Born April 4

Heath Ledger began his acting career with guest spots on Australian soaps, but he transitioned quickly to the big screen, and to some of the biggest films of all time. His performances in "Monster's Ball" and "Brokeback Mountain" made him a household name, but his role as the Joker in "The Dark Knight" made him a legend. Ledger died just six months before the film's release, casting a pall over its promotion. Word-of-mouth brought out fans in droves, however, based largely on rave reviews of Ledger's portrayal of the iconic villain. The film grossed more than $1 billion, and Ledger was honored with the Oscar for best supporting actor. We remember Ledger's life today as well as the lives of other notable people who were born this day in history.

Click to discover notable people who died this day in history including civil rights icon the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

1981: Ned Vizzini, U.S. author known best for his young-adult novel "It's Kind of a Funny Story," is born in New York, New York.

Ned Vizzini (Wikimedia/Masterorb)"It's Kind of a Funny Story," praised by The New York Times as "insightful and utterly authentic," was published in 2006 and told of a high school student who considers jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge and ends up in a psychiatric ward. The movie version was released in 2010 and starred Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, and Viola Davis. Vizzini's other books included "Be More Chill" and "The Other Normals," both of which told of young people who feel like outsiders. In 2013, he and filmmaker Chris Columbus debuted a trilogy of young adult fantasy books, "House of Secrets." Read more

 

 

1979: Heath Ledger, Australian actor and director whose notable films include "Brokeback Mountain" and "The Dark Knight," is born in Perth, Australia.

While he was involved with actress Michelle Williams, Ledger was also working on the performance that would make him a big-screen legend. He threw himself into the role of the Joker for "The Dark Knight" – living alone in a hotel for a month while immersing himself in the world of what he called "a psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy." Read more

 

 

 

1974: Dave Mirra, U.S. BMX rider who won 24 medals at the X Games, is born in Chittenango, New York.

1966: Mike Starr, U.S. bassist who was a founding member of Alice in Chains, is born in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Mike Starr (WireImage/Getty Images)Starr was the original bassist for Alice in Chains, an iconic Seattle-based band that made its mark on the grunge scene of the early 1990s. He left the group in 1993. Read more

 

 

 

 

1960: Scott Miller, U.S. musician who led the bands Game Theory and the Loud Family, is born in Sacramento, California.

1948: Berry Oakley, U.S. bassist with the Allman Brothers Band, is born in Chicago, Illinois.

1945: Caroline McWilliams, U.S. actress known for roles in "Benson" and "Guiding Light," is born in Seattle, Washington.

1939: Hugh Masekela, the father of South African jazz and anti-apartheid activist, is born in Witbank, South Africa. 

1935: Kenneth Mars, U.S. actor whose notable films included "The Producers" and "Young Frankenstein," is born in Chicago, Illinois.

Kenneth Mars in Mel Brooks' filmIn Brooks' 1968 romp, "The Producers," Mars co-starred as Franz Liebkind, a Nazi enthusiast whose play, "Springtime for Hitler," is the basis for a scheme by two conniving showmen (Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) to bilk investors by putting on a surefire Broadway flop. Brooks cast Mars again in 1974's "Young Frankenstein" as the constable poking around the castle grounds on the trail of mad scientist Wilder's monster. Read more

 

 

 

1932: Anthony Perkins, U.S. actor known best for portraying Norman Bates in the Alfred Hitchcock classic "Psycho," is born in New York, New York.

Reviewers called Perkins' performance the best of his career, though he wasn't even nominated for an Oscar (he did win best actor from the International Board of Motion Picture Reviewers). In some ways, his performance was perhaps too good – he so masterfully played a mentally ill killer that he became typecast. Although perhaps equally adept at other types, he continued to play the murderers and mentally disturbed people. He also reprised his role as Norman Bates in several "Psycho" sequels. Once he was asked if he could do it over again, would he still accept the role of Bates, knowing he would be typecast in the future. Perkins responded with a confident "yes." Read more

 

 

1928: Maya Angelou, U.S. author and poet whose notable works include "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," is born in St. Louis, Missouri.

Angelou was a source of inspiration and strength for millions of Americans from all walks of life. She counted presidents and heads of state among her fans as well as the generations of students who discovered her works year after year. For decades her words shaped America's heart. "You don't have to think about doing the right thing," she said. "If you're for the right thing, then you do it without thinking." Read more

 

 

 

1916: David White, U.S. actor known best for playing Darrin's boss in "Bewitched," is born in Denver, Colorado.

1913: Muddy Waters, U.S. blues musician who helped lay the groundwork for rock 'n' roll, is born in Issaquena County, Mississippi.

Muddy Waters (Wikimedia Commons / Jean-Luc)By bringing the delta blues to Chicago, he helped create a new, urban electric blues sound that would later inspire a bevy of English admirers to form bands like the Rolling Stones, Cream and Led Zeppelin. Unlike many of the blues pioneers, Waters lived long enough to enjoy the late '60s blues revival and to meet many of the artists his music inspired. "My hero?" Keith Richards told Gibson.com. "It's got to be Muddy Waters. Because I know him as an all-round gent and his music is sublime." Read more

 

 

 

1895: Arthur Murray, U.S. dance instructor who founded Arthur Murray Dance Studios, is born in Podhajce, Kingdom of Galicia.

1802: Dorothea Dix, U.S. nurse and activist who helped establish the country's first mental asylums, is born in Hampden, Maine.

Click to discover notable people who died this day in history including civil rights icon the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.