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A Look at Heath Ledger’s Acclaimed Career Before His Tragic, Untimely Death

From starring in a 90s rom com to flawlessly portraying the Joker, the actor had an incredible career

At just 20-years-old, Heath Ledger rose to fame as the world’s newest heartthrob after he starred as Patrick Verona in 10 Things I Hate About You in 1999. He quickly got pegged as the pretty boy from this role, where he portrayed the love interest of Julia Stiles‘ character. It was a solid start, but Ledger booked plenty of other major roles after this film.

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Unfortunately, just as Ledger was at the height of his fame, he tragically died from an accidental drug overdose in 2008. Before then, though, the actor touched many lives around him, and co-stars and friends alike shared their heartbreak upon hearing the news.

boy and girl pointing
Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) Pictures

In the early 2000s, after his role in 10 Things I Hate About You, Ledger’s fame only continued to flourish. He continuously booked lead roles back-to-back and starred in a few very popular movies, among them Brokeback Mountain (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), which solidified the star’s astounding career.

Early Life of Heath Ledger

The actor, born April 4, 1979 in Perth, Western Australia, got his start in acting early on when he had to choose between a cooking or drama elective in junior high. Naturally, Ledger chose the latter, which led to his major TV and film career. His first role was a minor one in the Australian children’s TV series Ship to Shore (1994), but he was only in three episodes.

group of people posed together; heath ledger
Cast of Roar (1997) Change Productions

In 1996, Ledger booked another series, Sweat, which lasted for only 26 episodes. His first film role came in 1997 in the movie, Blackrock. He had two more TV shows, Home and Away (1997) and Roar (1997) — the latter co-created by Beauty and the Beast‘s Ron Koslow — before focusing strictly on the big screen.

In 1999, Ledger booked his breakout role as Patrick Verona, where he quickly became recognized as the newest heartthrob, but it didn’t take long for his abilities to become the focus. Ledger shared his vocal talents in the film as well, but his acting chops scored him a few more major roles later on.

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Back-to-Back Films

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Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Brokeback Mountain’ (2005)

By 2003, the actor had starred in seven more movies, including Two Hands (1999), A Knight’s Tale (2001), Monster’s Ball (2001) and Ned Kelly (2003).

Two years later he starred in four movies, portraying Jacob Grimm in The Brothers Grimm, alongside Matt Damon; costarring in Brokeback Mountain alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams, whom he dated for three years; played Giacomo Casanova in Casanova and Skip Engblom in Lords of Dogtown.

Personal Life

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Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams (2006)Getty

Ledger and Williams became involved on the set of Brokeback Mountain. Their co-star, Gyllenhaal, shared, “I remember being in rehearsal, and the two of them had googly eyes with each other… There were sparks immediately. It was adorable.”

The couple welcomed their daughter, Matilda Rose, in 2005. Ledger and Williams were together until their split in 2007, just a few months before his untimely death.

Heath Ledger becomes the Joker

Over the last few years of his life, Ledger’s film career continued to show more and more promise, all of it crystallized in 2008 as he stepped into the role of the Joker in The Dark Knight, coming to define the character. A massive success, it broke multiple box office records and surpassed $1 billion at the global box office, becoming the highest-grossing film of 2008 and the fourth highest grossing ever up until that time.

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The Dark Knight won two Academy Awards, one of which was awarded to Heath Ledger posthumously. The award was for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role and it was accepted by his mother, father and sister in 2009. Ledger is the only actor to have won an award in this category after his death. He also was awarded a Golden Globe award, among many others, most of which were done so posthumously.

The world without Heath Ledger

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Heath Ledger in ‘The Imaginarium of of Doctor Parnassus’ (2009)

Following the saddening loss of Ledger, his final film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) was released. The film, which was nominated for two Oscars, also starred Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Lily Cole and Andrew Garfield. Depp revealed that he and co-stars Farrell and Jude Law gifted their entire salaries for the film to Ledger’s daughter, Matilda Rose, because the actor had not yet updated his will to include the 2-year-old.

Ledger’s many co-stars shared their love for the actor after his death. Gyllenhaal shared, “Personally, it affected me in ways I can’t necessarily put in words or even would want to talk about publicly.”

10 Things I Hate About You co-star Stiles said in a 2016 interview, “Heath and I did not keep in touch after filming ended, but when I heard about his death, I was incredibly sad, I was very shocked. He was such a force, such a vibrant person, right at the really exciting time of his life.”

Fans and friends around the world were shocked at the loss of Heath Ledger, but his legacy continues to live on through his incredible films and family.

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