Heath Ledger graces the cover of Vanity Fair’s 2009 August edition and the accompanying article reveals new details about the late actor, his relationship with actress Michelle Williams, and his devotion to daughter Matilda Rose.
Titled “The Last of Heath,” here are some brief highlights from contributing editor Peter Biskind:
According to Biskind, Ledger was uncertain about Hollywood, battled insomnia and exhaustion, cleaned up his act and gave up drugs and alcohol, was devoted to his little girl Matilda, and details about his relationship with Michelle Williams.
How he cleaned up his act:
Cinematographer Nicola Pecorini, who worked with Ledger on his last film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, says Ledger “used to smoke marijuana on a regular basis, like probably 50 percent of Americans.” But after it became an issue, Ledger “went clean as a whistle.” And vocal coach Gerry Grennell, who worked and lived with the actor during the filming of The Dark Knight, says Ledger even stopped drinking: “Heath would happily go to the bar, buy a round of drinks for friends, and come back and have a soda or juice, never once drinking alcohol.”
How chronic insomnia may have led to his death:
Ledger’s use of sleeping medication to combat chronic insomnia at the end of his life was of more concern to Grennell. “I’d say, If you can possibly bear it to stop taking the medications, do, because they don’t seem to be doing you any good.’ He agreed. It is very difficult for me to imagine how close he came to not taking them.”
“Everyone has a different view of how he passed away,” Grennell tells Biskind. “From my perspective, and knowing him as well as I did, and being around him as much as I was, it was a combination of exhaustion, sleeping medication … and perhaps the aftereffects of the flu. I guess his body just stopped breathing.”
How his relationship failed (Vanity Fair has since made a correction to their earlier posting, writing “how his marriage failed”… Heath and Michelle were never married, only engaged)
Terry Gilliam—Ledger’s friend and mentor, and the director of Doctor Parnassus—agrees with Pecorini that the romance between Ledger and Williams began to unravel during the Oscar campaign for Brokeback Mountain. “The whole machinery started growing up around them,” Gilliam says. “That was the moment when it changed, when he realized, Uh-oh. We perceive the world differently. He didn’t care about things like those awards.”
As Ledger’s relationship with Williams unraveled, and the pair started dealing with lawyers and custody issues, according to Gilliam, Ledger fell apart. “The thing that really made Heath snap” was legal wrangling over his daughter, Matilda, Gilliam says. “He said, Just f**k all of you! I’m not giving Michelle anything.'” Recalls another source, when it came to Matilda’s care, “there were definitely heated conversations, and emotions were high.” (Ledger’s lawyer declined to comment on any aspect of the separation or custody dispute.)