Prior to his return to New York from his last film assignment, in London, in January 2008, while he was apparently suffering from some kind of respiratory illness, he reportedly complained to his co-star from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Christopher Plummer, that he was continuing to have difficulty sleeping and taking pills to help with that problem: "Confirming earlier reports that Ledger hadn't been feeling well on set, Plummer says, 'we all caught colds because we were shooting outside on horrible, damp nights. But Heath's went on and I don't think he dealt with it immediately with the antibiotics.... I think what he did have was the walking pneumonia.' [...] On top of that, 'He was saying all the time, 'dammit, I can't sleep'... and he was taking all these pills to help him.'"
After his performance on stage at the 2005 Screen Actors Guild Awards, when he had giggled in presenting Brokeback Mountain as a nominee for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, the Los Angeles Times referred to his presentation as an "apparent gay spoof". Ledger called the Times later and explained that his levity resulted from stage fright, saying that he had been told that he would be presenting the award only minutes earlier; he stated: "I am so sorry and I apologise for my nervousness. I would be absolutely horrified if my stage fright was misinterpreted as a lack of respect for the film, the topic and for the amazing filmmakers."
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According to the police, Wolozin, who had arrived early for a 3:00 pm appointment with Ledger, called Ledger's friend Mary-Kate Olsen for help. Olsen, who was in California, directed a New York City private security guard to go to the scene. At 3:26 pm, "less than 15 minutes after she first saw him in bed and only a few moments after the first call to Ms. Olsen", Wolozin telephoned 9-1-1 "to say that Mr. Ledger was not breathing". At the urging of the 9-1-1 operator, Wolozin administered CPR, which was unsuccessful in reviving him.
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Portraying a variety of roles, from romantic heroes to the reluctantly oppressed, Ledger created a hodgepodge of characters that are deliberately unlike one another, stating "I feel like I am wasting my time if I repeat myself". He also reflected on his inability to be happy with his work, "I feel the same thing about everything I do. The day I say, 'It's good' is the day I should start doing something else." Ledger liked to wait between jobs so that he would start creatively hungry on new projects. In his own words, acting was about harnessing "the infinite power of belief," thus using belief as a tool for creating.
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In his penultimate film performance, Ledger played the Joker in Christopher Nolan's 2008 film The Dark Knight, which was released nearly six months after his death. While working on the film in London, Ledger told Sarah Lyall in their New York Times interview that he viewed The Dark Knight's Joker as a "psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy". For his work on The Dark Knight, Ledger posthumously won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, which his family accepted on his behalf, as well as numerous other posthumous awards, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor, which Christopher Nolan accepted for him. At the time of his death on 22 January 2008, Ledger had completed about half of the work for his final film performance as Tony in Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Gilliam chose to adapt the film after his death by having fellow actors Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell play "fantasy transformations" of his character so that Ledger's final performance could be seen in theatres.
Eleven months after Ledger's death, on 23 December 2008, Jake Coyle, writing for the Associated Press, announced that "Heath Ledger's death was voted 2008's top entertainment story by U.S. newspaper and broadcast editors surveyed by The Associated Press". He claimed that this was partially a result of the "shock and confusion" surrounding the circumstances of Ledger's death, as well as due to Ledger's "legacy [...] in a roundly acclaimed performance as the Joker in the year's biggest box office hit The Dark Knight".
On 11 December 2008, it was announced that Ledger had been nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture for his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight; he subsequently won the award at the 66th Golden Globe Awards ceremony telecast on NBC on 11 January 2009 with Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan accepting on his behalf.
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^ "A Place To Be: Reflections Of Nick Drake". A Place To Be. Archived from the original on 18 February 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2008. A Place To Be: a collection, a celebration, in film, photography, painting, drawing and prose, of the impact the music of Nick Drake has had on other artists ("Introductory film" includes excerpts of the music video, Black Eyed Dog, by Heath Ledger, among others.)