Dead Presidents: Heath Ledger
There was a point in time where Heath Ledger questioned everyone. When he and a man kissed on screen. Not to prove a point or to ignite a political uproar of sorts, but quite simply to do his job. I’m not expecting much, just a man that did his job a little too well. I’ve been accustomed to a smile and a hello from the interviewee; maybe a joke or two to melt the ice and two open chairs where at least one is for me. Just before outstretching a palm he hurriedly swallows two pills and smiles before introducing himself as The Joker. He gets a genuine chuckle out of me, expectedly. We settle down on the carpeted floor below us. “Sorry, I’m really tired” he admits before we go any further.
Ledger: I only do this because I’m having fun. The day I stop having fun, I’ll just walk away.
Hlumelo N: That’s a little contradictory, no? I’m sure no one’s idea of fun is getting two hours of sleep before having to spend a full day on set again.
Ledger: I don’t feel like I have anything to lose, so I don’t really understand what I’m putting at risk.
Hlumelo N: Your life. What about your family back in Australia? That kind of thing.
Ledger: Anyone that has a job that takes them away from home, I think, can understand the difficulties in maintaining consistency, not only with your family and those you love but with your friends.
Hlumelo N: How’d it feel leaving home? Did you have any second guesses when considering what you’d do financially? If you’d get lost in the Los Angeles current?
Ledger: From 18 to 22, I was alone, living in L.A. with a bunch of friends, partying. I’m happy without money. I’m not good at future planning. I don’t plan at all. I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow. I don’t have a day planner and I don’t have a diary. I completely live in the now, not in the past, not in the future. I’m still a kid. I’m like six years old. But it’s just a matter of wanting to get up, it’s just a big journey. I felt like when I left home that I was on a journey, and I still am. If you just be safe about the choices you make, you don’t grow.
Hlumelo N: So doubt and Heath Ledger aren’t applicable scenarios then?
Ledger: It’s kind of a rule of thumb for me to self-doubt going into any kind of project. I always think that I shouldn’t be doing it and I don’t know how to do it and I’m going to fail and that I fooled them. I always try to find a way out.
Hlumelo N: Well for me the confidence in some of your performances is overwhelming. Take Brokeback Mountain for example, everyone with half a brain cell loved that one.
Ledger: We certainly weren’t going out of our way to make a change in the world. We didn’t make the film for any kind of political movement. We never expected to change people’s minds; but if it does affect people’s hearts, if perceptions can get altered, that’s a good thing.
Hlumelo N: Did people miss that it’s a film about love, love that died due to the circumstances of the period in which homosexuality was prejudiced?
Ledger: It’s not a disease. It’s not contagious. They should understand that it’s a story of pure love. They don’t have to be a hero. They don’t have to be brave like us. I guess a little bit of maturity is being asked for because society has been immature in the past. That’s about it. It transcends a label. It’s a story of two human beings that are in love; get over the fact that it’s two men — that’s the point.
Hlumelo N: So the film gets banned, the production starts losing money , how does this attempt to push the boundaries of what’s been shown about love and homosexuality especially affect the team that was involved in Brokeback Mountain?
Ledger: We had a good sense of humor about it, because we knew what we were holding on to and how it was going to exceed expectations and [labels]. We weren’t running around naked in chaps swinging pink guns in the air.
We knew that, and we found it funny that no one else did. The movie’s already exceeded any expectations I had. I think pleasing Annie Proulx, the writer, and getting her nod of approval was the biggest success for me, for us.
Hlumelo N: From Lords of Dogtown in 2005 to Candy in 2006, where you play a heroin addict trying to break free of your addiction, and finally The Dark Knight – you have received massive praise for your work. Golden Globes, Academy Awards and even being invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The criticism you’ve received for some of your roles and performances is also greater than most would imagine. Do you acknowledge that you’re talents as an actor and that the critics can go fuck themselves?
Ledger: I feel like I’ve never been in a film that people have liked before. If you make decisions based upon people’s reactions or judgments then you make really boring choices. But the paparazzi are quite malicious and vocal and really rude. They camped outside of my house, so I started throwing eggs at them, lobbing them rocks.
Hlumelo N: Wow, preparing for your role as The Joker I see.
But really, I’m sure you didn’t have to bump into any paparazzi for a while during that time.
Ledger: It was a very lonely experience, but it was supposed to be, but that is also what makes it exciting. I sort of took my career and destroyed it. “So hopefully that (situation) will continue and I won’t have to come back, I would much rather work in Europe than America.
Hlumelo N: To do what Heath, Another film?
Ledger: I have kind of been living out of bags for the past 13 years. I’ll just stick to that. Home is, like, Earth. I don’t care where I land. I’m actually thinking of going to live in Italy. The food and the wine are great there. That’s it really.
Hlumelo N: You do interviews?
Ledger: (We) met with a gentleman who had been a junkie or an addict for 25 years and interviewed him. I’m sorry you were asking me these questions so early and I hadn’t figured out a way to speak of it in public, I apologize for my terrible interview skills.
Without having the opportunity to ask about Heath’s misadventure Heath knocks back more pills, waterless to my surprise. I’m told to leave because he needs to rest and I thank Mr. Ledger for his time. With all the things that come with interviewing an insomniac actor from Australia, it’s finding that the man was an outright individual in a revolutionary sense that made it all so worth it. The voice of a generation.
*At about 2:45 pm, on 22 January 2008, Ledger was found unconscious in his bed by his housekeeper, Teresa Solomon, and his masseuse, Diana Wolozin, in his fourth-floor loft apartment at 421 Broome Street in the SoHoneighbourhood of Manhattan.
According to the police, Wolozin, who had arrived early for a 3:00 pm appointment with Ledger, called Ledger’s friend, actress Mary-Kate Olsen, for help. Olsen, who was in California, directed a New York City private security guard to go to the scene. At 3:26 pm, “[fewer] than 15 minutes after Wolozin first saw him in bed and only a few moments” after first calling Olsen and then calling her a second time to express her fears that Ledger was dead, Wolozin telephoned 9-1-1 “to say that Mr. Ledger was not breathing.” At the urging of the 9-1-1 operator, Wolozin administered CPR, which was unsuccessful in reviving him. Paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians arrived seven minutes later, at 3:33 pm (“at almost exactly the same moment as a private security guard summoned by Ms. Olsen”), but were also unable to revive him. At 3:36 pm, Ledger was pronounced dead and his body was removed from the apartment.
Two weeks later on 6 February 2008, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York released its conclusions, based on an initial autopsy of 23 January 2008, and a subsequent complete toxicological analysis. The report concludes, in part, “Mr. Heath Ledger died as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine.”It states definitively: “We have concluded that the manner of death is accident, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications.”While the medications found in the toxicological analysis may be prescribed in the United States for insomnia, anxiety, pain, or common cold (doxylamine) symptoms, the vast majority of physicians in U.S. are extremely reluctant to prescribe multiple benzodiazepines (e.g., diazepam, alprazolam, and temazepam) to a single patient, let alone prescribe the same to a patient already taking a mix of OxyContin and Vicodin. Although the Associated Press and other media reported that “police estimate Ledger’s time of death between 1 pm and 2:45 pm” (on 22 January 2008), the Medical Examiner’s Office announced that it would not be publicly disclosing the official estimated time of death. The official announcement of the cause and manner of Ledger’s death has heightened concerns about the growing problems of prescription drug misuse and combined drug intoxication.