Why has actor Heath Ledger's premature death left me stricken with grief? I don't usually get this way with celebrities, and I feel a bit silly about it, but I'm not alone. Even my mother and boyfriend said they were incredibly shaken and sadden by the news of his death. It's not just because he was a great actor (which he was) and thus a great loss to film. He also had a two-year-old daughter and various film projects in the works. He also seemed like someone who never exuded entitlement or snobbishness because of his fame. He seemed, in photographs and interviews and in his films (where he disappeared into his roles), like a real person. You could see him walking down the street and he actually looked like he belonged: usually celebrities seem incongruous with their surroundings (at least in New York -- perhaps it's different in LA).
This makes the press' obsession and sensationlization of the actor's death particularly despicable. The bold headlines in the New York Post and the Daily News speculating suicide or an affair with Mary Kate Olsen or whatever just make me want to vomit. The actor had pneumonia and was already taking sleeping pills to help with his insomnia: the combination of prescription drugs and illness probably had something to do with his death. It's a profoundly sad, but not an entirely glamorous, way to die. Which is why these publications go out of their way to demean or sensationalize it; they'll sell more papers that way. Sick.
Anyway, A.O. Scott has a beautiful tribute to the actor in The New York Times. Read it and remember Ledger for his haunting work in Brokeback and Monster's Ball and for his infinite charm and charisma in 10 Things I Hate About You. (Seriously.)