Death of a Cowboy: Students Reflect on Ledger’s Life and Death


Published: January 31, 2008

On Jan. 22, after what appeared to be an accidental overdose of sleeping pills, Heath Ledger was found dead in his rented SoHo apartment. He had most recently been in Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There” and had just finished work on the Batman sequel “Dark Knight.”

Ledger at the 2006 Academy Awards. The actor received a Best Actor nomination for his role as Ennis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain.” (Amichael Goulding/MCT)

When the Aussie Ledger arrived in Hollywood, he made a series of teen comedies in the vein of his first film, “10 Things I Hate About You,” in which he memorably wooed Julia Stiles with a goofy but sincere rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”  Andrea Duarte, FCLC ’11, became a fan of Ledger’s when she saw him in his debut. “I first saw him in ‘10 Things I Hate About You’ and I absolutely adored him. I think that he was an extraordinary actor with great talent.”

Marija Jurisic, FCLC ’11, felt,  “You forget that it’s Heath Ledger because he gets so into character.” Her favorite Ledger movie is, “‘A Knight’s Tale’ because it is so hilarious and not as serious as most of the roles he played.”   Ledger also took on roles in “The Patriot” and “The Four Feathers,” but some felt that his work in smaller films was strongest.  Margret Palumbo, FCLC ’11, felt that, “One of his most memorable roles was in the independent movie ‘Lords of Dogtown.’ It conveys best the idea that Ledger chose his roles carefully.”

Heath Ledger, however, will probably be most remembered for wearing the faded jeans and hat of Ennis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain,” a role than earned Ledger his  first and only Oscar nomination. This film was a landmark in the portrayal of gays in cinema because of the two lead performances, as well as director Ang Lee’s dignified treatment of the controversial subject matter. Both Ledger and costar Jake Gyllenhaal received praise for their performances, but it was Ledger’s quieter and less explosive Del Mar who truly got noticed by the critics; The New York Times film reviewer Stephen Holden even wrote of Ledger’s performance, “Mr. Ledger magically and mysteriously disappears beneath the skin of his lean, sinewy character.” He went on to compare the performance to “the best of Marlon Brando.”

Just as the reviewers did, Fordham students seemed to think that “Brokeback Mountain” was Ledger at his understated, but heartbreaking, best.  Christina Rivera, FCLC ’11, “will remember mostly how much versatility and dignity he brought to each role.” Christine Morano, FCLC ’09, also loved Ledger’s work in “Brokeback Mountain.”  “His character was a difficult character to play—gruff, stony and resolute, juggling family life and his sexuality, but Ledger managed to pull it off in an exceedingly believable way,” Morano said.

Fordham students were stunned by Ledger’s death.  None of them seemed to expect him to die at such a young age, because he kept out of the tabloids, wasn’t known to have substance abuse problems and had a “cleaner” image.  Rivera was at work when she and her colleagues heard the news, and in describing their reaction, she said, “No one could believe it and everyone stood very still and somber for about 15 minutes. I couldn’t believe someone this talented and young was gone, especially since he had so much more great work to showcase to the world. It is a terrible loss for the acting community.”