For some reason, certain celebrity extinctions are more memorable–more momentous–than others. Heath Ledger was one of those deaths that commenced a chain of iconic check-outs (Michael Jackson followed the year after in 2009) in the late 00s. After giving one of the most method performances the twenty-first century had ever seen as The Joker in The Dark Knight, Ledger’s mind had, as he himself admitted to New York Times journalist Sarah Lyall, been unable to stop racing. Hence, a natural dependency on such sleep-inducers as Ambien. But even that couldn’t seem to knock him out long enough to regain his emotional strength.
Though The Dark Knight wasn’t released until July of 2008, Ledger wouldn’t make it past January 22nd to see the fruits of his intensive labor. The cause of his demise, accidental overdose, was a result of his increasingly unavoidable reliance on a dangerous cocktail of prescription drugs that included oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine. It almost puts Marilyn Monroe to shame. In any case, I can distinctly recall where I was upon hearing the news of his death: in my car, driving aimlessly, about to turn onto Pico Boulevard.
At the time of hearing the radio news report on the now semi-defunct Indie 103.1 (a truly magical station that used to have David Lynch give the weather report, including “Mostly blue skies, some white clouds floating by, muted golden sunshine, very still, 52 degrees Fahrenheit, 11 Celsius.”), I was in a jobless state in L.A., recovering from the feeling of achievement of graduating early in, naively enough, screenwriting in December of ’07. Because the only reason for me to ever leave my apartment was to drive around aimlessly (Christ knows I wasn’t gettin’ no interviews on the eve of the financial crisis), I was highly attuned to the static scenery of the city–all palm trees, clean sidewalks and pristine gray roads. It was like being in Groundhog Day regardless of whether I repeated the same action every day (which I did) or not.
Thus, the information about Ledger made the day starkly different from all the others of late. I ended up pulling over to the Westside Pavilion (yes, the same mall featured heavily in Clueless) and catching a screening of Cassandra’s Dream at The Landmark. If you’re familiar with the plot, it wasn’t exactly the best choice for “feeling good.” All in all, it was a dark day, and a dark period in my life (believe it or not, my blackest days have been blacker than they appear now). Yet, because of this, Ledger’s death will always have a special meaning to me, a talisman of getting through an L.A. storm.