Stephen Gaghan reveals a new detail about the death of Heath Ledger and recalls hearing the news

heath ledger, stephan gaghan

Oscar-winner Stephan Gaghan appeared on the Development Hell podcast and revealed he and Ledger were in the midst of development when the tragedy happened.

Stephen Gaghan reveals a new detail about the death of Heath Ledger and recalls hearing the news 1

The hype leading up to The Dark Knight in 2008 was the closest we’ve come to reliving Bat-Mania that took over pop culture in 1989 leading up to the first Batman. Much of the hype came from the revelation of Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker. Christopher Nolan’s star was on the rise as people resonated with his 2005 reboot Batman Begins, and his interpretation of the clown prince of crime was a fresh burst of energy. A number of photos and a teaser from the film was released when the world was dealt the devastating news about the passing of Heath Ledger. Ledger’s career had gained immense steam after performances in Monster’s Ball and Brokeback Mountain.


A new detail was revealed about the day Heath Ledger was found unresponsive as Stephen Gaghan, the Oscar-winning writer of Traffic, appeared on a new limited series podcast called Development Hell. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the host of the podcast, Malcolm Gladwell, would examine how his book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, would not come to realization as a film adaptation. Gaghan revealed that he and Ledger were in the midst of developing a movie based on Gladwell’s book and when Ledger was found dead inside a Manhattan apartment on January 22, 2008, a copy Gladwell’s book was sitting on Ledger’s nightstand and a draft of Gaghan’s screenplay was lying next to him on the bed.

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He recalled getting a curious phone call from Ledger’s father, who told him the devastating news, “They were there with the body and our script was in bed with him, and your book was on the bedside table. I think my number was on the script, like written. These guys, as you can imagine, they are in shock and they dialed that number and I don’t know why.” Gaghan continued, “I’m in an airport with my wife [Minnie Mortimer] just going from one place to another, and I literally just collapse, never happened to me before or since. My feet went out from under me. I just literally sat down because I was like, what? The emotion, what they were going through, I should not have been a party to in any way really, and yet as a human or as somebody who just cares, I just was there and I was listening and my wife was looking at me. I remember her face and I was just like, I was speechless. I just listened and listened and listened. It was just really, really sad. And it’s still sad. For me, I just had to put a pin in it.”

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Gaghan revealed that the package deal of the production included having Leonardo DiCaprio signed on as a producer of the film. However, for Gaghan, when the news broke of Ledger’s passing, he would decide to let go of the project. “I’d gotten to be very, very close with him instantly. I just had a real connection with him that was kind of unusual and really special to me. I got really excited and I started seeing him as the main character. Once I started seeing that I couldn’t unsee it, and obviously it was very delicate in a way.”

About the Author

E.J. is a News Editor at JoBlo, as well as a Video Editor, Writer, and Narrator for some of the movie retrospectives on our JoBlo Originals YouTube channel, including Reel Action, Revisited and some of the Top 10 lists. He is a graduate of the film program at Missouri Western State University with concentrations in performance, writing, editing and directing.