Why dying young is great for your reputation

Heath LedgerHeath Ledger’s untimely demise has inevitably prompted a raft of articles and features about the loss of a potential acting genius.

I agree (and let’s face it, who wouldn’t) that it’s terrible that he died at such a young age, and clearly he had a lot of potential, but the people who are claiming it’s the loss of another acting genius are surely misguided.

Yes, his performance in Brokeback Mountain was impressive and he fully deserved the plaudits he got for it.

His soon-to-be seen turn as The Joker in the new Batman film is also being talked about as a bravura performance, although that remains to be seen.

But one look at Heath’s CV will tell you that there were as many (if not more) misses than hits. For every Monster’s Ball, there is a Four Feathers or a Ned Kelly and for each Brokeback Mountain, strike a Candy or a Brothers Grimm.

I wonder if Heath will be viewed in 10 years time, in the same way that people look at the likes of River Phoenix or James Dean.

Dean, for example, only actually appeared in three movies. Yup, his entire legend is built on his performances in Giant, East Of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause. Surely he wouldn’t always have been that good, would he?

And yes, River Phoenix was good in My Private Idaho and Running On Empty, but other films, most notably his last Silent Tongue, prove that not everything he touched turned to gold.

I know it’s the thought of unfulfilled promise that fuels the legend with early death, but there are many young actors whose careers flop after early success.

Let’s just remember people for who they were and what they did when they were alive, rather than what they would have been?

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