It still hurts my heart a little that we lost the talented Heath Ledger in 2008. Today would have been his 39th birthday, and while he had done some pretty impressive work while he as alive, just imagining how much more he could have done in the last 10 years really makes me sad.
Here are five of his performances that really stood out for me:
5. Patrick in 10 Things I Hate About You
10 Things I Hate About You is what put the Aussie actor on the map – and turned him into a heartthrob. This 1999 movie was his first American film, a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, and the teenage girls just ate it up. Thing is, Ledger really put a lot more into his turn as the young Lothario who falls for the “shrew” (Julia Stiles) he’s only supposed to distract so the younger sister can date. You could tell right away the actor had chops – and he could also sing, for heaven’s sake! Just watch this classic clip below.
4. William in A Knight’s Tale
Okay, I admit A Knight’s Tale is a guilty pleasure of mine. Yes, it is considered a box office success, but it’s also really just a pure ball of fluff – and something I generally watch whenever it’s on. Not only was Paul Bettany’s Chaucer hilarious and the rocking modern soundtrack awesome, it starred the now fully formed movie star Ledger, and he was truly dreamy in the role of a young pauper who pretends to be nobility to compete in the jousting games – and he could also dance, for heaven’s sake! Yep, another talent in his pocket, just watch.
3. Sonny in Monster’s Ball
Then came the time for Ledger to shed his teen heartthrob status and show everyone what he could really do. He starred in the overly dramatic 2000 The Patriot, but his brief but devastating turn in 2001’s Monster’s Ball is astounding. He plays Billy Bob Thornton’s son, who has followed his abusive father (and grandfather) into the family line of work as correctional officers at the local Louisiana prison. But Sonny is definitely more softhearted, which gets under his father’s skin; the hatred and anger his father spews at him finally breaks Sonny. This scene below is still shocking and so, so sad.
2. Ennis in Brokeback Mountain
Yet, for sheer heartbreak, it’s Ledger’s portrayal of a stoic modern-day cowboy who falls in love with a fellow cowboy, Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal), while the two are working a job rustling cattle on Brokeback Mountain. This deep, pure love that exists between these two men lasts through their lives, as they both struggle with it. But it’s Ledger as Ennis who suffers the most because he can never truly embrace it and eventually loses the only thing that ever made sense in his life. This scene in which Ennis grieves over Jack’s death by smelling his shirt really gets you.
1. The Joker in The Dark Knight
But his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight tops the list of Ledger’s very best performances. What he did with this iconic comic-book villain from the DCU went way beyond the bounds of the usual fare and has not been matched to this date. Hence the reason Ledger still stands as the only actor to not only be nominated for his work in a comic-book movie but actually win an Oscar. It was doubly sad he died before he was able to accept it. Here’s a little scene to remember the fantastic horror show Ledger was as the Joker.