"It's a bit like: We had a lot of things to do, because we didn't have a lot of time."
Who: Four-time Oscar-nominated actress Michelle Williams, 42, and the late Oscar-winning actor Heath Ledger.
How They Met: Ledger and Williams met in 2004 on the set of the film Brokeback Mountain. In the movie, Ledger plays a closeted gay ranch hand Ennis Del Mar, while Williams is Ennis’s wife and longtime love, Alma.
Sparks flew immediately IRL, and it was a case of love at first sight for Ledger and Williams — partly thanks to an on-set sledding accident. “The first day we filmed that scene where Michelle's character is on the toboggan and falls off the sled, and Ennis [Heath Ledger's character] is with her — they're laughing; well on the third take, Michelle fell off the sled, and at the bottom of the hill she was crying," screenwriter Diana Ossana told Out magazine in 2015.
"She'd twisted her knee, and we had to call someone to take her to the hospital. Heath was not about to let her go alone, and as he was getting into the vehicle with her he was smoothing her hair back. I remember him looking at her, and she looking up at him with these wide eyes. She was almost startled by the attention he was giving her, but you could see it every day from thereon. For him it was truly love at first sight. He was so taken with her."
Within months of meeting, they were engaged and expecting their first child together. Just days before the film’s release date, Heath and Michelle welcomed a daughter, Matilda, in October 2005.
Looking back at the fast pace of their relationship, Williams told GQ in 2012, “Our initial meeting, the circumstances of how we first met, were cosmic or something. Yeah, a lot of things happened at once. It’s a bit like, we had a lot of things to do because we didn’t have a lot of time, or something.”
Why We Loved Them: Despite being major movie stars, Ledger and Williams were really just hipster sweethearts at the end of the day, which is why after welcoming Matilda, they traded in Hollywood for a brownstone in Boerum Hill — inadvertently making Brooklyn cool.
Just like any other couple in the borough, Ledger was frequently spotted riding his skateboard in the neighborhood, while Williams immersed herself in the local community as a board member for an anti-development group. “It’s the closest we’ve ever come to feeling like we can lead a normal life,” Ledger told New York Magazine about living in Brooklyn. “We’ve localized ourselves. I don’t think there’s another place on earth I’d rather be right now. We’re very happy.”
When They Peaked: At the 2006 Oscars. They were both nominated for their roles in Brokeback Mountain — and, who can forget Michelle's iconic canary yellow Vera Wang dress?
The Breakup: After three years together, Ledger and Williams decided to call it quits on their relationship in September 2007 — four months before the actor died of an accidental overdose. At the time, little details were given as to why they went their separate ways, but following Ledger's death, it was believed that his drug use was a contributing factor.
"Well, certainly Heath Ledger was a partier," People Senior Editor JD Heyman said back in 2008. "He liked to go out, he was a known user of drugs, he used cocaine. He had a lifestyle that really wasn't — at least in Michelle Williams' eyes — compatible with raising a child and continuing in that relationship. Even though their relationship did not work out, she did love Heath — she loved him very much."
Williams's best friend Busy Philipps also shed light on their "complicated" relationship in her memoir This Will Only Hurt a Little. "[Heath] and Michelle were in the process of separating at this point,” Philipps wrote, referencing her 2007 surprise wedding to Marc Silverstein. “I felt sad for both of them, but weirdly, like something would be figured out and it wasn’t the end of the story for them. They were so young and that baby was the light of both of their lives. They were just working all the time and it was complicated. Shit is always complicated. Especially when you’re 28. And movie stars. With a baby.”
Where They Are Now: In the weeks following Heath's death, Michelle sought refuge in upstate New York for a few years, before moving back to Brooklyn. She now lives in Brooklyn Heights with her husband and Hamilton producer, Thomas Kail. The two married in 2020 and that same year, they welcomed a son, Hart. Currently, Williams is pregnant with the couple's second child and is due this fall.
Despite her heartbreak over Ledger's death, Williams continued on with acting, and in the years since his passing, she starred in countless Box Office hits — including Manchester By the Sea, The Greatest Showman, My Week with Marilyn, and Blue Valentine.
Ledger, meanwhile, was honored posthumously with an Oscar for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight in 2008, and the next year, he gave his final performance in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
#TBT: Check in every Thursday as we throw it back to some of our favorite celebrity couples of all time.
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