High on insinuation, low on facts

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High on insinuation, low on facts


Heath: A Family’s Tale

This is a deeply flawed book about a deeply troubled actor who died after accidentally knocking back a toxic cocktail of prescription drugs last year.

Janet Fife-Yeomans, a “respected” journalist according to the book’s blurb, has cobbled together material from magazines, Web sites, newspapers and books plus her own interviews with bit players in the story of Ledger’s brief but incandescent screen career to present a loosely argued biography defined by speculation and insinuation.

Flaw No. 1 is virtually no one close to Ledger agreed to talk to Fife-Yeomans, a reporter with the Daily Telegraph in Sydney. In fact, the actor’s immediate family issued a press release slamming the publication, saying the book contained “gross inaccuracies.”

The nearest we get to new material are comments from estranged uncles who had little contact with the actor during the decade he spent building an eclectic portfolio of film roles, from teen hit “10 Things I Hate About You” to the two movies for which he will be remembered best, “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Dark Knight.”

Take a look in the Acknowledgements at the end of the book and you’ll find five named sources the author talked to, a paltry number for a 329-page volume.

Consequently, the book is a stale regurgitation of uninspiring quotes: “Our love for each other grows” (Ledger on his girlfriend Michelle Williams); “He had so many great friendships” (Australian actress Naomi Watts on Ledger); and “He was a friend who I could call” (actor Martin Henderson on Ledger).

Martin who? Exactly.

Flaw two is the idiotic premise of the book, titled “A Family’s Tale,” that Ledger and the aftermath of his death are in some way defined by an acrimonious bust-up between Ledger’s dad, Kim, and his uncles. To cut a long sub-story short, which Fife-Yeomans should have done in the first place, the uncles discover that Kim has mortgaged the Ledger family estate, built by Heath’s great-grandfather Sir Frank Ledger, a successful businessman, to raise cash for other businesses.

How is this relevant to Heath and his career as an actor? After his death, the executors of his estate listed assets worth only $145,000, even though the actor was clearly a very rich man. The insinuation is that Kim had squirreled his son’s money away, withholding an inheritance due Heath’s daughter Matilda.

This is muckraking at its worst, or best. Ledger’s family is hardly unique if it has had to deal with rows over a dead relative’s estate. It can take years to sort through the holdings of someone who dies unexpectedly at a young age, and to give oxygen to the idea that Ledger’s family might be keeping money from his daughter is unfair given the paucity of evidence.

Other dirt-digging suggests Ledger fathered a second child born before he became famous and speculates on cocaine use. But so what? He was an actor, not a priest.

To cap things off, the author suggests Ledger might have been bipolar, which would account for his erratic behavior in the last few months of his life, the gaunt look, the exhaustion and the insomnia.

She then raises the possibility that the actor killed himself, referencing one of Ledger’s heroes, the musician Nick Drake who killed himself in 1974.

There are many unanswered questions about Ledger’s death, for example where he got the prescription drugs that killed him, why masseuse Diana Lee Wolozin first called actress Mary-Kate Olsen rather than the emergency services, and why the actress apparently refused to cooperate with the investigation into Ledger’s death unless she was given immunity from prosecution, according to the author.

Now that would be an interesting read.

Heath: A Family’s Tale

Author: Janet Fife-Yeomans

Genre: Biography

Publisher: Pier 9

By Michael Gibb Deputy Editor [michael@joongang.co.kr]
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