Heath Ledger, who was found dead two days ago in circumstances yet to be fully ascertained, was a genuine talent. His performances in a number of poor films such as The Patriot and Candy were often the highlight, and his turn in the Oscar success Brokeback Mountain was startling and exceptional. His appearance as ‘The Joker’ in Christopher Nolan’s forthcoming Batman film ‘The Dark Knight’ was attracting advance raves, and the 28-year old had clearly become that rare phenomenon: both box-office and critically respected. And yet, he is another example of the reluctant, vaunted figure unable to cope with the delirious, dangerous celebrity sideshow that accompanies any success in the contemporary entertainment industry.
Ledger, who by all accounts attempted to live as ordinary a day-to-day existence as he could, reviled press junkets, hangers-on and paparazzi-led scrutiny. The common response to such distaste for de rigeur star-trappings is always the same: it’s the actor/singer/sports stars’ choice and for such success a pound of flesh is fair game. Kurt Cobain fell by the wayside and amidst mutterings of ill-equipped temperament and lack of self worth perpetuating such a downward spiral; the general consensus was, and is, a worryingly matter-of-fact shrug and a rueful suggestion of misfortune, as opposed to a questioning of the relentlessly burgeoning juggernaut that continues to gawp and goad with no regard for reverberations or consequences. That ‘Hillbilly Heroin’ drugs such as Vicodin are considered an under-the-radar perk as opposed to a fraught form of legal self-medication is understandable, but not in this case. The unravelling tale of a lonely, estranged acting talent hanging around an apartment before succumbing to drugs, wilfully or not, has been met with the same kind of muted schadenfreude that will continue to perpetuate vacuous voyeurism of the kind that saw hordes of presumably hitherto uninterested people snapping up Ledger DVD’s yesterday. The question might be asked: what are they watching, and why? And should we simply look at it as an example of zeitgeisty curiosity and nothing more?