Video camera constantly in hand, Heath Ledger meticulously documented his daily life before Snapchat made it cool. Nine years after his tragically untimely death, Spike TV used Ledger’s personal footage to create a bittersweet glimpse into the man Ledger was, and the artist he could have been. Interweaving film footage, candid interviews with family and colleagues, and Ledger’s own recordings, I Am Heath Ledger is the ultimate tribute to an artist gone far too soon.
On the set of Brokeback Mountain, Ledger met his partner, Michelle Williams. As Ledger himself says in documentary footage, “It’s incredible to what extent this film has changed my life. It was quite miraculous.”
Actually, Williams and Ledger had met earlier — in 2003, on the set of Ned Kelly. In the documentary, Williams described their initial electricity. “I remember the first day on set, I was blown away. I just felt an incredible connection very quickly. So intense that it was sort of, quite shocking,” she said.
One year later, Williams was cast to play Ledger’s wife in Brokeback Mountain. Soon after, that same old chemistry from Ned Kelly was brewing.
In fact, director Ang Lee was able to pinpoint the exact moment when everyone knew Ledger and Williams were falling in love. While filming Brokeback Mountain’s toboggan scene, the sled carrying Ledger and Williams crashed. Williams twisted her knee and needed medical attention.
As Lee put it, “When we reached the hospital, we saw Heath, trying to hold her hand to comfort her. It was pretty obvious he was interested in her. That pretty quickly happened.”
Lee wasn’t kidding; the pair got together on the set of the film. Ledger’s childhood friend Kane Manera recounts how soon after that Ledger told him, “‘I got a surprise. I’m going to be a father.’ He was pumped. He was so excited.”
Ledger and Williams’ daughter, Matilda Rose, was born in October 2005, three months before Brokeback was released. It’s at this point in the documentary that Ledger’s parents, friends, and three sisters all assume the same dreamy sheen as they speak of Ledger’s relationship to his daughter.
His sister, Ashleigh Bell, put it succinctly: “Being a dad was his favorite thing he ever did.”
In their apartment in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, Ledger and Williams made a life with their daughter. His long-time agent, Steve Alexander, said, “Blazing through New York with Matilda on his shoulders. That’s when he was totally happy.”
Though Ledger died when Matilda was only 2 years old, he left her with a gift. As the story goes, Ledger had sent a grand piano to his musician friend, Ben Harper. A few weeks after sending the gift, Ledger asked Harper to write a song for his then unborn daughter.
“Nothing has ever been asked of me that was that precious,” said Harper.
What emerged was the song “Happy Ever After in Your Eyes,” which is even more a tear-jerker once you realize it's steeped in the reality of what happened in 2008, when Ledger accidentally overdosed on medication and died.
Without sensationalizing Ledger and Williams’ breakup, which would come in 2007, the documentary instead focuses on Ledger at his happiest.
Perhaps we’ll leave it to Ledger to sum up those years best. Of his daughter and girlfriend, Ledger said, “That smile, it just brightens your day, it really does. I’m incredibly proud of both of them.”
I Am Heath Ledger airs on Spike TV May 17.
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