Oscar Actors: Ledger, Heath–Wins Posthumous (Supporting Actor) Oscar, Second in History

Feb 23, 2009–Exactly 13 months after his death from an accidental overdose, Heath Ledger won the supporting actor Oscar for his performance as the anarchic Joker in Chris Nolans’ box-office hit “The Dark Knight.”

“Menacing, mercurial, droll, diabolical,” was how Supporting Actor winner Kevin Kline described the performance in making the pre-award speech for Ledger as a past winner in the category. “Heath Ledger has left us an original and enduring legacy.”

The widely predicted win generated a profoundly emotional reaction at the Kodak Theater on Sunday night as members of Ledger’s family–his father Kim, mother Sally Bell, and older sister Kate–accepted the award on behalf of Ledger’s daughter Matilda. 

“This award would have humbly validated Heath’s quiet determination to be accepted by you all here, his peers, and an industry he so loved,” his father said.   “Heath was such a compassionate and generous soul,” his mother said.

Ledger was the seventh actor to earn a posthumous nomination and only the second to win, joining Peter Finch, who won for 1976’s “Network.”

Finch, who was 64, died 10 weeks before the Oscars after suffering a massive heart attack in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Finch had been set to appear that day on “Good Morning America” with director Sideny Lumet to promote “Network.”  The film’s screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, who won an Oscar, and Finch’s widow Eletha accepted on Finch’s behalf.

Ledger completed an awards season sweep after winning every major award in his category before the Oscars in the wake of his memorable portrayal of Batman’s nemesis.  His performance as a villain of absolute evil was key in driving “The Dark Knight” to its box office success and provided plenty of discussion at Warner Bros. about how to market the film — and Ledger, specifically — without coming across as opportunistic or insensitive.

Ledger was nominated three years ago in lead category for his work in “Brokeback Mountain,” but Philip Seymour Hoffman won the trophy for “Capote.”