Heath Ledger first stole our hearts in 1999 with his role as Patrick Verona in director Gil Junger’s Ten Things I Hate About You. For middle school girls, Heath Ledger became the ultimate heartthrob, despite (or perhaps because of) his character’s kinky locks and intense demeanor. Ledger’s charming Aussie accent and chiseled grin earned him a place of honor on the walls of Tiger Beat and Teen Beat readers across America. Ledger’s performance of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” in the film, the horribly romantic last resort to win back the girl of his dreams, earned the actor an MTV Movie Award nomination for Best Musical Performance in 2000.
That same year, Heath Ledger appeared alongside seasoned actor Mel Gibson in The Patriot. Again sporting long, gnarled hair not generally characteristic of Hollywood heartthrobs (although appropriate to the film’s temporal setting), Ledger’s role as Gabriel Martin won him a 2001 Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Male Newcomer. Following his performance in The Patriot, Ledger’s acting career really took off.
Ledger’s next role as Sir William Thatcher in the 2001 teen action adventure comedy A Knight’s Tale, which combined a medieval story with elements of contemporary culture (like the inclusion of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”) contributed a great deal to the film’s small cult following and only intensified Ledger’s popularity with the female viewer. In 2001-2002 Ledger’s role earned him another nomination at the MTV Movie Awards, this time for Best Kiss and Best Musical Sequence, as well as two nominations at the Teen Choice Awards for Choice Actor and Choice Chemistry (with costar Shannyn Sossamon).
Although he appeared in several other films between 2001 and 2005, including The Order and The Brothers Grimm, Ledger finally made the jump from a cult heartthrob to blockbuster actor with his role as Ennis Del Mar in director Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. In 2006, Ledger’s role earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role and won him Best Actor for the Australian Film Institute. In addition, he was nominated for a BAFTA Film Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, for a Critics Choice Award for Best Actor, as well as for over fifteen other honors and awards.
Like many other notable actors and actresses, including Aaliyah, Chris Farley and John Candy, Heath Ledger’s final great career move will see fruition after his untimely death with the release of the monstrously anticipated The Dark Knight, set for release in July 2008. No one can deny that walking into a movie theater and seeing the already unsettling movie poster for the film is now just that much more creepy now that Ledger is dead; despite the trademark makeup and muted image, Ledger’s face is still recognizable as the character that he will undoubtedly be best remembered for: the depraved and manically demented Joker.
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