Heath Ledger’s death is a terrible tragedy. It’s the kind of tragedy that will remain, even if they suddenly come forward and announce that he had a massive drug problem or took his own life. The end result, regardless of how he died, is that we’ve lost an amazingly talented actor in his prime. Hell, before his prime, some people might argue.

We have no way of knowing how Ledger’s career might have panned out, but looking at how it shifted until now, I have no doubt that Ledger could have been a powerhouse of the cinema. I already had underestimated Ledger once, writing him off as a “pretty boy” devoid of talent after his romps in Roar, A Knight’s Tale, and The Patriot. Little did I know what was to come in movies like Brokeback Mountain and even The Brothers Grimm, where Ledger put pride aside and was willing to play against type, as the goofier of the brothers.

Head honcho, Josh Tyler text-messaged me the news about Ledger’s death. I was in a store when I got it and was absolutely floored. When the clerk asked me what bad news I had gotten I told her. Her response: “Oh my God… But, what about Batman? The death is a tragedy, but the first question anyone seems to wonder past the circumstances of his death is that: What about Batman? Ledger’s hotly debated decision to take on the mantle of the Joker finally had gained approval, thanks to the first trailer and images from the picture. But now Ledger isn’t here anymore.

The good news is that The Dark Knight has been shot and wrapped, so the impact of Ledger’s death on the movie will be minimal, other than a pall cast over the film in remembrance of a talented actor. Recent remarks from Christopher Nolan seemed to indicate that, while Ledger’s Joker is a major part of the film, he’s not the major part of the story. Still, something tells me those of us who remember seeing The Crow after its star passed on will be reliving some of those same emotions as we watch a performance that spells out just what we lost in a single person’s death.

The big shame as far as Batman goes, is that Chris Nolan doesn’t seem to be taking the same one-movie-per-villain approach previous Batman handlers have, which means there’s a high chance there were plans for the Joker beyond The Dark Knight. That’s where the loss of Ledger will impact the film. If you like him in The Dark Knight, that’s still all you’ll get.

Actually, the bigger impact of Ledger’s death won’t be Batman, but instead with the director who proved to me that the actor was more than a pretty face. Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is still filming, with a 2009 release date, which means they may not even have enough footage of Ledger to proceed without recasting. If that’s the case, The Dark Knight will be the last movie we get that featured Ledger.

I’m still at a serious loss for words. The loss of Brad Renfro last week was bad enough, but losing this 28-year-old Academy contender is just too much of a shock. All this potential these young actors had, gone for eternity.

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