Which is the Worse Tragedy?

The unspeakable happened the other night; Heath Ledger was found dead in his bedroom. An incredibly talented actor was taken too early, and we still don’t know why. We do know that he was found by his housekeeper and that he left behind his two year old daughter, Matilda, and millions of people who loved him and his work.

Yet, is it even more tragic that so many people have felt the need to to publicly malign him? Heath is perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated role as Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain. As a result, people who disagree with the “lifestyle” of homosexuality have turned his early death into a punchline. Here are a few of the examples —

The Mission Valley Best Buy in San Diego had this sign up within hours of the announcement of Heath’s passing. In other words, before the autopsy was even performed to determine the cause of death, Best Buy was already trying to exploit the death to sell DVD’s. The move is beyond tacky, beyond tasteless, and utterly disgusting.

The worst by far is Fred Phelps – the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, who announced plans the day of his death to fly to Heath’s funeral and picket with his equally ignorant and misguided followers. I have a copy of the press release (easy to find, but I don’t necessarily recommend it), and the language is vile and loathsome, to say the least. Heath is called a “pervert” and the movie is referred to as a “tacky bucket of slime seasoned with vomit.” The worst, however, is the last and largest sentence – “Heath Ledger is now in hell and has begun serving his eternal service there – beside which, nothing else about Heath Ledger is relevant or consequential.”

The bile is rising in my throat as I type that.

Then there’s John Gibson, who literally tried to make the death into a punchline by mocking the movie and calling Heath a “weirdo” with a “serious drug problem.” In some instances of his news broadcast, and I use the term loosely, you can hear him begin to laugh. Here is my response to that.

Luckily, there are plenty of people out there who refuse to sully his name any more that it already has been. He was a phenomenal talent with almost limitless potential, and the week of speculation and rumormongering has done nothing but smear his reputation, intentional or not. Of all people, Anderson Cooper and Star Jones have come to his defense, claiming that the innuendos should be kept to a minimum until more facts are known and the autopsy tox screens come back. Here are their statements on the developments of this week.

Anderson Cooper said, “For the last two nights we have reported on actor Heath Ledger. His shocking death is clearly a story a lot of people are interested in, but tonight we will not be reporting more on it. The truth is there is not really anything new to report.

The full results of the various tests done on Mr. Ledger will not be ready for perhaps a few weeks and there is very little new information. I have no doubt other networks will spend a lot of time tonight discussing his death and the various rumors about what might have caused it, but I am not a fan of speculation, so unless there is something really new to discuss we probably won’t be covering it anymore anytime soon.”

Even Star Jones had it right with this statement — “Might I suggest that we in the media, instead of reporting on the dead based on gossip, rumor, innuendo and anonymous sources, choose to honor this man’s memory based on his talent and the good taste we all should be exercising. My heart goes out to the family of Heath Ledger.”

I honestly can’t decide which is worse – the death of an immensely talented young man and that a young girl will grow up without a dad, or the fact that this girl will grow up in a world with so many hateful people. Hopefully Michelle will make sure Matilda is sheltered from as much hate as possible.

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