Heath Ledger In Retrospect: '10 Things' You Didn't Know About The Actor

Recently departed actor was named after character in British novel; had role as a gay character well before 'Brokeback Mountain.'

In the wake of Heath Ledger's tragic death this week, the Oscar-nominated star is being remembered as a loving father and a talented, charming actor. But while Ledger left behind a burgeoning career that stretched from starring roles in 1999's "10 Things I Hate About You" through July 18's Batman sequel, "The Dark Knight," and beyond, his résumé is even deeper than you probably thought. And as Hollywood continues to come to grips with Ledger's death, there's a lot about the soft-spoken star that most people didn't know. Here are "10 things" about Heath Ledger that might help shed more light on the sadly departed 28-year-old.

1. His name has roots in a classic British novel.

Heath and his sister Katie are named after characters in Emily Brontë's 1847 classic, "Wuthering Heights." The protagonist of the book is Heathcliff, a violent and sadistic villain, according to Columbia University professor Nicholas Dames, who specializes in 19th century British literature.

"One of the things that Heathcliff is known for in the novel is laughing, although only laughing at the spectacle of someone else's pain. In that sense, he's a deeply screwed-up figure. ... That's kind of like the Joker," Dames said, referring to Ledger's "Dark Knight" character. "The funniest thing for the Joker is hurting somebody else."

On a side note, Ledger and Michelle Williams bought a house in 2004 in Bronte Beach, a suburb of Sydney, Australia.

2. He was a Shakespearean actor.

Ledger's first major Hollywood role was in the teen comedy "10 Things," a modern-day remix of William Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew." But Ledger had actually dabbled in Shakespeare before that. In the mid-'90s, he joined the Globe Shakespeare Company in his hometown of Perth, Australia.

3. He was obsessed with Nick Drake.

Nick Drake was a British singer/songwriter who died in 1974 at age 26 after overdosing on antidepressants. One of Ledger's final artistic statements was a music video for Drake's song "Black Eyed Dog" that he directed and in which he starred. At the end of the clip, Heath depicts himself drowning in a bathtub.

"[In] ancient Greek culture, drowning was the worst possible death simply because your body couldn't be found," Dames said. "For a while in the 19th century, there was a fascination with drowning. ... Virginia Woolf comes to mind. ... There is this fascination [with drowning] as a method of suicide because it comes from Shakespeare."

4. His "Brokeback Mountain" character wasn't his first gay role.

Ledger wasn't afraid to play gay. And not just because he was dreaming of Oscar glory. Long before "Brokeback," one of the actor's first parts came in 1996 via an Australian TV series called "Sweat." Ledger was offered a choice of roles on the show, and he picked the character of Steve "Snowy" Bowles, a gay bicyclist. Later he reasoned that very few gay parts were being portrayed on Aussie television, and by taking the part he was more likely to be noticed.

5. He was a music man.

Last year, Ledger announced plans to start a record label with Ben Harper called "Masses Music Co." Heath also directed the rocker's 2006 video for "Morning Yearning." The song is melancholic and beautiful, and the clip depicts dancers and violinists in silhouette, drenched in sunlight and shrouded by fog.

6. His daughter's name might have an unusual connection.

Ledger and Michelle Williams' 2-year-old daughter is named Matilda Rose. We don't know why they gave their daughter this name, however, it's worth noting that there's a famous Australian folk song called "Waltzing Matilda." The lyrics tell a story that involves the death of a man who commits suicide by drowning himself in a lake.

7. Jake Gyllenhaal is Matilda Rose's godfather.

Ledger and Gyllenhaal famously co-starred in "Brokeback Mountain," the heartbreaking story of two cowboys in love. In the award-winning film, Gyllenhaal played the role of Jack Twist, who dies at the end of the film, and Ledger was Ennis Del Mar. Matilda Rose will now have Jack Twist as a surrogate father figure.

8. Ledger was a jack-of-all-trades.

As a kid, Ledger was a chess player.

"He played younger groups ... and may have played in the state tournaments, even the state championship," Norbert Muller, a spokesman for the Perth Chess Club, said. But, he added, "I don't really remember him performing that well."

Ledger also enjoyed painting.

"I love what I do, but if it all came crashing down, it wouldn't be the end of the world," he told The Sunday Times in 2000. "I'd just sit on my arse and paint."

But the young Ledger wasn't afraid of getting his hands dirty, either. He played hockey. His dad, Kim, was a race-car driver, and according to CNN.com, he spent quite a bit of time at the racetrack in his youth.

The site posted a note from a reader who identified himself as "R. of Perth," who claimed to have grown up with Ledger near a speedway racing circuit.

"I remember the night he was a little boy and his dad was racing speed cars at Claremont Speedway (my dad was in the race, too)," the reader wrote. "His dad was coming third, then, in the final corner, the two lead cars spun out and Heath's dad ... took the lead and won the state title race.

"Heath was standing a couple of rows in front of me with his mum and sister, and they were all so excited, jumping up and down and cheering," the reader continued. "He was about as happy as a little boy could be watching his dad become a champion. ... Later Heath would pit crew for Graham Jones, and I crewed for my dad and brother. Heath and I were both the youngest on our crews, so that meant our job was to take the fiberglass bonnets over to the hoses and wash the mud off after each race. Really dirty work, but he managed to stay cleaner than the rest of us."

9. Perth was Ledger's refuge.

The actor's homeland was his safe place, his refuge. Ledger's final trip to his native country was for Christmas 2007. It was a happy time.

10. Ledger's first acting role was as Peter Pan.

He played the character in a school-theater production when he was 10. Like the mystical boy who could fly, Ledger would never grow old.

For more on Heath Ledger's tragic passing, read reactions from his peers and other admirers, as well as casting directors he worked with. Also, watch Ledger talk about his evolution as an actor in a 2005 interview with MTV News.