If I am at my computer, I know the instant I get an email courtesy of the gmail notifier on my task bar. I audibly gasped when I opened and read the CNN alert that said, "Actor Heath Ledger, 28, has died." I glanced over at the gchat column ("AIM for grownups") and a friend of mine already had "HEATH LEDGER DEAD" as her status. And then the messages popped up on the bottom my screen: "Did you hear?" "OMG!" Within minutes it seemed the whole world became aware of this untimely death.
Ordinarily, I wouldn't really think twice about a celebrity's death (although I did almost cry when I heard Chris Farley died several years ago), but for some reason the passing of Heath, who is named for Heathcliff in one of my favorite novels, Wuthering Heights, is haunting me.
He wasn't fellow Aussie, Russel Crowe, who is consistently portrayed as a Hollywood "bad boy," throwing phones at desk clerks and such, nor was he the typical young Hollywood coke addict...he was the young father of two-year-old Matilda, and you never heard about him unless it was praising his work.
He was excellent in Brokeback Mountain ("During the [S.A.G.] awards show [this week], religious protesters gathered across the street from the Shrine Auditorium, carrying signs that read “Heath’s in Hell”, a reference to his sensitive portrayal of a repressed gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain."--GET A LIFE MORONS! How insensitive could you possibly be at this time of mourning?!), and I most recently saw him in I'm Not There, a wonderfully imaginative film "about" Bob Dylan, in which Ledger has a comparatively lengthy amount of screen time. Again, wonderful performance.
When I first saw him on the big screen as Patrick Verona in 10 Things I Hate About You ('99), I remember thinking, now that's the kind of guy I want to marry. He had the most beautifully contagious smile I'd ever seen and that ingenious mix of sincerity and don't-give-a-shit attitude.
I played Kate in the original version of 10 things, Shakespeare's Taming Of The Shrew, in 8th grade English class. During a scene where "Petruchio" (played by childhood friend/former crush, P.J.) was supposed to kiss me, Aaron, the tattooed, Nine-Inch-Nails t-shirt-wearing, slacker of our class yelled out, "Slip him the tongue!" Turning some shade of mortified, I glared at Aaron, relieved when our teacher excused us from kissing in front of the class and pissed because secretly I wanted Aaron to be Petruchio.
As a sophomore in high school we studied TOTS once again, which coincided with the release of 10 Things, so Mr. Anderson offered extra credit to anyone who saw the modern-day remake.
In the movie Heath's character falls for Kat (Julia Stiles), who reads Sylvia Plath, pines for acceptance to Sarah Lawrence, drives the coolest car (by my old-school standards), attempts to boycott the prom and gets drunk at her first ever high school party and dances atop a table, while her trendier, cooler, boy-attracting little sister looks on, half revolted and half relieved to have a sister who's partially "normal."
At the time I drove a beat-up '89 Sentra with the following bumper sticker: "If dance were any easier, it would be called football" (which did not sit well with our beloved sports team), planned on going as far away from suburban Illinois as possible when college came around, bought my first book of poetry--incidentally "Ariel" by Sylvia Plath, and seemed to be ever-mystified by the Dennis Rodmans of the world.
Tonight, in memory of Heath, I rented Candy a relatively new release about two lovers who happen to also be heroin addicts. It was so disturbing, I had to follow it up with 10 Things before going to sleep. Interestingly enough, there's a similar scene in both movies where there's a close-up of Heath's character trying to wake up a girl from a drug (Candy) or alcohol (10 Things)-induced "coma." One disturbing, one relatively light-hearted. Both made sad, as I couldn't help picturing the poor housekeeper who probably did the same thing to him--in real life.
But this is how I want to remember him:
Thanks, Heath, for all your work. I wish there could have been more to see. Looking forward to Batman...
Rest in peace.