The Last Days of Heath Ledger—So What?

August 11, 2009

Heath Ledger, the Australian actor who died at age 28 on January 22, isn’t quite dead yet. Well, Ledger—who achieved posthumous high praise for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight —is actually dead, but the news media isn’t done with him. There’s still a little more exploitation, a few more dollars, to be wrung from the public’s interest in the few days before Ledger’s death from a drug overdose.

People magazine recently had a cover story titled, “Heath Ledger’s Final Days,” while Esquire magazine did their own cover story, “The Last Days of Heath Ledger.” There were probably a few other magazines with similar stories that I missed, but the story was there: in case anyone has a lurid fascination with the banal details of Ledger's life in the days before his death, you can read it here! 

It’s not clear why anyone would assume that an accounting of the last few days of Ledger’s life would lead to any important insight into the actor or his life. It’s not as if Ledger’s death was a suicide, or planned in some way; it was a sudden event, a combination of drugs that kill rising young actors every so often. There was nothing particularly interesting or remarkable about Ledger’s death, and it seems unlikely that there was anything particularly interesting or remarkable about Ledger’s last days. Now, a piece on the last few days of David Carradine's life-- that might be interesting.

The assumption seems to be that Ledger’s final few days were somehow different than any other set of a few days in his life, or somehow representative of his life as a whole. Or perhaps newsworthy or interesting in some way; it’s not clear from either article what the point is. The writers and editors must have figured that if they just plastered Ledger’s photo on the non-story, it would pass.

In fact, the People magazine story more or less admits that Ledger’s last days on Earth were probably pretty much like the last few days in most people’s lives—excepting, of course, the cocktail of a half-dozen drugs. Actual quote: “The day before he died, Heath Ledger had a quiet breakfast alone, then bought groceries and made plans for the following day, PEOPLE has learned.”

Wow, thanks for the hard-hitting reporting and insight, People and Esquire !