Ledger's death affected the marketing campaign for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008) and also both the production and marketing of Terry Gilliam's film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, with both directors intending to celebrate and pay tribute to his work in these films. Although Gilliam temporarily suspended production on the latter film, he expressed determination to "salvage" it, perhaps using computer-generated imagery (CGI), and dedicated it to Ledger. In February 2008, as a "memorial tribute to the man many have called one of the best actors of his generation," Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell signed on to take over Ledger's role, becoming multiple incarnations of his character, Tony, transformed in this "magical re-telling of the Faust story". The three actors donated their fees for the film to Ledger's and Williams's daughter.
Ledger died on the afternoon of 22 January 2008 due to a drug overdose. A few months before his death, Ledger had finished filming his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. At the time of his death, The Dark Knight was in its editing-phase and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was in the midst of filming, in which he was playing his last role as Tony. His untimely death also affected the subsequent promotion of The Dark Knight. His role as the Joker in The Dark Knight earned him widespread acclaim and popularity from both fans and critics alike, and is often regarded as one of the greatest performances in film history. Ledger also received numerous posthumous accolades for his performance in The Dark Knight, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, a Best Actor International Award at the 2008 Australian Film Institute Awards, the 2008 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor, the 2009 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, and the 2009 BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor.
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"Some people find their shtick," Ledger reflected on the categorisation of style. "I never figured out who 'Heath Ledger' is on film: 'This is what you expect when you hire me, and it will be recognisable'... People always feel compelled to sum you up, to presume that they have you and can describe you. That's fine. But there are so many stories inside of me and a lot I want to achieve outside of one flat note."