“It couldn't be more wrong”
When Heath Ledger died in 2008, a rumor quickly emerged that the actor’s death was directly tied to his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight. But his sister and others close to the late star say his death was entirely accidental.
“I was really shocked because that was him having fun,” Kate Ledger told The Telegraph during the premiere of the new documentaryI Am Heath Ledger at the Tribeca Film Festival. “Every report was coming out that he was depressed and that [the role] was taking this toll on him, and we're going, honestly, it was the absolute opposite. It couldn't be more wrong.”
The legend surrounding Ledger was that he was a victim of method acting, where a performer inhabits the role of their character so deeply during a production that they essentially become the character 24 hours a day. Acclaimed actors such as Marlon Brando and Daniel Day-Lewis are both famous and infamous for this approach.
That theory was amplified by comments from Ledger himself, who said he struggled to sleep during the film’s production. However, his family said that was an issue he had always struggled with and that it wasn’t directly tied to the role of the Joker.
Still, it’s a tempting rumor to believe, as Ledger’s performance was undoubtedly the most powerful of his short career. The buzz about the role started immediately after his death and culminated in Ledger winning a posthumous Oscar at that year’s Academy Awards.
However, there has always been anecdotal evidence that Ledger may not have been suffering from a mental illness and that he wasn’t suicidal like so many believed. In one of the film’s behind-the-scenes clips, Ledger can be seen skateboarding to the set and playfully interacting with the cast and crew—which is not the behavior of someone living and breathing the lifestyle of a homicidal supervillain.
Then again, he did die of a prescription medication overdose. So, even if the Batman role wasn’t responsible for his tragic passing, he likely had issues that may have predated the role.
“He had an amazing sense of humor, and I guess maybe only his family and friends knew that, but he was having fun,” Kate Ledger said. “He wasn't depressed about the Joker!”