The untimely death of Heath Ledger—part of the burgeoning new academic inquiry called Jokerology—is one of the several morbid topics I like to keep up-to-date on. As the anniversary of Ledger’s passing approaches on the 22nd of this month, here is a list of strange coincidences, connections, and resonances related to the actor and his most famous role.
I. Heath Ledger and Conrad Veidt
The two actors who arguably have had the biggest influence on the character the Joker, Heath Ledger and Conrad Veidt, have an interesting bit of synchronicity tying their lives together past the many decades.
Conrad Veidt played Gwynplaine—known as the original inspiration for the Joker—in the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs. He was born on January 22 and died on April 3.
Ledger—who of course played the Joker in The Dark Knight, was born on April 4 (not April 3, but pretty damn close) and died on January 22.
II. Heath Ledger and Brandon Lee
Both Ledger and Lee played comic book characters in white makeup, black smeary eye-paint, and red “extended” mouth lines. The ultimate origins of both designs are based on the clown…the Trickster. Both characters had their roots in the Trickster archetype.
Both Lee and Ledger rose to super-stardom posthumously in films released after their death. Both Lee and Ledger also had to have body doubles stand in for them to finish their last movies; Ledger’s final film being not The Dark Knight but The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus (a film chock full of creepy synchronicities and esoteric symbolism, which I’ll have to devote an entire post on another time).
As a bizarre addendum, consider the case of professional wrestler Sting. He based his 1990s version of his “character” on the face-paint and brooding persona of Lee’s Crow. He would later add red to his makeup, adopt a more insane attitude, and ape the Ledger Joker, clearly understanding the deep connection between the two (and exploiting it for wrestling hijinks).
III. Heath Ledger, Brandon Lee, Johnny Depp, River Phoenix, Christian Slater, Wynona Ryder, Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger
The connections between these key actors are strange…resonant…just bear with me:
First, the design for Johnny Depp’s character Tonto in Disney’s The Lone Ranger was based on the painting “I Am Crow”…
Which looks a lot like Brandon Lee’s Crow…
Depp has a crow tattoo in tribute to Brandon Lee:
Consider these posters for The Crow, The Dark Knight, and The Lone Ranger:
Depp was one of three actors who took over for Ledger after his death to finish The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus—a gig he gave away the payment for (to Ledger’s daughter).
1993 was a bad year for young actors; Brandon Lee died on March 31, and River Phoenix passed on October 31. Phoenix died in front of the Viper Club.
The Viper Club, owned by…
Christian Slater offered to take on the role in Interview With A Vampire that Phoenix was unable to complete, giving away his payment for the gig (much as Depp did with Parnassus) to Phoenix’s favorite charity.
Ryder famously going out with Depp in the 1990s, her co-star in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands:
Ryder co-starred with Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice…
Keaton went on later to star in Burton’s Batman in the title role, alongside Jack Nicholson as the Joker…
Nicholson allegedly said regarding “Joker” Ledger’s demise: “I warned him.”
IV. Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, and Jared Leto
Ledger and Christian Bale, of course, starred in The Dark Knight together.
They also played aspects of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There.
Bale co-starred with Jared Leto in American Psycho…
And Leto would later go on to play the Joker in Suicide Squad.
Now we are up to date.
On Instagram—tying it all together—Leto’s Chapter 27 co-star Lindsay Lohan would later accuse him of ripping off his entire career from Brandon Lee’s Crow. Accompanying her bizarre rant was a collage of Lee, and 3 Jokers Nicholson, Ledger, and Leto.
V. Any Others?
This clown mask Cesar Romero’s Joker wears in a particular episode of the 1960s Batman looks awful like Heath Ledger’s in Dark Knight…
Plus…Ledger in Parnassus:
And here is a Dark Knight/Parnassus sync, illustrating the Tarot archetype of The Hanged Man:
At this point, the question must be asked…how much is truly synchronicity here? How much of it are conscious choices by the filmmakers involved…trends at the time (specifically, the Goth look of the 1990s)…and how much are just simple coincidence?
Was Ledger and these other actors truly “resonating” something between them? If so…what was that thing?
And is it still out there?
Postscript: In this post I’ve avoided any mention of real-life crimes etc. related to the Dark Knight Joker character (or, for that matter, any tangentially related to Brandon Lee’s Crow). The relationship between the pop-culture iconography of Joker and other comic book characters and their societal/political/ideological impact is something I examine in great detail in my post series “Year of the Mask,” which I hope to finish sometime in the next few months.