Heath Ledger, the early favorite to win the 2009 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, has been posthumously presented with the Oscar. Following an introduction by previous award winner Kevin Kline that included the statement “With this performance…Heath Ledger has left us an original and enduring legacy,” the Oscar was accepted on the actor’s behalf by his father, mother and sister. Among the thanks and memories his family shared with the audience, his father stated that “This award tonight would have humbly validated Heath’s quiet determination to be truly accepted by you all here, his peers, within in industry he so loved” as they accepted the award on behalf of Ledger’s three year old daughter, Matilda Ledger.
In winning the Oscar, Ledger beat out Josh Brolin for “Milk,” Robert Downey Jr for “Tropic Thunder,” Michael Shannon for “Revolutionary Road” and Phillip Seymour Hoffman for “Doubt.” Ledger previously lost an Oscar to Hoffman’s performance in “Capote” in 2006 when Ledger was nominated for his performance in “Brokeback Mountain.”
Ledger’s performance as The Joker has long been the odds on favorite to win the category, even before the actor’s tragic and untimely death in early 2008. In fact, Ledger’s Joker in “Dark Knight” was generating Oscar buzz even before the movie had wrapped filming, sentiment that only intensified when “Dark Knight” was released in theaters in July 2008.
The fact that he was nominated after his death did not exactly increase Ledger’s odds of winning. Ledger is the first posthumous Oscar winner since 1976, when Peter Finch won for “Network.” Historically, posthumous nominees stand no better chance at winning than living nominees.
When Ledger was named Best Actor at the Golden Globe Awards earlier in 2009, “Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan accepted the award on Ledger’s behalf, noting that “After Heath passed on, you saw a hole ripped in the future of cinema.”