It seems a bit useless to say anything about Heath Ledger's death (I still cannot believe that I had to type that) because it's all been said by better people than I but it also feels as though it would be heartless to move on without another word so I will add my own brief piece.
I first heard the news while I was hanging around in one of the comments sections over at The Film Experience, and I dismissed it with a bemused frown, thinking it was some kind of joke that I just didn't get (a common experience for me). Then it came up on Yahoo! and I realized that there must be more to the idea than I'd thought. Learning that it was actually true, I spent at least half an hour just sitting there, trying to get my head around it. It felt like someone had punched me in the gut. I was never an enormous fan of Heath, but I'd liked him ever since seeing 10 Things I Hate About You (I think when it debuted on tv, which would have been about 2002- it was certainly before I got into film as I am now), which remains one of my favourite movies to this day. And, as many have already said, his Brokeback Mountain performance is certainly one of this decade's best.
I feel his death on an odd level. Of course I never knew him, and my feelings are ridiculously miniscule compared to those that his family and friends must be feeling right now. (Watching his father deliver that statement... I can't imagine how he got through it. So brave to face up to it himself.) But it still, even a day later, just doesn't fit in my head- I think about it, and think about how I always simply assumed that we'd see so much more from him, that Brokeback was simply the tip of the iceberg, that- maybe- he'd become one of his generation's greatest. And now he's not there and he won't be giving any more performances and I just can't get my head around it. Every time I read the words it's like recieving a fresh little jolt of realization. It will take time to truly sink in, for me to truly believe it. It helps, greatly, to know that others are feeling the same, that I'm not strange or foolish to feel so badly over it, so thank yous go out to everyone who has already expressed their own sentiments.
On another level, this is also the first "celebrity death" of this kind that I've experienced. I may have been alive when River Phoenix and Kurt Cobain died but I was about five or six and I don't think I ever even heard about them for many years afterwards. I truly believe- and the media coverage, internet and real-life reaction only confirm this- that Heath will be the James Dean, the Marilyn Monroe, the River Phoenix of this time. He will be remembered, perhaps not for the reasons we would have liked, but because he was, in his own way, an important and talented figure who gave something special to the world before he was cruelly taken from it.