1.22.19: Heath Ledger And The Joker

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“The magician dissociates, creates alternate identities for himself with their own names and abilities and personalities. As the magician travels through various levels of his art, his costume changes (red for Mars, white for Venus, myrrh for Saturn) as each stage in the process prompts the appropriate response from him, elicits a new personality with all the subterfuge of scent and sight and touch and taste and hearing, all manipulated according to the rubric, all designed to break the magician down into multiple personalities and rebuild them again like Osiris from his dismembered bone fragments of identity scattered throughout the landscape.”
—Peter Levenda

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Eleven years ago today, Heath Ledger was found dead of a drug overdose in his hotel room. A few months earlier, he had just finished filming The Dark Knight. He also had some scenes for The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus in the can.

It has always been my belief that not only did Ledger’s death “kick off” a cascade of events and coincidences, but that a cascade of events and coincidences also preceded his death. I’ve chronicled these in the post “The Joker: A Journey Into Synchronicity.” 

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And yet: I do not lay the “cause” for Ledger’s early demise solely at the purple-clad feet of Batman’s arch-enemy. In terms of morbid syncs seemingly predicting the actor’s death, Doctor Parnassus had loads. But playing The Joker probably “weakened” Ledger. Supposedly, the rigors of psyching himself up to play the character gave him insomnia.

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The comic book fans among you should note the following train of circumstances following the passing of Ledger:

  1. It probably pushed The Dark Knight over the edge as a cult movie & blockbuster success, the same way Brandon Lee’s death did propel The Crow into the spotlight. Both of these films would have been successful regardless—but the untimely passings of their stars gave them that extra “push” in the media.
  2. Because of the success of The Dark Knight, DC Comics & Warner Bros. decided that “dark” superhero movies and comics were the way to move forward. Actually, DC decided this way back in the early 2000’s (conveniently right after 9/11), but The Dark Knight is what solidified the approach (which is where we got the “Snyderverse”).
  3. A number of “Joker Copycat Crimes” began to take place a year into the death of Ledger & the release of The Dark Knight. I’ve researched & written about this quite a bit (sometimes in my earlier, “anonymous” blogs), but the pioneer in reporting of this topic is Loren Coleman’s Twilight Language blog—here is his list of Joker Copycats through 2012, though there have been others since then (such as the Florida Joker).
  4. The anarchic vibe of Ledger’s particular Joker was, from an ideological/political viewpoint extremely prescient and extremely influential (something, again, I’ve written about extensively and will probably readdress on this site).

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Now, as to the question whether The Joker is a “cursed” character…in terms of the majority of actors themselves who have portrayed him, I have not seen a connection. Keep in mind, the other men who have played The Joker in the movies were at least 12-15 years older than Ledger when he did the role, with filmographies full of intense characters.

Ledger, at 28, sort of did this role “fresh”—and certainly, it gives an extra radiance to his performance. But it must have been intense.

The Joker is a potent archetype.

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Have a good Tuesday.

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3 comments

  1. I’m sure you’ve heard of this, but related was the case from around a century back, where an entire circus train crashed and burned outside of Chicago, killing most of its performers and their families. I saw a cable series that proposed the urban legends of mysterious clowns standing in dark alleyways scaring the piss out of strangers, a thing that’s happened several times in Northampton, England in the last half dozen years, began in Chicago, with the ghost clowns from this particular train. cue dramatic squirrel

    Like

  2. Great post. About 10 years ago, I was walking back to my car 2 am in downtown Minneapolis. I passed an alley and looked to my left and saw a clown, just standing there in the dark of the night like nobody’s business, not doing anything but standing there looking at me. Traditional makeup, white faced, and clown suit. I didn’t do a thing. I kept walking and pretended I didn’t see it, like “nope”, that didn’t just happen. I only told a few people about it and pretty much made myself forget about it. I hadn’t realized there was a thing going on where creepers were doing that to people. Bonkers.

    Like

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