In the days leading up to his death, Heath Ledger battled chronic insomnia, pneumonia and exhaustion, according to several members of Ledger’s inner circle – who paint a portrait of a tortured man who struggled with personal strife and professional indecision, reports the August Vanity Fair, on sale nationally July 7.
Apparently, one of the biggest struggles in Ledger’s life was his deteriorating relationship with partner Michelle Williams.
“Heath was always blaming himself [about the relationship], asking ‘what did I do wrong?’” says Ledger’s friend and mentor, director Terry Gilliam. “Once it started going south, it went very quickly. He was overwhelmed by lawyers, and there were more and more of them, as if they were breeding.”
Especially contentious were the custody issues surrounding the couple’s daughter, Matilda. As the couple battled over the child, “there were definitely heated conversations,” says one source, “and emotions were high.”
The stress of his personal life left Ledger unable to sleep.
Gerry Grennell, a vocal coach who lived with Ledger during the filming of The Dark Knight, said that the actor used sleeping medication to combat chronic insomnia. “I’d say, ‘If you can possibly bear it to stop taking the medications, do, because they don’t seem to be doing you any good,’ ” recalls Grennell, who said that Ledger would spend his nights finding ways to occupy himself, such as rearranging the furniture.
Grennell also says that everyone has a different view on how Ledger died. “From my perspective, and knowing him as well as I did, and being around him as much as I was, it was a combination of exhaustion, sleeping medication … and perhaps the aftereffects of the flu,” he says. “I guess his body just stopped breathing.”
Grennell and other sources claim that Ledger was no longer using illegal drugs or alcohol when he died.
Despite the actor’s eventual success – and posthumous Oscar – as the Joker in the The Dark Knight, Ledger’s friend and agent, Steven Alexander, tells the magazine that Ledger “was always hesitant to be in a summer blockbuster, with the dolls and action figures and everything else that comes with one of those movies. He was afraid it would define him and limit his choices.”
Friends say that Ledger agreed to join the Batman franchise because it would be such a long shot that it would give him an excuse to turn down other offers. Ledger reportedly had a pay-or-play deal for Dark Knight, meaning that he’d receive a paycheck no matter what, so he took creative liberties with the Joker.
According to cinematographer Nicola Pecorini, Ledger hoped his performance would be so over-the-top that he’d be fired.