"Before the end of the shooting he wrote 'bye bye' on the back of the page," his father said. "It was hard to see this."
“When I die, my money is not gonna come with me. My movies will live on for people to judge what I was as a person. I just want to stay curious and keep smiling like the joker.” ― Heath Ledger
Everyone who met him could see that there was something raw and special about Heath Ledger, something complex about him. His magic was so powerful that even as a supporting actor, he would effortlessly steal the spotlight. But while he may have been hungry for success once, he later wanted to reverse the fame he earned. “He wanted fame. And then when he got it, he didn’t want it. He was mortified, and he felt owned,” said his friend, Matt Amato, in I Am Heath Ledger, according to The National.
He was born in Perth in the year 1979 to a french teacher, Sally Ledger Bell, and racecar driver and mining specialist, Kim Ledger, according to Biography. When he was 10, he played Peter Pan in his school's production and also won the Western Australia's Junior Chess Championship at the same age.
He even went on to sing in a band. "He had this awesome voice [singing grunge]. But quite early on, whatever he was doing, he was thinking 'is there a point to this?'" said N'fa Jones, who's been his close friend since they were in kindergarten, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
He later quit, feeling like acting was the field he was meant to explore. "He was going to act. He couldn't have known it would work out so successfully but he just felt the calling... He was a frontman. The ultimate frontman," Jones added.
Soon, he left Perth and his talent started shining. “I had nothing to run away from in Perth,” Heath Ledger previously said. "It’s just that there was all this going on outside of that and I just had to be a part of it." And with time, he became a well-recognized part of it.
Although he was described as a ball of energy, he was also called "vulnerable" by Michelle Williams, whom he had a relationship with. "For as long as I'd known him, he had bouts with insomnia. He just had too much energy," she said, as reported by Mail Online. "His mind was turning, turning, turning - always turning. He had an uncontrollable energy. He buzzed. He would jump out of bed."
But hidden behind the energy was his vulnerable side, bits of which would come out through the characters he played. "I think that the interesting thing about Heath, which maybe people have only really fully discovered in his death, is how vulnerable he was," Michelle Williams added. "You can pick up on it in his performances, but it's easy to overlook because he was so physical and beautiful and strong and masculine. But there was always that underlying sensitivity. That's who he was."
What Heath Ledger hated was how his life was constantly being bombarded by the paparazzi. He found his own ways to calm his mind that never stopped racing. "He had a creative mind so he didn't sleep much. His mind was always racing. He was very much an artist: a painter and a drawer. That was something he would do every day to calm his mind. He'd wake up early so he'd paint or write..." said Trevor DiCarlo, who'd known him from when he was 3 years old. "There was a lot of anxiety that came with the fame and the paparazzi [but] he was always a happy person. He wasn't struggling with it."
The intensity he brought onscreen when he played The Joker in The Dark Knight, he got so involved in playing the role that he sort of became the character. "I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices..." he previously told Empire. "I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath — someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts. He’s just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown..."
He got so immersed into the role that at the end of it, he wrote two chilling words. "Before the end of the shooting he wrote 'bye bye' on the back of the page," his father said. "It was hard to see this."
In 2008, the day that shocked the world came where 28-year-old Heath Ledger's dead body was found in his bed, according to E! Online. His death led to a lot of speculation but his sister, Kate, later opened up about it. "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," she said, according to The Telegraph. "He had an amazing sense of humor, and I guess maybe only his family and friends knew that, but he was having fun. He wasn't depressed about the Joker!"
After over a decade of him passing away, he is not only celebrated for the iconic characters he gave, but also for the wonderful person that he was.
"Heath had the ability to look at you and [make] you feel like a princess," said Gabrielle Union, who played alongside him in 10 Things I Hate About You, according to nine.com.au. "In a very crowded Hollywood landscape, he could make you feel special and seen."
Like Heath Ledger once said that his money won't follow him into death, he got his wish fulfilled for being remembered for the person he was. "To me, he was flesh and bone, soulful, sweet, and I know for a fact he was in recovery prior to his death. He was trying to get healthy," said his co-star David Krumholtz. "I just want people to know there was a suffering individual there, who couldn’t have been a lovelier human being."