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15 Facts About Heath Ledger’s Life And His Iconic Role as ‘The Joker’

Updated: Oct 25, 2018

The Joker arguably established itself as one of most iconic characters in a movie and these Facts about Heath Ledger, the man who gave life to the character of The Joker, tell us the obsession, ingenuity and class of the man who, in the truest sense, did not leave any stone untouched and unturned while preparing for the role. So walk with us down the memory lane that will enable us to reminisce the legend who met with an untimely fate.

1. “Keith Ledger” was the #2 most searched item on google on January 23, 2008, the day after Heath Ledger died.

Heath Ledger died on January 22, 2008 and on January 23, 2008, he was the #2  most searched person on google. 10 of the 20 popular search words, according to Google, were filled with All things Heath. The search strings included his family-former fiancee Michelle Williams and their daughter Matlida Ledger, his apartment address (421 Broome Street), and his most famous movies (10 Things I Hate About You and Brokeback Mountain).


it was observed that Americans didn’t know how to spell and the second most popular search string was Keith Ledger. (source)

2. Heath Ledger was the first actor to ever win an academy award for the portrayal of a character in a superhero movie.

The Dark Knight was nominated for 8 Academy Awards for the 81st Academy Awards. Heath Ledger won the award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of The Joker and his win was the first win in any of the major Oscar categories-producing, directing, acting, or writing- for a superhero based film.

Additionally, Heath Ledger was the first posthumous winner of the Best Supporting Actor award, and only the second posthumous acting winner ever after Peter Finch posthumously won the Best Actor award for his performance in the 1976 film Network.(source)

3. Heath Ledger was an accomplished chess player and won Western Australia’s junior chess championship, aged 10

Heath Ledger was an avid chess player who won Western Australia’s junior chess championship at age ten. As an adult, he played with other chess enthusiasts at Washington Square Park. At the time of his death he was planning on performing in and directing an adaptation of the 1983 chess-related novel “The Queen’s Gambit” by Walter Trevis. It would have been his first feature film as a director. (source)

4. After Heath Ledger decided he wanted to take his TV/stage acting career to Hollywood, he refused every TV role he was offered. When he was down to only his last $150, he was offered a role in “Ten Things I Hate About You”

5. Heath Ledger as the Joker scared Michael Caine (Alfred) so bad, he forgot his lines.

During the elevator scene in the movie The Dark Knight, wherein Heath Ledger as The Joker visits the penthouse of Bruce Wayne-played by Christian Bale, his arrival and performance gave Michael Caine such a fright that he forgot his lines.

According to Michael, Heath’s joker topped Jack Nicholson’s joker in the sense that Ledger’s joker was a scary psychopath and Jack’s was like a clown figure who could be funny and make you laugh. (source)

6.  Heath Ledger kept a Joker Diary. In it he wrote as the Joker and included a list of things he believed the Joker would find funny including blind babies, geniuses with brain damage, and sombreros

While preparing for his iconic role of The Joker in The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger stayed alone inside a hotel room for a month during which he maintained a diary in which he jotted down list of things that the joker would find funny which included blind babies, AIDS, seriously injured doctors, geniuses with brain damage, landmines, brunch and sombrero.

It was believed that his diary enabled him to switch his persona as the Joker and helped him absorb the psychological aspect of the character. According to Ledger’s father-Kim Ledger- Heath had a knack of deep-diving into his character but with the diary, the took it a notch further. (source)

7. Heath Ledger wanted Christian Bale to beat him as hard as he could during the interrogation scene in “The Dark Knight”, so he could get a better feel for the scene.

During the interrogation scene in The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger insisted Bruce Wayne-played by Christian Bale- to beat him as hard as he could. He wanted his co-star to take a swing at him as hard as Batman would so that he-as-the-joker would get a real feel of the scene. (source)

8. The Joker’s white makeup was designed by Heath Ledger himself. He wanted to show the audience that The Joker did his own makeup

Noticed the makeup of The Joker in The Dark Knight? Of course you did. The makeup was an integral part of the overall personality of The Joker and it was Heath Ledger who designed the white makeup himself.

He used white clown makeup and cosmetics from a drugstore and the reason was that he wanted the audience to notice that The Joker in the movie did his own makeup. The design was approved and the makeup team for the movie worked on it during each day of the shoot. (source)

9. This is why ‘The Dark Knight’ was pure genius and defines modern-day classism. In the movie where Joker asks Harvey Dent to kill him or join his rank, he actually places his finger such that even if Dent had pulled the trigger hammer would not work. Dent never had any option other than joining his rank. This shows the brilliance of joker who once said during the movie “Do I really look like a guy with a plan?”

In the hospital scene wherein the Joker gives Harvey Dent the option of blowing off his head or join his ranks and then places a revolver in his hand, the Joker gives him an illusion of choice. He makes Harvey believe to be in control but actually has all the cards for himself.

In the scene, his fingers are holding the revolver’s hammer so that even if Harvey tries to pull the trigger, he would not be able to do so. Instead of giving two options to Harvey, he in fact had provided him with only one option. This scene famously came to be known as The Illusion of Choice. (source)

10. The clapping the Joker does while in his cell when Gordon is promoted was unscripted, but Christopher Nolan told the crew to continue filming and the scene made it into the film.

In The Dark Knight, when James Gordon gets the news that he has been promoted as Commissioner Gordon, the people present around him start clapping. The Joker who sits inside the jail starts clapping as well in a sardonic and mocking way.

Interestingly, this clap was not a part of the original script but was a pure invention of Heath Ledger. It is believed that he improvised in order to signify the unpredictable personality of The Joker. (source)

11. During the hospital scene, when The Joker is dressed as a nurse, his name tag reads Matilda, after Heath Ledger’s daughter Matilda Ledger.

When The Joker is dressed as a nurse in the hospital scene, he wears a name badge. The name imprinted on the badge reads Matilda which is the name of Heath Ledger’s daughter- Matilda Ledger.(source)

12. The scars on the face of The Joker (The Dark Knight) is a wound called a Glasgow smile. It originated in Glasgow, Scotland but became popular with English street gangs. Actor Tommy Flanagan was given one when he was attacked outside a bar in Scotland.

One of the many visually arresting features of The Joker were the scars on his face. The peculiar smile on his face is known as Glasgow Smile which originated in Scotland which is a result of torture meted out by the Scottish gangs. It is a cut starting from each corner of the mouth and stopping just short of the ears.

In old times, knives were used for this effect but in modern times, the mobsters hold a person down and insert a credit card lengthwise into the person’s mouth to keep the mouth open. The cuts form scars resembling a grin.

Actor Tommy Flanagan had received a real-time Glasgow smile after a bar fight in which he was involved. the Glasgow smile became popular with the English street gangs.(source)

13. Heath Ledger would skateboard on the set while he was wearing the costume and full makeup of The Joker. He was not in the character while he did this but was being his regular self

While shooting in Chicago for the movie The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger was often seen skateboarding around while he was in the Joker’s costume and had the makeup on. The crew believed that this was not a part of his character but in fact, it was Heath in his own element. It was also thought to be a relaxation exercise for Heath Ledger. (1, 2)

14. Before his death in January 2008, Heath Ledger had started working on a music video for Modest Mouse.

Heath Ledger, before his untimely death in January 2008, began working on a music video for “King Rat” by the American indie rock band Modest Mouse. After The Joker’s death, the unfinished video was completed by co-director Daniel Auber and others. The video was released on August 4, 2009.

With the clip,

Ledger was hoping to bring awareness to the illegal commercial whale hunts taking place off the shores of Australia by reversing the roles of the parties involved. (1, 2)

15. Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell gave their entire salaries from the movie “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassius” to Heath Ledger’s daughter.

Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, the actors who played variations of Heath Ledger’s character Tony in “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassius” donated their salaries to Matilda Ledger- daughter of Heath Ledger who was 2 years old at that time as a gesture of concern for her future because apparently Heath had not updated his will to include Matilda before he died. (source)

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