Heath Ledger deserved better goodbye



by DAVID L. CODDON
SOURCE: Sign On San Diego.com

Ennis Del Mar was a man of few words, but powerful passions.
It required an actor possessed of uncommon instinct and courage to bring to the screen the vulnerable and conflicted hero of Annie Proulx’s short story, “Brokeback Mountain.”

Heath Ledger was that actor. Without emotional eruptions or cowboy clichés, he inhabited a character whose struggle with a profound love and loss – both beyond his comprehension – was unforgettable.

He died Tuesday at 28. Rarely has the announcement of the Academy Award nominations, made the same day, seemed so unimportant.

An internalizing actor whose film roles consistently defied the leading-man expectations assumed of him, Ledger chose to follow his conscience and his muse. Before “Brokeback,” for which he received an Oscar nomination in 2006, Ledger appeared in “Monster’s Ball” and “Lords of Dogtown.” We saw him last year in Todd Haynes’ out-there “I’m Not There.” For a movie star, he worked – and lived – about as quietly as did Ennis Del Mar.

How unfitting, then, that the hours following the discovery of Ledger’s body in his New York apartment were consumed by a paparazzi-and Internet “media”-feeding frenzy. Among the worst offenders: TMZ.com, which boasts the stink of respectability because it has a TV show and because its managing editor, Harvey Levin, is a recurring talking head on “Today,” among other shows. The site may as well have changed its name to “All Heath All the Time,” updating viewers seemingly by the second with grainy photos and lurid tidbits like: “The People Who Found Heath,” “Jack (as in Nicholson) on Heath: I Warned Him!”, “How Heath’s Body Was Discovered,” “Michelle Williams (Ledger’s ex-fiance’e and the mother of their child) – Devastated,” and “Inside the Building Where Heath Died.”

There was more: Lindsey (as in Lohan) was distraught at Ledger’s death. Ledger was not at the apartment of Mary-Kate Olsen. And photos, photos and more photos of Ledger’s body being removed from the building.

TMZ was not alone in – I don’t know any other way to say this – the fine art of ghoulish reporting. Culprits abounded – in both mainstream and tabloid coverage.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this, and it won’t be the last.

I just didn’t expect Heath Ledger to be in the middle. Silly, naive me.

Sorry me, too. Sorry for a child named Matilda, now without a father. Sorry for those who read and watch and listen, who deserve better. Sorry for those whom I must accept, like it or not, are my colleagues in the media.

Sorry, most of all, for Heath Ledger, who deserved at least as much dignity as he gave Ennis Del Mar.

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About R.J. Keller

R. J. Keller is the author of Waiting For Spring. An avid independent movie enthusiast, she was Managing Editor of The Movie Fanatic website and created episodes of the writer-centric YouTube series, Inside The Writers' Studio, with author Kristen Tsetsi. She co-hosted Book Chatter with Stacey Cochran from 2011-2014. She lives in Central Maine with her family, where she enjoys gardening, collecting geeky memorabilia, and watching other people cook. View all posts by R.J. Keller

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