Elogy for a Young Actor

Actor Heath Ledger (1979-2008)

Australian-born actor Heath Ledger, star of such films as “The Patriot” and “Brokeback Mountain,” died today (January 23, 2008) of an apparent drug overdose.   He was 28.

It seems we Americans have a lasting fascination with the “what-might-have-beens” of history, the odd juxtaposition of a promising young life ended all too quickly. From John F. Kennedy (dead at 46) and James Dean (24) to John F. Kennedy, Jr. (39), we are transfixed by these individuals, whose celebrity burns white-hot until that flame is suddenly, dramatically extinguished.

We will never know the cinematic heights James Dean may have reached, what a second term might have portended for John F. Kennedy, nor the distinguished career Heath Ledger may have enjoyed. All we are left with—the fits and starts of an unfinished life, film clips suspended in time—are an unsatisfactory response to the questions we cannot answer.

And so we mourn, we remember, and move forward.



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