Despite rush to judgment, Heath Ledger’s ‘Dark Knight’ was no death sentence

In today’s world, certain terms and phrases get used far too much — if I never again hear the lame monkey-hear, monkey-say “at the end of the day,” I will be a happy man — while some get used far too little. And among the latter is the term, or the concept, of “reserving judgment.”

Reserving judgment means to wait until you can weigh more facts, if not all of them, and then make a judgment based on them. It’s a calm, reasoned, intelligent approach which is all about truth, unlike the term’s opposite, which is “rushing to judgment.”

But in this Web-driven world of flash-fire rumors, rushing to judgment is about all most people do. They hear that Heath Ledger is dead and pills were in his room, and they rush to the judgment that he died of an overdose of recreational drugs. Or they hear he’d just played a twisted, dark Joker in The Dark Knight, and they rush to the judgment that Ledger was overly affected by his role and perhaps suicidal.

It’s only later, after autopsy reports surface, but long after the initial rumors and rush-to-judgment frenzy, when we learn that, no, Ledger wasn’t tripping fatally, nor did his mental state — apart from insomnia — make him roll up into a tightly-wound suicidal ball. Instead, he apparently unwisely took too many doctor-prescribed medications, and he took them in the wrong combination, and he succumbed — accidentally.

Of course, even that now-old news doesn’t stop more dark rumors from flying now that The Dark Knight is poised to open tonight on the heels of a full-bore marketing campaign.  And as Ledger’s intense performance emerges, some again speculate — or rush to judgment — that the dark role he played had its own dark role in his demise.

As Gary Oldman, Christian Bale and others on the Batman shoot assert, no, that didn’t happen. They say Ledger was chatty, grounded and fine between takes, not brooding and remote. And Oldman would know something of this, having launched his own career with obsessive immersion in characters, but then evolving from that.

I’ve interviewed Oldman twice — in person for JFK, when he was indeed tightly wound, and then again years later for Batman Begins — and I can tell you that he’s no longer a tortured actor, but just an actor — and a damn good one, yet without becoming completely absorbed by roles. He seems to have learned, as Anthony Hopkins likes to put it, that the key to good acting is simple: Just say the lines.

Nonetheless, Ledger death rumors are flying again, as so many people — too many — rush to judgment about which they know very little. Don’t confuse us with the facts, they seem to say, we’re busy rumor-mongering! And if it concerns a poor man who died young and no longer can defend himself, then so much the better.

Yes, it’s a sad world, but it’s the world we live in. And all we can do, in our own small way, is to show some shred of restraint.

Yes, ask questions. Yes, show concern. Yes, seek understanding. But in doing so, especially for big issues such as Heath Ledger’s sad demise, we also should reserve judgment, instead of needlessly, blindly and hurtfully rushing to it.

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