Ledger went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, becoming the second person to win a posthumous Academy Award for acting (after fellow Australian actor Peter Finch, who won for 1976's Network), as well as the first comic-book movie actor to win an Oscar for their acting. Ledger's family attended the ceremony on 22 February 2009, with his parents and sister accepting the award on stage on his behalf. Following talks with the Ledger family in Australia, the Academy determined that Ledger's daughter, Matilda Rose, would own the award. However, due to Matilda's age, she will not gain full ownership of the statuette until her eighteenth birthday in 2023. Her mother, Michelle Williams, will hold the statuette in trust for Matilda until that time.
After Ledger's death, in response to some press reports about his will, filed in New York City on 28 February 2008, and his daughter's access to his financial legacy, his father, Kim Ledger, said that he considered the financial well-being of Heath's daughter Matilda Rose an "absolute priority", whilst also stating that her mother, Michelle Williams, was "an integral part of our family". He added, "They will be taken care of and that's how Heath would want it to be". Some of Ledger's relatives may be challenging the legal status of his will signed in 2003, prior to his involvement with Williams and the birth of their daughter and not updated to include them, which divides half of his estate between his parents and half among his siblings; they claim that there is a second, unsigned will, which leaves most of that estate to Matilda Rose. Williams' father, Larry Williams, has also joined the controversy about Ledger's will as it was filed in New York City soon after his death.
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He was working with Scottish screenwriter and producer Allan Scott on an adaptation of the 1983 novel The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis, which would have been his first feature film as a director. He also intended to act in the film, with Canadian actress Ellen Page proposed in the lead role. Ledger's final directorial work, in which he shot two music videos before his death, premiered in 2009. The music videos, completed for Modest Mouse and Grace Woodroofe, include an animated feature for Modest Mouse's song, "King Rat", and the Woodroofe video for her cover of David Bowie's "Quicksand". The "King Rat" video premiered on 4 August 2009.
From 2000 to 2005, he starred in supporting roles as Gabriel Martin, the eldest son of Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), in The Patriot (2000), and as Sonny Grotowski, the son of Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton), in Monster's Ball (2001); and in leading or title roles in A Knight's Tale (2001), The Four Feathers (2002), The Order (2003), Ned Kelly (2003), Casanova (2005), The Brothers Grimm (2005), and Lords of Dogtown (2005). In 2001, he won a ShoWest Award as "Male Star of Tomorrow".
^ Jump up to: a b "Ledger's Uncles: Michelle Williams May Have to Fight for Matilda's Inheritance". Fox News. 10 March 2008. Retrieved 23 April 2008. Kim Ledger moved quickly to deny his granddaughter and Michelle Williams would be left without an inheritance and said Matilda was his family's absolute priority. 'Matilda is our absolute priority and Michelle is an integral part of our family ... They will be taken care of and that's how Heath would want it to be,' Kim Ledger says in the statement. ... The uncles estimated their nephew's estate would be worth Australian $20 million after his earnings from the latest 'Batman' movie were calculated.
Released in July 2008, The Dark Knight broke several box office records and received both popular and critical accolades, especially with regard to Ledger's performance as the Joker. Even film critic David Denby, who does not praise the film overall in his pre-release review in The New Yorker, evaluates Ledger's work highly, describing his performance as both "sinister and frightening" and Ledger as "mesmerising in every scene", concluding: "His performance is a heroic, unsettling final act: this young actor looked into the abyss." Attempting to dispel widespread speculations that Ledger's performance as the Joker had in any way led to his death (as Denby and others suggest), Ledger's co-star and friend Christian Bale, who played opposite him as Batman, has stressed that, as an actor, Ledger greatly enjoyed meeting the challenges of creating that role, an experience that Ledger himself described as "the most fun I've ever had, or probably ever will have, playing a character". Terry Gilliam also refuted the claims that playing the Joker made him crazy, calling it "absolute nonsense" and going on to say, "Heath was so solid. His feet were on the ground and he was the least neurotic person I've ever met."
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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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Directors who have worked with the actor praised him for his creativity, seriousness and intuition. "I've never felt as old as I did watching Heath explore his talents," The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan has written, expressing amazement over the actor's working process, genuine curiosity and charisma. Marc Forster, who directed Ledger in Monster's Ball, complimented him as taking the job "very seriously", being disciplined, observant, and understanding and intuitive. In 2007, director Todd Haynes compared Ledger's presence to actor James Dean, casting Ledger as Robbie Clarke, a fictive personification of Bob Dylan in I'm Not There. Drawing on the similar characteristics between the actors, Haynes further highlighted Ledger's "precocious seriousness" and intuition. He also felt that Ledger had a rare maturity beyond his years." Ledger, however, disconnected himself and acting from perfectionism. "I'm always gonna pull myself apart and dissect [the work]. I mean, there's no such thing as perfection in what [actors] do. Pornos are more perfect than we are, because they're actually fucking."
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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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Bon Iver's "Perth" was inspired by Heath Ledger. Justin Vernon, the lead singer and songwriter of the American indie folk band, revealed back in 2011 that he had begun working on the song in 2008 and was scheduled to meet with a music video director who was good friends with Ledger, Matt Amato. "The first thing I worked on, the riff and the beginning melodies, was the first song on the record, 'Perth,'" Vernon told Exclaim!. Amato was directing the band's "The Wolves (Act I & II)" music video the day that Ledger died. "It was no longer about just making a Bon Iver music video anymore," Vernon says. "This was now our chance to be there with Matt as he grieved. It was a three-day wake." Amato told Vernon stories about Ledger that eventually became the inspiration for "Perth," the opening track to the band's second studio album Bon Iver, Bon Iver (2011).
^ Boucher, Geoff; Gold, Matea; Lieberman, Paul (23 January 2008). "Ledger's death is a shock to Hollywood, fans". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 April 2009. Minutes after the news of Ledger's death broke, several hundred people gathered outside the Broome Street apartment building where Ledger had been living ... television crews and area residents were joined by fans, including some Brooklyn acting students.