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Ledger leaves lasting mark on fans

Cassie Belek | Monday, January 28, 2008

Most will remember him for his Academy Award-nominated performance as Ennis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain,” but I will always remember him as Patrick Verona, the misunderstood bad boy of a preppy high school in “10 Things I Hate About You.” I always mourn celebrity deaths, but this death is different. Heath Ledger is my first celebrity crush to die.

Of course, my own feelings are inconsequential compared to those of his family and friends, who are mourning him deeply right now. My heart especially goes out to his daughter, Matilda Rose, who must grow up without her father. But if Ledger’s death doesn’t concern me, then why is this 21-year-old girl from Kansas so sad?

Maybe it’s because I used to have pictures of him on my bedroom door. Maybe it’s because my best friend Caitlin and I used to watch “10 Things I Hate About You” on repeat just to see him smile. Maybe it’s because I had lengthy discussions with my friends at slumber parties over which hair color suited him best. Maybe it’s because I was so angry when his character died in “The Patriot” because I wanted to see him get his happy ending.

After a week, the immediate shock of Ledger’s death has worn off, but it is still difficult to believe. Ledger was a prominent member of Young Hollywood, and his generation of performers has lost someone very special. Ledger was always a movie star, but he showed Hollywood he was an actor with “Brokeback Mountain.” And most recently, Ledger had the difficult task of reinventing the Joker in the latest Batman film, “The Dark Knight.” I know that he had a lifetime of Oscar nominations in his future.

As sad as it is for family, friends and fans, it’s amazing to think of the extent of the consequences of an actor’s sudden death. Ledger was six weeks into the filming of “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” with director Terry Gilliam and co-star Christopher Plummer. The future of that film (with an estimated $30 million budget) is in jeopardy since the studio-soundstage filming was just about to begin. Meanwhile, rumors are circulating that Ledger hadn’t completed any post-production work on “The Dark Knight,” an involved process essential to any film, especially to those packed with special effects. Director Chris Nolan and Warner Bros. executives have yet to comment or make a public statement.

We still do not know Ledger’s cause of death, but evidence is now pointing away from a drug overdose and toward natural causes, which is an apparent disappointment to the media. Entertainment shows and Web sites like TMZ.com had a field day following Ledger’s death and never once refrained from speculating that Ledger had died from suicide or an accidental drug overdose. In the meantime, Ledger’s family insisted that he would not have committed suicide and they pleaded to be left alone. It may be too much to ask the media to stop sensationalizing a tragic death, but just because Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse are complete messes, that doesn’t mean everyone is.

In the end, does it really matter what his cause of death was? The fact remains that a daughter has lost a father, Hollywood and Australia have lost an amazing actor and a fan has lost a teenage crush. My heart will still melt whenever Ledger sings “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” in “10 Things I Hate About You,” but I will probably never be able to watch that movie in the same way ever again. I’ll get that same sad feeling I get every time I watch James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.” I’ll be watching, knowing that I’ll never get to see his movie star smile again and knowing that a brilliant film career was tragically cut short.

The views expressed in Scene & Heard are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.

Contact Cassie Belek at cbelek@nd.edu