After his death, an overdose, Heath Ledger was awarded an Oscar. It was actually a year and a month after his death. The story of his tragic death had become about his art. The talk wasn’t ugly. He wasn’t called names. I remember following the story and wondering when someone was going to call him a junkie or bash him. If anyone did, it got lost in all of the accolades.
Now let me be clear about something. I wasn’t after the tawdry gossip or the pieces slamming him. I was just paying attention to the differences in the way he was spoken about as compared to your every day addict, you know, the kid down the street from you, the kid your own kid brought home, maybe even your own kid.
Later when it was Philip Seymour Hoffman the accounts were slightly darker though he was lauded for a will in which he pleaded for his children to be raised outside of Los Angeles. Forget that he was discovered with a needle in his arm in NYC. Keep them out of LA. The press, and those reading the accounts, ate that up. Still, it was another story about a tortured artist who succumbed to the darkness of the characters he breathed to life.
Maybe there was some truth in that. Maybe Heath and PSH were such method actors that characters seeped into their own lives, but bottom line is they were addicts. Surely there was wreckage in the form of their personal relationships. But making them martyrs of their art made for better press.
It also made it easier for those reading, for those wanting to believe that Heath Ledger wasn’t a drug addict. No, he was a soul tortured by a comic book character. They wanted to believe PSH was the antihero he so often played; only he finally lost the battle between good and evil.
So why is it that when it happens in our own neighborhoods the narrative is so different? Why do we want to think the best of actors, root for them, but believe that our own neighborhood kids are the dregs of the earth?
Many of us had tears in our eyes as we watched Kim Ledger work the press during Oscar season. Years later he is doing the Oscar rounds again talking about what it was like to accept an Oscar for his son all those years ago.
How many addicts are remembered years later? How many are honored in memorium?
I say this as someone who knows and loves an addict. I say it as someone who had a kid overdose in my home. Someone posted the news article on social media and nobody was calling this kid an artist. Nobody was looking for the best in him.
He is not the only addict that I know. He is not the only addict that I love. I know too many kids struggling with addiction. I’ve heard it all. They come from bad parents. Their parents didn’t pay attention. Their parents enabled them.
It’s easy to throw out there when it isn’t your kid. It’s easy to know all the answers when it isn’t someone you love.
When I read the love being thrown at Heath Ledger, I think of the mom of the kid who OD’d in my home. I’m glad I hugged her that night. I’m glad I told her that I loved her kid. There was no part of me that wanted to find the worst about her or her kid. And no, I’m no saintly person above the ugliness of it all. I’m just a mother going through some of the same struggles.
We all love our kids, even when they’re busy ripping out our hearts. Surely Kim Ledger loved his son. There is only so much solace he can take in talking about Heath’s Oscar win. I’m glad his son was lauded. I’m glad his son is being remembered for his best moments and not his worst.
Maybe one day that goodwill could be extended to other addicts. No, they’re not perfect people we should glamorize. But maybe the demonization could stop. Those are all kids with dreams too. And parents who love them surely as much as Kim Ledger loved his son.