There's no doubt about it. Heath Ledger left this world much too early. Just as his career was flourishing, the actor took an accidental overdose of prescription drugs and died at home in his Manhattan apartment on January 22, 2008.
Born in Perth, Australia, Ledger was already a television star in Australia prior to his American film debut. Playing the role of a Celtic prince in the series Roar, Ledger earned legions of young, female Aussie fans who instantly fell in love with the young heartthrob. The series was short-lived, however, as was his next series, Sweat, in which Ledger played a gay cyclist. He also appeared in several Australian films as well as in theater productions.
Eventually, Ledger moved across the Pacific to try his luck in America. It took a little bit of time, but he finally scored in his first major Hollywood release, 10 Things I Hate About You (1999). In this film based on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, Ledger played Patrick Verona, a rebellious youth returning from a year abroad who attempts to tame the equally rebellious Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles). 10 Things was a surprising hit among audiences, earning a respectable box office. The film also received generally good reviews from critics, something which helped the film stand out in a market that at the time was overcrowded with teen-oriented films. Ledger carried a tremendous presence throughout the film and demonstrated considerable acting talent as well. It quickly led to many offers in Hollywood.
Ledger next won a coveted role in The Patriot (2000), playing fellow Aussie Mel Gibson's son. A skilled horseman, he next took on another period piece with A Knight's Tale (2001), about a young squire who takes the identity of his master upon the man's death in 14th Century France. His star has continued to rise, with starring roles in The Four Feathers (2002) opposite Kate Hudson, and The Order (2003). Ledger returned to his native Australia at the request of director Gregor Jordan, who insisted on a native Australian for the title role in the true life Australian story Ned Kelly (2004), also starring Orlando Bloom. In The Brothers Grimm (2005), Ledger played Jake Grimm opposite Matt Damon.
He received nominations from both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards for his role as a gay cowboy who falls in love in Brokeback Mountain (2005). Ledger dated fellow Australian Naomi Watts from 2002, when they met on the set of Ned Kelly (2004) to May 2004. He met Michelle Williams of Dawson's Creek fame, while filming Brokeback Mountain (2005) and they had a child together, Matilda Rose.
Before he could complete his last film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), Ledger died.
Posthumously he has won several prestigious awards for his portrayal as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, an AFI Award, an Academy Award nomination and a People's Choice Award, shared with Christian Bale for Favorite Onscreen Matchup.