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Died January 22

Published: 1/22/2015
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Heath Ledger (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)

Heath Ledger began his acting career with guest spots in 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 his life today and the lives of other notable people who died on this day in history.

Click to discover notable people who were born this day in history.

2012: Dick Tufeld, U.S. voice actor who provided the voice of the robot in the science fiction TV series Lost in Space, dies of congestive heart failure at 85.

2012: Joe Paterno, U.S. College Football Hall of Fame coach for Penn State University, dies of lung cancer at 85.

Joe Paterno (Associated Press)The final days of Paterno's Penn State career were easily the toughest in his 61 years with the university and 46 seasons as head football coach. It was because Paterno was such a sainted figure – more memorable than any of his players and one of the best-known coaches in all of sports – that his downfall was so startling, according to his obituary by The Associated Press. During one breathtaking week in early November, Paterno was engulfed by a scandal and forced from his job, because he failed to go to the police in 2002 when told a young boy was molested inside the football complex. Read more

2010: Jean Simmons, English actress who appeared in such films as Guys and Dolls and Elmer Gantry, dies of lung cancer at 80.

Already a stunning beauty at 14, Simmons made her movie debut in the 1944 British production Give Us the Moon. Several minor films followed before British director David Lean gave the London-born actress her breakthrough role of Estella, companion to the reclusive Miss Havisham in 1946's Great Expectations. That was followed by the exotic Black Narcissus, and then Olivier's Oscar-winning Hamlet in 1948, for which Simmons was nominated for best supporting actress. Read more

 

2009: Billy Werber, U.S. Major League Baseball third baseman who led the American League in stolen bases for three years, dies of natural causes at 100.

2008: Heath Ledger, Australian actor who had great success and appeared in movies such as Brokeback Mountain and played the Joker in The Dark Knight, dies of an accidental prescription drug overdose at 28.

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." Ledger died before The Dark Knight was completed. When it was released the summer after his death, the public finally got to see the performance they'd been eagerly anticipating – and they weren't disappointed. Ledger's talent and hard work came together to form a madman like none we'd ever seen before, leaving us stunned and wishing we had the opportunity to see what else the talented actor could do. Read more

2004: Ann Miller, U.S. actress and dancer known for the Hollywood musicals of the 1940s and '50s, dies of lung cancer at 80.

Ann Miller (Wikimedia Commons/MGM)Miller was a multitalented star – she could sing, she could act, she was funny – but all these skills were eclipsed by her magnificent dancing. Specifically, tap dancing. Miller was such an incomparable tap dancer that, according to legend, she could tap 500 times per minute. The legend may not be entirely true – in fact, it seems to have been invented by Miller's publicists. But when you see Ann Miller in action, you realize it's not too far off. Read more

 

2004: Billy May, U.S. composer and musician who composed the theme songs to the television shows The Green Hornet and Batman, dies of a heart attack at 87.

2001: Tommie Agee, U.S. Major League Baseball outfielder who won the World Series in 1969 with the Mets and made what some consider two of the greatest catches in World Series history, dies of a heart attack at 58.

2001: Roy Brown, U.S. clown who played Cooky the Cook on the long-running Chicago TV show Bozo's Circus, dies of a heart ailment at 68.

1997: Billy Mackenzie, Scottish musician who was lead singer for the Associates, commits suicide by overdosing on drugs at 39.

1997: Mollie Panter-Downes, English novelist and columnist for The New Yorker, dies at 90.

1995: Jerry Blackwell, U.S. professional wrestler whose popularity peaked in the 1980s, dies in a car accident at 45.

1995: Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, matriarch of the Kennedy family, dies of complications of pneumonia at 104.

1994: Telly Savalas, U.S. actor well-known for playing the title role in the crime drama Kojak, dies of prostate cancer at 72.

Savalas was known best for an iconic television role – and rightly so. He was Kojak to a T, from his bald head to his lollipops to his trademark line, "Who loves ya, baby?" But he was much more than just a TV detective, as great as that detective was. He had a long-lasting movie career, too, often playing memorable villains – such as Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Read more

 

1973: Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th president of the United States from 1963 to 1969, dies of a heart attack at 64.

1968: Duke Kahanamoku, U.S. Olympic swimmer from Hawaii who won three gold medals and was considered the father of modern surfing, dies of a heart attack at 77.

1967: Jobyna Ralston, U.S. actress who had a starring role in the Oscar-winning film Wings, dies of pneumonia at 67.

1951: Karl Nessler, German inventor of the permanent wave for hair, better known as the perm, dies of a heart attack at 78.

1950: Alan Hale, U.S. actor who played Little John in The Adventures of Robin Hood, dies of cancer of the thymus gland at 57.

1901: Victoria, queen of Great Britain from 1837 to 1901, dies of a cerebral bleed at 81.

Click to discover notable people who were born this day in history.

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