Nine years after Heath Ledger's tragic death, fans are still obsessed with his work, his life, and his demons. One particular urban legend holds that his fatal prescription drug overdose was related to his work on The Dark Knight, which he had recently finished shooting when he died. Some fans believe that he was so disturbed by months of immersion in the psychopathic character of the Joker that he ramped up his use of painkillers to cope, with disastrous results. It's a wild theory, but it seems much more compelling when you're watching the movie.
Now, that idea has finally been shut down once and for all by Heath's sister, Kate Ledger. She was in New York City on Sunday for the premiere of the new documentary about his life and career, I Am Heath Ledger. Speaking to reporters, she finally addressed those lingering rumors.
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!
Heath certainly seemed to enjoy playing the Joker, and fans felt the same way about his performance. He was posthumously awarded the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. But there's no question that the role was challenging for him. He told The New York Times in 2007 that filming The Dark Knight had taken a toll, adding that he was having sleep problems:
Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night. I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.
However, I Am Heath Ledger establishes that Heath had struggled with sleep problems for his entire life. The toxic combination of drugs found in his system after his death included sleep aids, which his family says were used by the 28-year-old to maintain an overly rigorous work schedule.
Maintaining that he did not have an opioid addiction, the Ledgers say he simply did not understand the dangerous interactions of the different medications he was taking, and suffered the consequences in the worst possible way. It was a tragically senseless end to the life of an immensely talented young actor.