Heath Ledger, 1979-2008: It's no joke

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At some point on Tuesday afternoon I noticed that I had some JPGs on one of my computer files of posters of Batman: The Dark Knight, for a blog post I meant to write that anticipated the movie in general, and Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker in particular. When director Christopher Nolan (who previously helmed Batman Begins) cast Ledger as "the clown prince of crime," it was a surprising, almost baffling choice, even given Ledger's well-earned Best Actor Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain (pictured). Jack Nicholson even dissed the casting choice. The film's trailer, however, gave hints of a bold, frightening take on the comic-book villain that would, once again, change the way people thought of Ledger as an actor. People were excited.

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One of the tragedies of Ledger's fatal overdose Jan. 22 was that it claimed his life at what seemed like the eve of both artistically respectable and commercially viable movie stardom. The Australian actor seemed to be on the verge of becoming another Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman, the kind of performer who can strike a balance between Hollywood blockbusters and more creatively rewarding, prestigious fare.

I don't know if Ledger completed filming his role in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, his second collaboration (after The Brothers Grimm) with Terry Gilliam. It could well be that Batman: The Dark Knight will be his swan song, which may cast a pall over that film's superheroics when it opens in the summer. Given the Joker's trademark, ghastly white clown makeup (which seems to have a goth quality in the new film), Ledger's last work may uncomfortably look like his own ghost. Here's that trailer:

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