Heath Ledger refused to joke about Brokeback Mountain at the Oscars. It spoke volumes about his character.

Twelve years ago, Hollywood lost one of its best.

On the afternoon of January 22, 2008, Heath Ledger died from an accidental drug overdose in his New York apartment. He was just 28 years old.

In the decade since his death, the legend of the actor’s extraordinary talent and one-of-a-kind personality has lived on.

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His co-star and friend Jake Gyllenhaal has shared a story that speaks volumes about Ledger’s character.

He told fashion magazine Another Man, Oscar winner Ledger refused to present at the 2006 Academy Awards, due to a joke written into the award show’s opening ceremony about their film Brokeback Mountain.

“I mean, I remember they wanted to do an opening for the Academy Awards that year that was sort of joking about it,” he says.

“And Heath refused. I was sort of at the time, ‘Oh, okay… whatever.’ I’m always like: it’s all in good fun. And Heath said, ‘It’s not a joke to me – I don’t want to make any jokes about it’.”


He continued: “That’s the thing I loved about Heath. He would never joke. Someone wanted to make a joke about the story or whatever, he was like, ‘No. This is about love. Like, that’s it, man. Like, no’.”

In a 2018 interview with GQ Australia, Gyllenhaal reflected on the friendship he formed with Ledger, which led the 10 Things I Hate About You star to turn down a role in one of Baz Luhrmann’s films.

heath ledger jake gyllenhaal
Image: Getty.

As he explained to the magazine, before they starred in Brokeback Mountain together, both Gyllenhaal and Ledger were vying for the lead role in Moulin Rouge.


The role ended up going to Ewan McGregor.

“We would be shuffled in and out of rooms. They would literally put me in a room and lock the door and Heath would come in and then Heath would be shuffled through the door. I never saw him,” Gyllenhaal explained.

“When Ewan was cast, I finally met Heath and we sort of became friends before Brokeback Mountain, based on our mutual frustration.

“When Brokeback Mountain came out and it got all the attention it did, I remember, a few months later, Heath called me and he was like, [affects Ledger impersonation] ‘Hey mate, I got some news for you.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Baz just offered me his next movie. I just wanted you to know, I f***ing turned it down!’ ... So that was how much Heath loved me, you know'.”

Gyllenhaal is not the only one to share a touching story about Ledger's great love for his family and friends and his immense generosity.

It was on the set of Brokeback Mountain that Ledger met Michelle Williams. They would later date and welcome into the world a daughter who they named Matilda.

On the first day of shooting, Williams twisted her ankle and Ledger held her hand all the way to the hospital.

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"[He] tried to comfort her and it was pretty obvious he was interested in her," director Ang Lee explains in the I Am Heath Ledger documentary.

He also once gave his friend and musician, Ben Harper, a grand piano.

After a night playing music together on the actor’s grand piano, Harper went home to get some rest.

The next morning he woke up to a commotion outside: the piano had arrived on his doorstep, a gift from Ledger.

When Harper protested his friend’s generosity, Ledger told him, “It’s supposed to be with you”.

A few weeks later, Ledger asked Harper to write a lullaby he could play for Matilda when she was born.

“Nothing has ever been asked of me that’s that precious,” Harper says in the documentary.

As his profile rose in Hollywood, Ledger continued to support his friends, especially his Australian mates who were trying to break into the industry.

He invited then-unknown actors including Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton and Rose Bryne to live at his Los Feliz estate, often for weeks or months at a time, while they went out on auditions.

Although it's been over a decade since his death, Ledger's warmth and generosity of spirit has continued to live on through stories like these.