Above all else, Ledger was devoted to his young daughter and feared he might lose custody. “He was absolutely obsessed about Matilda,” Gilliam continues. “Before we started shooting [Doctor Parnassus], he literally put her in a backpack, got on the tube, and would come up to my house. It was wonderful.” According to the director, “The thing that really made Heath snap” was legal wrangling over Matilda. “He said, ‘Just fuck all of you! I’m not giving Michelle anything.’”
Pecorini says Ledger’s drug use—“He used to smoke marijuana on a regular basis, like probably 50 percent of Americans”—became an issue. “From that moment, he went clean as a whistle. He was so bloody clean that he didn’t drink a glass of wine anymore.”
With his chronic insomnia, Ledger would typically spend night after night awake, diverting himself with time killers like re-arranging the furniture in whatever space he happened to be living in at the moment. Now, physically run-down by the arduous shoot, unable to sleep, and distraught over his differences with Williams, Ledger found some measure of relief in massages and prescription drugs.
On Tuesday, January 22, sometime between 3 and 3:30 a.m., a masseuse found Ledger dead in his loft, on Broome Street in New York’s SoHo. An autopsy would find that his death was accidental, resulting from “the abuse of prescription medications,” according to a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner. Among the drugs found in his body were the essential ingredients of Valium, Xanax, Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Restoril—a stew of painkillers, anti-anxiety medication, and sleeping pills. “It’s the combination of the drugs that caused the problem,” said the spokeswoman, “not necessarily too much of any particular drug.”
One of the ironies surrounding Ledger’s death is that he wanted to make a movie about Nick Drake, a British singer-songwriter in the depressed Donovan vein, who died in 1974 at the age of 26 and developed a posthumous cult following. During pre-production of The Dark Knight, Ledger had created a music video based on one of Drake’s songs, “Black Eyed Dog.” The eerie part of it is the singer suffered from depression and insomnia, and he died from an overdose of amitriptyline, an antidepressant. Whether it was accidental, as some of his family claims, or a suicide, as the coroner’s report states, remains in dispute…