Heath Ledger is dead at 28.  If he were not famous — would he deserve the celebrity mega-media coverage being blanketed upon us in the wake of his wake?


Are we wrongly obsessed with celebrity or does the mainstream media
teach us to acquiesce our better value judgments to venerate ordinary
people who may have happened to appear in the movies or on television?

Is the cause of Heath’s death important?  If yes, why?

Did the trappings of celebrity kill him — or was he cursed from birth?

Why should we care about Heath Ledger’s death when so few of us thrive in life?

Why does he matter to us?
Is there a human disconnect that so many people publicly mourn Heath’s
death while nary a moment of pause is taken for the death of a neighbor
up the street?

21 Comments

  1. I think being a celebrity these days does put you at more risk of an early death – you have access to money far quicker then most and access to self indulgence more than most and of course once you are in the public eye – you stay there – warts and all – and that creates pressures and stresses all of its own. Burning the candle at both ends and in the middle brings you to meltdown pretty quickly.
    I think it is one of the perils of *Instant* success.
    It is good that the talented are recognised – it is a shame that *instant* recognition or early recognition often happens before a person has the mental and emotional capacity to deal with it.
    It is sadly happening more often – we only have to look at the antics of Spears, Lohan, Docherty and Hilton to see how quickly celebrity, fame and fortune can spiral out of control.
    There is a whole bastion of lottery winners in the UK who have been unable to cope with the fame and fortune that winning “the big one” has bought them.
    So yes I would say celebrity does put you at a higher risk of an early death – especially in the current younger generation.
    I suspect the cause/ manner of his death is important to some – especially if it is found that it was a deliberate (rather than accidental) overdose of prescription medicine.
    There is no doubt it is his celebrity status that has caused the public wake – not dissimilar to the outpouring after the death of Diana. There are also parallels with the death of Anna Nicole Smith.
    Is it important to me? – not really – no more so than any other early death – in his case I think it is a sad case of waste of life and talent.
    I would be far more inclined to mourn a neighbour than a celebrity – but then again I am far more in touch with my neighbours than I am any celebrities.

  2. Hi Nicola!
    I think you’re right that celebrity gives one access to power and its tricks — and part of that meme is easy access to drugs and women and other immoral temptations. It takes a strong person to reject the “yes” people and the hangers-on and the free offers of self-indulgent pleasure.
    We have a problem with idolatry in the USA. Instead of honoring your children or your friends or your extended family — you are instead hooked into the glossy magazines and the TV interview shows and you are expected to push all your unrequited love and adoration at a screen and a page that cannot respond in kind.
    So that admiration and longing is offered into the world but never accepted. That sort of fandom is dangerous for the self and for the celebrity.
    When these celebrities are allowed into our bedrooms and dreams, we begin to see a pattern of disconnection where people identify more with the celebrity than the world around them. Celebrity babies are venerated, as are birthdays and drug addictions and any other non-seismic moment… while those at home, in the immediate family… IN THE SAME ROOM with the adorer… are left to wonder what it would take to get the same sort of love and attention.

  3. I had no idea it was that bad ………….. that must be very difficult to *process* as a child – no wonder we have a generation of disaffected teenagers ( soon to be parents) growing up. ( Do you think that having children so young (as teenagers) is those teenagers saying we want some love and attention too? )

  4. Nicola —
    American culture for children is quickly dissolving into the soundbite and cover image. I suppose it’s an effort to escape the gloom of their everyday lives and for that mess I blame the disaffected parents who do not want to be bothered with tending the dreams of their offspring. You cannot be selfish as a parent. You must give up your life for your children and many parents refuse to do that but they still want to evolutionary payoff anyway.
    There’s an old chestnut here that the reason young girls get pregnant is to replace the loss of affection from their absent/uncaring/inattentive fathers. The key, some people argue, is for fathers in American to be deeply invested in the love and caring of their female children and to not be afraid to touch them and kiss them and hug them as often as they can. The boy children get physical contact from their fathers by playing sports and roughhousing. Girls need tenderness and overt affection from their fathers and if they do not get that intimate attention they crave, they will turn to the street, friends, and classmates to get it and a baby, those girls imagine, is the ultimate bundle of love and unbridled joy.
    Here is part of the alarming timeline of Heath’s death:

    2:45 p.m. Masseuse Diana Wolozin arrived, called Ledger on his cell phone to wake him up. When he didn’t answer, she went into the bedroom and began to set up a massage table, assuming Ledger was still sleeping.
    Around 3:10 p.m. When she called his name and shook him, he was cold to the touch. She used Ledger’s cell phone to call Mary-Kate Olsen in California, who said she would call security personnel and have them rush over to Broome Street.
    3:26 p.m. Wolozin grew more worried and called Olsen back, saying she would call 911.
    3:36 p.m. Wolozin tried CPR and paramedics tried CPR and a defibrillator before pronouncing him dead, police spokesman Paul Browne said. The first security guard arrived at the same time as paramedics, and two arrived along with police. No one was ever alone with Ledger’s body, Browne said.

    http://www.newsday.com/news/local/newyork/ny-nyledg245549577jan24,0,4355387.story?page=2

  5. The Daily Mail seems quite sympathetic – it does sound from this that he was ill equipped to deal with his fame.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/showbiz/showbiznews.html?in_article_id=510066&in_page_id=1773
    That time line is very telling – 911 should have been first.
    I appreciate the comments about fathers and daughters …………. there is this whole thing going on about fathers being less affectionate to their daughters once they hit puberty. The daughters are no longer allowed to sit on daddies lap – or romp in bed with them or even be in the bathroom at the same time ……….. there is a huge withdrawal of physical signs of affection at a time when hormones and emotions are raging.

  6. Nicola —
    The little I know about Heath — it seems the beginning of the peak of his decline came in the breakup of his relationship with his baby’s mother a year or so ago… many men fail without the love of a good women… we’re pretty fragile in many ways without that sort of ongoing female companionship.
    911 should have absolutely been the first call — but it was not and we need to know why. Any reasonable person would dial 911 immediately upon the first suspicion something was seriously wrong.
    Yes, there is a cringing of fathers from their daughters as they age. Part of it is a public fear of showing affection and then later being accused of molesting your daughter:
    “He had his arm around her shoulder, then he squeezed his chest in her to breasts and then kissed her three times!”
    It’s a rotting shame that it is socially better to be distant and unaffectionate to your children than to be hands on and touching and kissing them up all day.
    The bloom of puberty has many misunderstood meanings and both boys and girls need direct parental involvement in order to successfully move beyond the pull of hormones and the call of the wild streets.

  7. I would guess that celebrity carries with it certain risks; the lack of privacy alone would get wearing. It also carries a great deal of tolerance though. Celebrities can just about get away with murder.
    I personally believe that the only effect of Ledger’s fame was most everyone knowing that he was dead.

  8. THANK YOU!!! Brad Renfro is totally forgotten. And he was such a cutie!
    The way he died doesn’t matter. I would be equally sad to hear of a neighbor who died so young and left a 2 year old to grow up fatherless.
    Love your blog!

  9. Hi blueseaglass —
    It is too bad Brad is so quickly dusted off. I think he was a much more innately talented actor than Heath. Heath always had an uncomfortable stiffness in his body that seemed forced and tense.
    I agree the means of his death is unimportant — what matters is the living and, as you so rightly suggest, the young child he left behind to wander around the earth without him.
    Thanks for the compliment!

  10. Or was it that the media in the USA loves to cover a story like this and make it more than it really is ? I don’t mean to be insensitive to someones death but in NYC on the same day how many people died ? The shameless media parade would be almost palatable if they were trying to send a message instead of milking the glam cash cow.

  11. Good morning, David–
    I have to say that Heath Ledger certainly stood out among the pack of young actors working today. I remember seeing him in 10 Things I Hate about You, (a film directed at teens and an attempt to modernize Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) about ten years ago. When I saw that film, I felt almost the same as I felt when I first saw Tom Cruise in Risky Business. That he would be a major star.
    But Heath followed quite a different path choosing more character-driven parts. He played Gibson’s son in The Patriot where his character died a tragic death ( I don’t remember exact how). He played a small part as the son of a racist sheriff in Monstor’s Ball who I believe later committed suicide. And then ofcourse played the ground-breaking cowboy role in Brokeback Mountain which blew away all stereotypes about gay men. I say if you didn’t cry in that one you weren’t human!!
    So I think he was certainly one of the special ones among young actors and clearly not in the business solely for the money. And many are lamenting the artistic loss and the maturity with which this beautiful young man chose his roles at only 28 years old.
    I only have sympathy for his family and friends as they navigate this media circus.