Publish date:
Updated on

The Dark Knight opens with highest-grossing weekend

On this day in 2008, The Dark Knight, the fifth film in the big-screen Batman series, opens in theaters around the United States, six months after the death of one of its stars, Heath Ledger, who played the Joker. The Dark Knight beat out the previous record-holder, 2007’s Spider-Man 3, to score the then-highest-grossing opening weekend of any movie in history, raking in some $158 million. Ledger, who received an Academy Award nomination for his performance in Brokeback Mountain (2005), died at age 28 from an accidental prescription-drug overdose on January 22, 2008.

Heath Ledger was born April 4, 1979, in Perth, Australia, and as a teenager acted in Australian television shows and films. His first Hollywood hit was 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), which was followed by roles in such films as The Patriot (2000), Monster’s Ball (2000), A Knight’s Tale (2001), The Four Feathers (2002), Ned Kelly (2003) and The Brothers Grimm (2003). Ledger received numerous accolades, including a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance in Brokeback Mountain, in which he played Wyoming ranch hand Ennis Del Mar, who has a homosexual affair with rodeo rider Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal). Following the success of Brokeback Mountain, Ledger went on to play one of several incarnations of the music icon Bob Dylan in 2007’s I’m Not There.

The Dark Knight, which (like its immediate predecessor, Batman Begins) was directed by Christopher Nolan and starred Christian Bale in the title role, was in post-production when Ledger was found dead at his New York City apartment. Intense media speculation followed his death, which was later ruled accidental. The Dark Knight marked Ledger’s first appearance as the Joker, Batman’s maniacal nemesis. Reviews of Ledger’s performance were almost universally excellent, and buzz began about a possible posthumous Oscar nomination. Jack Nicholson played the character in 1989’s Batman, the first installment in the modern film series, which starred Michael Keaton as the masked crime fighter.

At the time of his death, Ledger was in the midst of filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which was co-written and directed by Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). Shut down for two months, production on the film was finally completed when three other actors played variations on Ledger’s character. It was later reported that the three actors–Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell–would donate their pay from the film to Ledger’s young daughter, Matilda, who had not yet been included in her father’s will (which left his estate to his parents and sisters) at the time of his death. Matilda’s mother is the actress Michelle Williams, Ledger’s co-star in Brokeback Mountain and his fiancée from 2004 to 2007.

In September 2008, Ledger’s father announced the family had decided to donate Heath’s entire estate to Matilda.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


Video of Titanic wreckage released

On this day in 1986, new close-up videotapes of the sunken ocean liner Titanic are released to the public. Taken on the first manned expedition to the wreck, the videotapes are stunning in their clarity and detail, showing one of the ship’s majestic grand staircases and a more

Spanish Civil War breaks out

On July 18, 1936, the Spanish Civil War begins as a revolt by right-wing Spanish military officers in Spanish Morocco and spreads to mainland Spain. From the Canary Islands, General Francisco Franco broadcasts a message calling for all army officers to join the uprising and more

Incident on Chappaquiddick Island

Shortly after leaving a party on Chappaquiddick Island, Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy of Massachusetts drives an Oldsmobile off a wooden bridge into a tide-swept pond. Kennedy escaped the submerged car, but his passenger, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, did not. The senator did not more

Hitler publishes Mein Kampf

Seven months after being released from Landsberg jail, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler publishes the first volume of his personal manifesto, Mein Kampf. Dictated by Hitler during his nine-month stay in prison, Mein Kampf, or “My Struggle,” was a bitter and turgid narrative filled with more

Fire of Rome

A fire erupts in Rome, spreading rapidly throughout the market area in the center of the city. When the flames finally died out more than a week later, nearly two-thirds of Rome had been destroyed. Emperor Nero used the fire as an opportunity to rebuild Rome in a more orderly more

FDR nominated for unprecedented third term

On this day in 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who first took office in 1933 as America’s 32nd president, is nominated for an unprecedentedthird term. Roosevelt, a Democrat, would eventually be elected to a record four terms in office, the only U.S. president to serve more than more

Mein Kampf is published

On this day in 1925, Volume One of Adolf Hitler’s philosophical autobiography, Mein Kampf, is published. It was a blueprint of his agenda for a Third Reich and a clear exposition of the nightmare that will envelope Europe from 1939 to 1945. The more

Johnson meets Thieu in Honolulu

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu in Honolulu to discuss relations between Washington and Saigon. Johnson reaffirmed his administration’s commitment “to defend South Vietnam.” Thieu stated that he had “no apprehensions at all” more

David Cone pitches perfect game

On July 18, 1999, New York Yankee David Cone pitches the 16th perfect game in major league history and 14th in the modern era with a no-hit, no-walk victory over the Montreal Expos. David Cone had made his name as a pitcher with the New York Mets from 1987 to 1992. His best year more

Nero’s Rome burns

The great fire of Rome breaks out and destroys much of the city on this day in the year 64. Despite the well-known stories, there is no evidence that the Roman emperor, Nero, either started the fire or played the fiddle while it burned. Still, he did use the disaster to further more