Heath Ledger Profile Shows How Fame Can Destroy the Psyche

What Women Really Think
July 2 2009 9:38 AM

Heath Ledger Profile Shows How Fame Can Destroy the Psyche


Sara, you said that childhood stardom was such a destructive force for Michael Jackson , and you were right. But the current issue of Vanity Fair has a cover story on Heath Ledger that shows for a sensitive adult, stardom ain't all its cracked up to be, either. This isn't a new idea: That's why "the price of fame" is such a cliched phrase. But Peter Biskind's story of the Ledger demise is particularly heart-stomping, since Heath was so young, so talented, and being a movie star really did ruin every aspect of his life.


It started in 2001 when Sony was trying to sell him as the next teen heartthrob after A Knight's Tale . Ledger "ran into the men's room, sequestering himself in a stall where he had a panic attack." Things plugged along for years after that, because Ledger was not yet a household name, but that all changed with Brokeback Mountain , and the accompanying Oscar press created a real fissure in Ledger's world. Terry Gilliam, who directed Heath in The Brothers Grimm and also in Ledger's last movie, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus , said of the Brokeback hoopla, "You have to whore yourself around ... And on Brokeback he really did whore himself around, doing all the things he hated. He felt angry with hiimself for going along with the way the system worked. He felt dirty. And then he didn't win." What's more, Ledger's girlfriend Michelle Williams did take the Oscar stuff seriously, and it caused the rift that would eventually end their relationship.

The Susan Boyle situation isn't really analogous to the Heath Ledger tragedy, but this article did make me think of Boyle's recent breakdown after the sudden avalanche of press she received. Opening your life up to massive public scrutiny in any area is psychological pressure that only the most steely egos can handle.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.


War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.


It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The Only Good Thing That Happened at Today’s Soul-Crushing U.N. Climate Talks

  News & Politics
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.