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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Ledger was born in Perth, Western Australia, the son of Sally Ledger (née Ramshaw), a French teacher, and Kim Ledger, a racing car driver and mining engineer whose family established and owned the Ledger Engineering Foundry. The Sir Frank Ledger Charitable Trust is named after his great-grandfather. He had English, Irish, and Scottish ancestry. Ledger attended Mary's Mount Primary School in Gooseberry Hill, and later Guildford Grammar School, where he had his first acting experiences, starring in a school production as Peter Pan at the age of 13. His parents separated when he was 10 and divorced when he was 11. Ledger's older sister Kate, an actress and later a publicist, to whom he was very close, inspired his acting on stage, and his love of Gene Kelly inspired his successful choreography, leading to Guildford Grammar's 60-member team's "first all-boy victory" at the Rock Eisteddfod Challenge. Ledger's two half-sisters are Ashleigh Bell (b. 1990), his mother's daughter with her second husband and his stepfather Roger Bell, and Olivia Ledger (b. 1996), his father's daughter with second wife and his stepmother Emma Brown.
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Ledger's relationship with the press in Australia was sometimes turbulent, and it led to his abandonment of plans for his family to reside part-time in Sydney. In 2004, he strongly denied press reports alleging that "he spat at journalists on the Sydney set of the film Candy", or that one of his relatives had done so later, outside Ledger's Sydney home. On 13 January 2006, "Several members of the paparazzi retaliated ... squirting Ledger and Williams with water pistols on the red carpet at the Sydney premiere of Brokeback Mountain".
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On 27 September 2008, Ledger's father Kim stated that "the family has agreed to leave the US$16.3 million fortune to Matilda," adding: "There is no claim. Our family has gifted everything to Matilda." In October 2008, Forbes estimated Ledger's annual earnings from October 2007 through October 2008 – including his posthumous share of The Dark Knight's gross income of "US$1 billion in box office revenue worldwide" – as "US$20 million".
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While the medications found in the toxicological analysis may be prescribed in the United States for insomnia, anxiety, pain, or common cold symptoms (doxylamine), the vast majority of physicians in the US are extremely reluctant to prescribe multiple benzodiazepines (e.g., diazepam, alprazolam, and temazepam) to a single patient, let alone prescribe the same to a patient already taking a mix of oxycodone and hydrocodone. Although the Associated Press and other media reported that "police estimate Ledger's time of death between 1 pm and 2:45 pm " (on 22 January 2008), the Medical Examiner's Office announced that it would not be publicly disclosing the official estimated time of death. The official announcement of the cause and manner of Ledger's death heightened concerns about the growing problems of prescription drug abuse or misuse and combined drug intoxication (CDI).
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The next day, at 10:50 am Australian time, Ledger's parents and sister appeared outside his mother's house in Applecross, a riverside suburb of Perth, and read a short statement to the media expressing their grief and desire for privacy. Within the next few days, memorial tributes were communicated by family members; the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd; the Deputy Premier of Western Australia, Eric Ripper; Warner Bros. (distributor of The Dark Knight) and thousands of Ledger's fans around the world.
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Travers, Peter."Sundance: Shock". The Travers Take: News and Reviews from Rolling Stone's Movie Critic, Rolling Stone (Blog), rollingstone.com, 22 January 2008. Includes hyperlinked feature: Video Review: A Look at Heath Ledger's Best Performances (video by Jennifer Hsu, with audio commentary provided by Travers), 1 February 2008. Retrieved 21 April 2008.
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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.
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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".
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