By most accounts they were. Todd Haynes, who directed Ledger and Williams in the Bob Dylan reverie I’m Not There, remembers how the actor would lean on his fiancée when they were shooting in late summer 2006. “The night before we were going to shoot a scene, he started to have a real panic about it,” says Haynes. “He had to call Michelle in New York, who talked him through relaxation methods to try to get him asleep. He said he was just curled up in a corner holding one of Matilda’s stuffed animals, and he slept about an hour and came on set.”
A little over a year later, it was over. Ledger moved out of their moss-green townhouse in Boerum Hill. Friends would tell the press he and Williams had grown apart, that they were struggling with the demands of parenthood and two full film careers. Unattributeds would talk about drugs and a custody battle. Williams laid low, taking Matilda with her on a head-clearing trip to an ashram in India. Meanwhile, the gossip pages started auditioning another Heath Ledger.
This one wasn’t Just Like Us. This one was a gorgeous Australian party boy in a trilby hat and tattered-chic cardigan—the fun- loving, most eligible recent bachelor in New York, linked to models like Helena Christiansen, starlets like Lindsay Lohan, and finally Mary-Kate Olsen—to whom he was linked only posthumously. This Ledger lived for three months.
The first weekend after the unfortuitously named Celebrity Moving van transported his things from the Boerum Hill brownstone to the Broome Street loft, Ledger went to the Beatrice Inn, the semi-private club in the West Village where one could regularly spot Owen Wilson, Kate Moss, Kirsten Dunst, and other members of the hip-celeb demimonde. Even in this crowd, Ledger stood out.
“Girls were all over him, trying to, like, play with his hat, touch him in some way,” says a woman who met him that night. “Certain celebrities have that effect. I’ve only seen it with a few of them, and Heath Ledger is one. The reaction I saw to him was … crazy.” She remembers Ledger wearing a red-and-white horizontal-striped shirt, jeans, a hat, and a few visible tattoos. “He was really hot,” she says, allowing for the teenybopper reaction he provoked among the club’s typically more composed habitués.
“The day after the Oscars, he said to me, ‘I’ll never make another good film again.’ If this was what happened when you made a good film, he didn’t think it was worth it.”
As Ledger parried advances on the dance floor, his companion, a man named Nathan, reached out to the young woman and her friend. “He introduced us to Heath. He was really nice, shook our hands, said, ‘Hi, my name is Heath.’ And a lot of celebrities don’t even say their names because they expect you to know who they are. He wasn’t like that,” she says. Nathan asked the girls to type their numbers into his cell phone if they wanted to hang out later. “We were sure he wasn’t going to call.” But as they were leaving the club, Nathan chased them outside to give them the address of Ledger’s new loft. “I didn’t realize he was being so covert, that we couldn’t be seen leaving with him because it was right after the breakup and the press was all over him about Helena Christensen.” (Despite the discretion of Ledger’s wingman, the exchange wound up in the Post a few days later.)
“We went over and hung out, played backgammon,” she says. “I said something like ‘Great apartment.’ And he said, ‘I just moved in four days ago.’ ” She remembers Ledger’s home in a state of luxurious flux. “He had a red velvet couch, a really nice carpet,” she says. “There was some exercise stuff, a Mac computer. He was like, ‘I want to play this music for you,’ but his Internet wasn’t up yet.”
The Ledger she met was quiet, friendly, and pointedly sober, drinking Diet Coke as the rest of them had red wine. He mentioned having to be up at ten the next morning to take his daughter to gymnastics. Someone had drugs that night, but Ledger’s friend kept them away from him. “Nathan said, ‘Heath can’t see this.’ He was making an effort to protect him, and Heath was obviously in a vulnerable state. He said, ‘Heath cannot see this stuff, he had problems, he’s sober now.’ He was a really good friend actually, now that I look back on everything.”
The two had a monthlong fling—a brief intersection between celebrity and civilian worlds. (Though it didn’t start that night: “Just because you’re so-and-so doesn’t mean I’m going to sleep with you,” she told him. “No, I’m not, I’m a nice guy,” he protested.) “He didn’t like being this star,” she says. “This is from my experience of him. He was kind of quiet unless he was comfortable … It was just after the breakup, and it really seemed like he was just trying to have fun.”