It was 10 years ago today, on January 22, 2008, that actor Heath Ledger was found dead in his apartment from what was later discovered to be an “abuse of prescribed medications.” Almost immediately, there were rumors that the actor’s mental and physical transformation into The Joker for his legendary performance in The Dark Knight, which won him an Oscar, had something to do with his passing. But according to his sister, Kate, that’s all they were: rumors.
“I was really shocked, because that was him having fun,” she said. “Every report was coming out that he was depressed and that [the role] was taking this toll on him, and we’re going, honestly, it was the absolute opposite. It couldn’t be more wrong. He had an amazing sense of humor, and I guess maybe only his family and friends knew that, but he was having fun.”
Ledger left behind a fine film legacy in roles as varied as the long-haired teenage heartthrob in 10 Things I Hate About You, an Oscar-nominated Wyoming ranch hand in Brokeback Mountain, and one of many Bob Dylans in I’m Not There, but The Joker was his masterpiece. I still remember the Halloween after The Dark Knight came out, when you couldn’t go 10 feet without someone, in full white-face makeup, doing their best “never start with the head” impression. It was a morbid shadow of the real thing — if only they had a “Joker diary.”
In a clip from the documentary series Too Young to Die (which you can watch on Netflix), Ledger’s father flips through the diary his son kept while preparing for The Dark Knight. “I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices — it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh,” Heath said in 2007. “I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath — someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts. He’s just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown.” Here’s a look through the pages.