Heath Ledger’s Joker Has the Last Laugh

When I heard the news of Heath Ledger’s death, I thought my friend was playing a particularly unfunny joke on me. Hours of sleep and a Yahoo! news check later, I learned that she had been telling the truth. Ledger died at approximately one p.m. in his New York apartment. The actor was found naked in his bed with sleeping pills nearby. Questions still circulate around his death.
An autopsy on Wednesday proved inconclusive, and the cause of death is still not known. Ledger had six different kinds of prescription pills in his apartment, but each were properly obtained in England. A rolled-up $20 bill was found on the floor, prompting suspicions of cocaine abuse. These allegations were later ruled out by drug testing.
The argument that Ledger committed suicide seems unlikely. Ledger claimed that he was experiencing insomnia as a result of playing the Joker in the upcoming movie ‘The Dark Knight,’ but his relatives and friends reported that he had been happy and full of life. He had strong social ties to the world, including a two-year-old daughter. He had an appointment for a massage later that day and plans for future movie roles.
Ledger may be dead, but his work will make him immortal. He burst onto the scene in the 1999 hit ’10 Things I Hate About You.’ However, he refused to take roles in teen movies from then on. He wanted to be taken seriously and quickly began taking serious, intense and dramatic roles. After ‘A Knight’s Tale,’ he starred in ‘Monster’s Ball.’
In 2005, he took on a role that would cement his status as a remarkable actor when he portrayed Ennis Del Mar in Ang Lee’s ‘Brokeback Mountain.’ For many, that was the moment when he forever cast off the shackles of teen flicks.
Arguably, Ledger’s most famous role has not even been seen yet. He beat out enormous Hollywood names like Jake Gyllenhaal and Johnny Depp to assume the role of the Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime. Most were not excited about the casting until Leger’s Joker was revealed in the movie trailer. It appears Ledger decided to throw away the campy, Jack Nicolson version of the Joker and turn the character into a horrifying maniac.
Ledger’s death calls the fate of the projects he was involved in before his death into question. ‘The Dark Knight’ is largely complete, and Ledger’s death will not affect the film’s production. However, the majority of the film’s ad campaign was meant to focus on the Joker. The studio must quickly decide whether to continue this marketing strategy.
On the one hand, if it continues to pimp the Joker, it may be seen as tactless and disgusting to Ledger’s memory. People may believe the movie studios are attempting to squeeze coins from the dead in much the same way record companies are still sucking on the bones of Tupac Shakur.
I believe the complete opposite. I think sharing Ledger’s Joker with the world is the only appropriate course of action. Ledger was a remarkable actor, and he created full-bodied characters with multiple dimensions. The people he played on screen were deep and real enough to exist in reality. More importantly, each character he played was worlds different from the previous one. Anyone with acting experience can tell you how difficult it is for an actor to accomplish these feats in such a talented way.
Continuing the Joker’s ad campaign is a way to honor the character Ledger brought to life and the craft he so excelled at. It is important to let the Joker live in all his horrible glory so we can take the time to appreciate the swan song of a fantastic artist.
Regardless of how aggressively the Joker or Ledger’s memory is used during the ad campaign for ‘The Dark Knight,’ two results are certain: The movie will make hundreds of millions, and studios will be accused of exploiting his death. So why not take the opportunity to show off Ledger’s acting?
Ledger’s death has hit our generation particularly hard for several reasons. He was 28 years old, only eight years older than most of us. He was young enough to be our older brother. The ladies of our generation grew up wanting to be with him, and the men grew up admiring his intensity. Over time, his talent eclipsed his looks and attitude, and he became what he wanted to be: an artist, an actor and a father.

Kevin Pease is a third-year phsychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at kpease@uci.edu.