Tuesday marks five years since the sudden and shocking death of actor Heath Ledger, best remembered for his Academy Award-winning turn as The Joker in “The Dark Knight.”
While I vacillate as to whether Ledger would’ve taken home the golden statuette had he lived to see the ceremony, his passing remains a defining pop culture moment for members of a certain generation.
I recall being unusually affected by his death from an accidental combination of prescription drugs, perhaps because we were so close in age. He had grown from an actor I barely acknowledged into a screen presence I respected. I had begun to associate his name with quality work.
Initially, I pigeonholed him as “that dude from ’10 Things I Hate About You.’ ” No role reshaped that image more than “Brokeback Mountain,” playing Ennis Del Mar, a sheep herder with a complicated sexual orientation.
Next, I caught him as one of several Bob Dylan vignettes in the surrealistic biopic “I’m Not There,” when he played on perceptions of himself as well as Dylan.
When hearing he was cast as The Joker, I doubted he would bring enough darkness to the role, but I was wrong in every conceivable way. From the first moment he appears on screen, he is unrecognizable as Ledger, fully embodying and redefining the supervillain’s silver screen presence.
For me, the anniversary of Ledger’s passing isn’t so much a reminder of a loss of innocence as it is the fragility of life. He died at what might’ve been the zenith of his career.
Even if picking up the Academy Award for his performance in a superhero film was tantamount to a lifetime achievement award, it’s a powerful portrayal for which to be remembered.
Foster comes out
Jodie Foster’s coming out speech at Sunday’s Golden Globe awards was shocking and revelatory, particularly to those who are surprised to learn that, after 37 years, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.
Even since Ledger made “Brokeback,” our culture’s acceptance of LGBT relationships has evolved. The fact that the discussion centered less on Foster’s reveal than the delivery of her speech suggests that Americans are less hung up on who a person’s attracted to than ever before.
While Foster’s remarks confirmed a long-lingering rumor, it has to be said that American sentiment is developing quickly on this issue.
The anecdotal evidence is stacking up: Numerous states have given the thumbs up to same-sex marriage. The Department of Defense dumped the muddled and ridiculous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on California’s Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage, in March.
It’s an unfair parallel, especially with Martin Luther King Jr. Day so close, but I see the fight for LGBT rights as this generation’s equivalent to the Civil Rights movement.
I don’t want to minimize the hardships or the difficulties of one fight or the other. They’re different kinds of battles fought in different periods in our nation’s history, but both are for equality and fairness.
I do think there are similarities in that it is the social and cultural battle of a particular era and that, ultimately, as a society, our ideas about sexuality and relationships will continue to grow and evolve.
In that light, Foster’s coming out is a step toward that, just as “Brokeback” and Ledger helped spark the cultural dialogue about gays in our society.
If there’s anything to glean from the anniversary of Ledger’s passing and Foster’s coming out speech, it’s that we should all find love wherever and with whomever we see fit, while we can.
To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.