Having an Oscar-winning movie star for a brother can be both a source of happiness and heartache for Kate Ledger. Switching on the TV in her Perth home always comes with the chance that the mother of twin girls will see the face of her “soul mate”, Heath Ledger, the Perth boy who journeyed from Australian TV roles to Hollywood stardom, before his tragic, untimely death in 2008.
“It’s especially difficult to see his moving images on screen and hear his voice—something which we as a family have had to learn to cope with constantly,” Kate, 42, tells WHO. “But it’s a blessing that we have all the images and footage so that we can share a part of him with our girls.”
Ten years since Ledger’s passing, the celebrated actor remains a guiding and loving figure in the life of his sister and her family.
Ledger was 28 when he was found dead in his bed inside his rented New York apartment on Jan. 22, 2008, the result of an accidental overdose of prescription medications, shattering his family and shocking the world.
His beloved daughter Matilda, whom he shared with his ex, actress Michelle Williams, was then 2 years old.
In a WHO exclusive, Kate, the director of a design and media production company, who lives in Perth with husband, floor coverings store owner Nathan, and their 13-year-old daughters Rorie and Scarlett, shares her memories of the loved one she lost, and how she keeps in touch with her 12-year-old niece Matilda.
“We keep in constant contact with Michelle and Matilda and visit frequently,” says Kate, a former film publicist who worked as Ledger’s Australian publicist. “She is an amazing girl and a source of delight to us all.
“Heath is hugely important in the lives of my children. There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t share stories or talk about him. He is very much alive in our house.”
At the time of his death, the Brokeback Mountain star had just finished filming his role as the Joker in the then-unreleased The Dark Knight, for which he would win a posthumous Oscar.
“The Dark Knight was the most fun Heath has ever had on a film set,” says Kate. “He would send me rushes of the scenes and we would laugh about what he was going to do with the character.”
Kate and her and Ledger’s divorced parents, Kim and Sally, accepted Ledger’s Oscar at the 2009 ceremony.
“Accepting the Oscar was a surreal but calm experience,” says Kate. “I honestly didn’t know how I was going to get up but when the time came, we all felt a strong sense of peace and strength. We definitely felt Heath’s presence.”
Throughout his career, Kate kept in touch with her younger brother.
“We spoke almost every day regardless of where Heath was in the world or what he was doing,” she says. “Our conversations ranged from talking about projects to what we were having for dinner! Nothing was off limits.”
Since his death, Ledger’s family have created the Heath Ledger Scholarship through Australians In Film (an industry association for Australians working in the US). It annually awards a grant to a promising Australian actor.
“The Heath Ledger Scholarship supports young Australian actors making their international career transition to Hollywood,” says Kate. “Heath himself helped so many of his Aussie actor mates by letting them stay at his house when in L.A. It is with this same generosity we continue the legacy.
“For me, Heath has left us wiser, more connected and less selfish. We cherish his beautiful girl and all the memories that we have. Like anyone who has lost a family member, his loss is still enormous and we feel it everyday.”
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