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Heath Ledger’s Sister Says Playing the Joker Didn’t Torment Him

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

People like a legend. When Heath Ledger died of a prescription drug overdose in January 2008, he had just completed principal photography on his Academy Award-winning role of the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s grown-up Batman flick The Dark Knight. With zero foundation in confirmed public knowledge, a narrative sprung up around Ledger’s troubled final days, that the psychological demands of portraying a figure as sick and twisted as the Joker weighed too heavily on the actor. The apocryphal notion that the role ultimately drove Ledger to suicide is way off the mark, however, explains Ledger’s sister Kate.

She’s been doing publicity for the family-sanctioned documentary I Am Heath Ledger in advance of its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, and she’s taken the opportunity to clear up some of the darker clouds surrounding her brother’s passing. The Telegraph reported on her appearance at the Tribeca press conference, where she hoped to set everyone straight:

I was really shocked, because that was him having fun… Every report was coming out that he was depressed and that [the role] was taking this toll on him, and we’re going, honestly, it was the absolute opposite. It couldn’t be more wrong. He had an amazing sense of humor, and I guess maybe only his family and friends knew that, but he was having fun. He wasn’t depressed about the Joker!

There you have it! What she‘s saying makes a lot of sense, too; watching the performance, even in his more sinister moments, it’s pretty clear that Ledger’s having a blast with such a colorful character. When I think back on The Dark Knight, the image that always seems to stick with me is the brief, wordless shot of Ledger‘s Joker sticking his head out of the back seat of a hijacked cop car, lips flapping in the wind like a happy hound. He may have been a tortured soul, but acting always seemed to bring him a pure sort of pleasure.

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