Remembering The Extraordinary Heath Ledger

On the anniversary of the star of Brokeback Mountain's passing, we look back on his unforgettable body of work.

Nine years ago, January 22, 2008, Heath Ledger tragically died at the much too young age of 28. We here at Focus Features remember his passing by paying tribute to his unforgettable body of work. Though his remarkable performance in our film Brokeback Mountain is etched into our hearts, it was by no means his only great contribution.  

It Started With a Song

In 1999, he first captured America’s imagination by singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” into a megaphone as the lanky lothario in 10 Things I Hate About You. For the next few years, Ledger demonstrated his remarkable range and talent with a string of compelling, complex roles. He drew swords in the medieval adventure A Knight’s Tail and made history as Mel Gibson’s son in the American Revolution saga The Patriot. He spun out a wondrous fairy tale with Matt Damon in Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm and dealt with the hard truths of American prisons in Monster’s Ball. In Christopher Nolan’s 2008 epic, The Dark Knight, Ledger ingeniously rewrote the comic book villain with his surprising take on The Joker, a performance that posthumously earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. 

“Working with Heath was one of the purest joys of my life” 

—Ang Lee, director, Brokeback Mountain, People Magazine

Most Masterful Performance

But of all his roles, he is perhaps most remembered for his Oscar-nominated performance as Ennis Del Mar in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. “Mr. Ledger magically and mysteriously disappears beneath the skin of his lean, sinewy character. It is a great screen performance, as good as the best of Marlon Brando and Sean Penn,” acclaims The New York Times’ Stephen Holden. It was a role that makes his ending now all the more tragic. “His death is heartbreaking,” Lee acknowledges to People. “Working with Heath was one of the purest joys of my life… He brought to the role of Ennis more than any of us could have imagined––a thirst for life, for love, and for truth, and a vulnerability that made everyone who knew him love him.” For his co-star Jake Gyllenhaal, Ledger’s life still inspires him. “Losing Heath and being a part of a family that was something like the movie [Brokeback Mountain], that movie we all made together,” Gyllenhaal tells NPR’s Fresh Air, “hopefully moves you away from the things that really don't matter to the things that do.”

Watch Brokeback Mountain today: On iTunes