Wednesday, January 23, 2008


This is so depressing.

Heath Ledger [left], whose chiseled good looks made him a heartthrob to millions and who won movie fame for playing a tragic homosexual cowboy, was found dead in a Manhattan apartment today, police said.

The body of the Australian actor, who won an Academy Award nomination for the 2005 movie "Brokeback Mountain," was found hours after this year's Oscar picks were announced.

Ledger, 28, was found unconscious at 3:26 p.m. and pronounced dead minutes later by emergency medical personnel, said Det. Madelyne Galindo, a spokeswoman for the New York Police Department.

The loss of a promising young talent is always tragic. Some of us feel even more pained because of the role he'll now always be known by, even though he should have grown and been known by even greater achievements. That is Ennis Del Mar in "Brokeback Mountain" for which he got an Oscar nomination.

Gays have had a tough time in how we're shown in the movies. (Read "The Celluloid Closet" by Vito Russo. Better yet, see the documentary made of it.) We bounce from monsters to freaks to tormented artists to comic relief to flighty faggots to psycho killers to whatever. After AIDS shook up popular perception, we became noble sufferers, the secondary character who would lead the star and main character from sneering scorn to grudging respect and finally admiring acceptance. Then the AIDS guy tidily dies off. See "Philadelphia Story." Most recently, the vogue has been for the affirmation of gay guys as full, if quirky, members of society, unless we want to get married or join the Marines. We've all seen the movies. We're here! We're queer! We're running for Congress!

"Brokeback Mountain" hit a nerve because it didn't fit the mold. Two cowboys out on the range tending their herds, icons of American masculinity, fall in love. Intense, passionate, sexual love, and no doubt about it.

But the point of movie is not the first part, where Jack and Ennis fall in love. It's not that these two cowboy lovers fuck each other, it's that they almost never can. They're too scared, and only dare risk getting together for the occasional "fishing trip," once a year or so. Of Ledger, Andrew Sullivan said, "his performance in Brokeback Mountain was a gut-wrenchingly under-stated evocation of the terror and pain of the closet."

I am fortunate that, mostly because of when I was born, I escaped much of that terror and pain. Not all, though. I went through all the usual terrified agonies of gay teenage self-discovery, but got through.

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall gave two powerful performances of men who would never have the chance to get through what I got through, never get a chance to find themselves and a place for their love. It was a painful, tragic, agonizing -- yet wonderful -- love story, one that may have led a lot of people to rethink some assumptions.

That's an admirable achievement for the late Heath Ledger. There should have been more.

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