Heath Ledger was a gifted actor whose life and promising career was tragically cut short in its prime. On January 22, 2008, Ledger was found dead in his Manhattan apartment from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, including painkillers, anti-anxiety medication and sleeping pills.
The late star was born in Perth, Australia to Sally and Kim Ledger and began his career working performing in his local community theater. In 1995, he dropped out of school at 16 and moved to Sydney for a role in the Aussie television show Sweat. The show eventually led to bigger and better roles.
Three years later, Ledger hopped on a plane to Los Angeles and landed the lead in 10 Things I Hate About You. The teenage romantic comedy was a big hit and he became an instant Hollywood heartthrob. But, he wasn't comfortable with that label and aimed to diversify his future roles.
Instead of another teen flick, Ledger starred in Mel Gibson's Revolutionary War drama The Patriot in 2000 which grossed $113 million at the box office. He continued his hot streak the following year with A Knight's Tale which grossed $117 million worldwide.
Ledger seemed to be at the top of his game, but his subsequent films didn't enjoy the same success or critical acclaim…until Brokeback Mountain, a love story about two cowboys. Ledger's performance earned rave reviews and a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
He didn't win the award but he did win the heart of costar Michelle Williams. The pair had a whirlwind courtship and gave birth to a baby girl Matilda Rose in October 2005. Ledger instantly took to family life. "I'm Mr. Mom," he said. "And I love it! I love my new job." However, they couldn't make the romance last and the couple split in 2007.
During that time, Ledger landed a pivotal role as The Joker in the highly-anticipated Batman sequel The Dark Knight. His portrayal generated intense buzz months before the film's release. "It's the most fun I've had with a character and probably will ever have," Ledger said.
Unfortunately, Ledger didn't get to experience the film's mega-success before his death. The movie shattered box office records and earned him another Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Following his memorial, Williams released a statement and said, "My heart is broken...I am the mother of the most tender-hearted, high-spirited, beautiful little girl who is the spitting image of her father. All that I can cling to is his presence inside her that reveals itself every day. She will be brought up in the best memories of him."
He received both honors posthumously for his haunting performance. At the Academy Awards, Ledger's family who accepted the trophy on his behalf said, "Tonight we are choosing to celebrate and be happy for what he has achieved."
The Oscar-winner left his entire estate to his daughter.