Friday, February 20, 2009
Actor Heath Ledger used to stroll the streets of South Brooklyn like he lived here his whole life. But, he didn't. The 28-year old Australian lived in Boerum Hill for just a few years with his wife, Michele and daughter Matilda. They bought a Brownstone right next door to my ex-girlfriend on Hoyt Street, a stones throw away from the historic Brooklyn Inn.
Ledger is up for an Oscar at Sunday night's Academy Awards for his role as the Joker in "The Dark Knight." Critics say he has a good chance of winning the award posthumously, which is an Oscar rarity. Under Academy rules, his young daughter Matilda, would take possession of the award when she turns 18. That seems right, considering how much Ledger loved his daughter.
Listen, I wasn't Ledgers friend, nor did I really know the guy, but his actions speak louder than words. I'd often watch the actor strolling down Smith street in Brooklyn and never without daughter Matilda and often with his wife. When he stopped into Angry Wades, one Sunday afternoon to watch soccer, his wife and daughter were with him. I was sitting at a bar stool directly in front of his table. I had no intention of getting in the guys face, like so many photographers had done when he moved to the borough.
But, I felt bad for how he was treated when he moved here, looking to get away from the glitter of Manhattan or Hollywood. Like so many of us, he wanted to be close to all of the action, without being part of it. Boerum Hill and his Brownstone on Hoyt Street fulfilled that need. I decided to engage him in a short conversation. All I could think of was his daily ritual of walking through a gauntlet of paparazzi with his family as he left his Hoyt Street home. Ledger often apologized to his neighbors for bringing all of this attention to their quiet tree-lined block. I simply turned around and said, "Heath, I'm sorry these reporters won't leave you alone." I never told him, I was a reporter, nor did I brag that I was on the radio, which at first I wanted to do. He smiled, hoisted his beer and said, "Thanks, mate." I turned around and continued drinking my suds.
That was it. One chance encounter and so few words. But, he got it. I would watch the way he looked at Michelle, the way he would hold his daughter. I could tell he loved them dearly, especially Matilda. You know, first impressions are everything. I suppose he had that affect when he auditioned for a movie role. Ledger appeared to be the perfect family man. Despite an accidental overdose of prescription drugs that took his young life, it seemed like he had a zeal for life. This was no suicide, best anyone could tell. Like so many good family men, maybe he should get an award. "Father Of The Year," perhaps. But, when he's up for an Oscar on Sunday for his Joker role, the Academy should not judge him for how he performed in life, but how he acted on screen. He was good at that, too.