Heath Ledger was one of Hollywood’s golden boys.
From playing the hunky leading man in 10 Things I Hate About You, telling the tragic gay love story in Brokeback Mountain and starring as the villainous Joker in The Dark Knight, he amassed legions of fans thanks to his versatility and charisma on-screen.
But Heath’s life was tragically cut short when he died at the age of just 28, with the cause of death being ruled as an accidental drug overdose of prescription medications.
He had struggled with abuse of prescription drugs and crippling insomnia for years, issues that would take the shine off his incredible Hollywood career.
In 2006 he said he used to smoke “smoke five joints a day for 20 years”.
The year before his death, Heath told of his battle with insomnia, which he’d had for years.
He told the New York Times in 2007: “Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night.
“I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.”
Heath said even taking two of the sleeping tablet Ambien couldn’t make him sleep for more than an hour.
Just a few months before his death his partner Michelle Williams, the mother of his then two-year-old daughter Matilda, ended their relationship and kicked him out of their house in Brooklyn.
Heath was a dedicated family man, calling Michelle and Matilda “everything to me — the most important thing I do.
“Before, I felt like I was floating through life, like a ghost; I may not have even existed.”
It was claimed that she was fed up with his drug abuse, but the reason for their breakup has never officially been confirmed.
After his death, Michelle confirmed Heath’s insomnia weighed heavily on him.
She said: “For as long as I’d known him, he had bouts with insomnia.
“He had too much energy. His mind was turning, turning, turning – always turning.”
The last project he completed was playing The Joker in The Dark Knight, his most famous part.
Heath famously gave his all to the role, which had a damaging effect on his health.
During filming his insomnia was really bad and he admitted to only getting up to two hours sleep a night.
He famously locked himself into a hotel room and kept a diary to prepare for the part.
Heath told Empire magazine in 2007: “It’s a combination of reading all the comic books I could that were relevant to the script and then just closing my eyes and meditating on it.
“I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices — it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh.
“I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath — someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts.
“He’s just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown.”
In the last few months of his life, Heath was really struggling.
Heath’s friend Gerry Grennell lived with him during this time
He told People Magazine: “I would hear him wandering around the apartment and I’d get up and say, ‘Come on, man, get back to bed, you have to work tomorrow.’
“He said: ‘I can’t sleep, man.'”
In the last few months of his life Heath had been dating model Gemma Ward.
Her sister Sophie said Heath was clean but was anxious and missing his daughter.
Sophie explained: “He was clean and wasn’t drinking any alcohol or taking drugs.
“He smoked cigarettes, but that’s about it. He was drinking Diet Coke when we were together and he said he was very committed to not drinking alcohol.
“He said he was going to London but was quite upset, because he couldn’t see his daughter as much as he’d like to.
“He was traveling so much and I think he was just frustrated with it all.”
For his final Christmas he was able to visit his native Australia to be with his family and friends.
He told The West Australian newspaper: “It’s just been awesome. I’ve had the most beautiful time back here and being able to see all my friends and family… It’s really enabled me to be a boy again from home and feel like I’d never left.
“It’s truly been an incredibly therapeutic, and a much-needed, trip home.”
Heath’s final role was in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, but he died in the middle of filming.
Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law stepped in to play alternate versions of his role.
His co-star Christopher Plummer said the cast and crew had been ill during shooting as they worked so hard under difficult conditions.
Plummer told People : “We all caught colds because we were shooting outside on horrible, damp nights. But Heath’s went on and I don’t think he dealt with it immediately with the antibiotics.
“I think what he did have was the walking pneumonia.
“We had to shoot every second we were out there, there was hardly any time to go into the tent or the car to keep warm.
“We just kept shooting, boom boom boom, there was no pause. It was very, very hard work.”
On January 2008 Heath was found unresponsive by his housekeeper in his Manhattan apartment.
The housekeeper called Mary-Kate Olsen, who was in California at the time, for help.
Olsen sent a private security guard to the apartment, who called 911 when he got there.
Paramedics rushed to the scene and they attempted to revive Heath but shortly after he was pronounced dead.
The following month the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York announced that the initial autopsy revealed that Heath died “as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine”.
The report concluded: “We have concluded that the manner of death is accident, resulting from the abuse of prescribed medications.”
These medicines are prescribed for insomnia, anxiety, pain, or the common cold (doxylamine).
His sister Kate denied that he was suicidal when he died nor showed signs of depression.
Heath’s father said Kate was on the phone to him the night before he died and she tried to stop him taking the drugs.
He said: “His sister was on the phone to him the night before telling him not to take the prescription medications with the sleeping tablets.
“He said: ‘Katie, Katie, I’m fine. I know what I’m doing.’ He would have had no idea.”
Ledger’s reputation as a brilliant actor and charismatic star has lived on since he died.
At the 2009 Oscars he won the Best Supporting Actor award for The Joker posthumously.
Rest in peace, Heath.