and mentor, and the director of Doctor Parnassus—agrees with Pecorini that the romance between Ledger and Williams began to unravel during the Oscar campaign for Brokeback Mountain. “The whole machinery started growing up around them,” Gilliam says. “That was the moment when it changed, when he realized, Uh-oh. We perceive the world differently. He didn’t care about things like those awards.” … As Ledger’s relationship with Williams unraveled, and the pair started dealing with lawyers and custody issues, according to Gilliam, Ledger fell apart. “The thing that really made Heath snap” was legal wrangling over his daughter, Matilda, Gilliam says. “He said, ‘Just fuck all of you! I’m not giving Michelle anything.’???” Recalls another source, when it came to Matilda’s care, “there were definitely heated conversations, and emotions were high.” (Ledger’s lawyer declined to comment on any aspect of the separation or custody dispute.)
Ledger’s apathy for stardom: Ledger’s friend and agent, Steven Alexander, tells Biskind that Heath “was always hesitant to be in a summer blockbuster, with the dolls and action figures and everything else that comes with one of those movies. He was afraid it would define him and limit his choices.” According to friends of Ledger’s, one of the reasons he agreed to do Dark Knight was that the unusually long shoot would give him an excuse to turn down other offers. Alexander tells Biskind that Ledger had a pay-or-play deal on The Dark Knight—meaning he’d get compensated no matter what—so he felt he had the freedom to do whatever he wanted as the Joker. According to Pecorini, Ledger hoped his performance would be so far-out he’d be fired, and thus become the beneficiary of a lengthy, paid vacation. “He was ready to bust out of the gate, but he didn’t want to step on the gas and become something that he didn’t want to become: a matinee idol,” says Alexander. “He was a private person, and he didn’t want to share his personal history with the press. It just wasn’t up for sale.
Altho we’ve been forced to deal with so much new death in just the past week (Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Billy Mays) it is still very difficult to process that Heath Ledger has already been gone for more than a year now. The Dark Knight is currently playing on HBO on a daily basis and I cannot help but watch it over and over again … marveling at Heath‘s amazing performance. He truly was an amazing actor. He is still very much missed. After the jump, check out a few photos of Heath that accompany this piece in Vanity Fair magazine … More »