It's always shocking when someone young dies. Not because they're inherently worth more than someone older, but because the chance for that worth to contribute to our lives has been taken away from us. There's a sort of tragedy curve that starts high (for children, babies and toddlers, drenched in pathos), and then as a rule slowly drops off for the rest of our lives. That curve, though, can go up if we show promise. If we show that we are more worthy of life and everything in it by giving something back to the race of man. Each person has their own personal measure of promise and tragedy - someone might value a promising sports career over a science whiz - but ultimately, we all have this system for calculating the approximate sadness of the death of someone we don't know, based on what we know about them.
This is the theory, but it doesn't ring true today. Brad Renfro died last week, and he got an "ohhh... sad." Sir Edmund Hillary's death rated higher, but in the end, the guy was 88 and we all have to go sometime. But Heath Ledger dying has hit me with more than just the loss of what he could have done. It feels like a personal loss.
Possibly it's because he's Australian. He looks and sounds like the people I know. Our Heath and all that. Possibly it's because, through his movie career, I've watched him grow into a better actor, master the art of accents, choose to leave his crappy movies behind and work with quality directors, willing to take a bit part to get into a good film.
But really, it's because of this:
The gossip dailies gave him no end of shit for this outfit. Yes, I read the gossip dailies. My dark shame. But looking at that photo - and watching him doing the ridiculous karaoke scene in 10 things I hate about you, and gamely pashing Jake Gyllenhaal when they're both clearly straight, and going all-out method for the chance to play the Joker - I get the strong impression that Heath Ledger is my people. There was always the vague feeling he might turn up at a party, or a theatre opening, wearing a cowboy shirt and drinking a locally brewed beer.
Now he's dead. Very odd. Like putting a full stop in the middle of a sentence. I'm sorry, Heath. I wish I'd known you better.