The posthumous accolades began to appear on news sites as soon as word spread this afternoon that Heath Ledger had died in his New York apartment. One of the actors of his generation. Brilliant artist. Doting father. One of the talents that slipped through the cracks as the world focused its attention on the Amys and Britneys.

For a certain population – people now in their mid-to-late twenties, the news hit differently. This is our first taste of what our contemporaries felt in 1955. 1970. 1971. 1993 and certainly 1994. Someone who assumed a place in the pop culture lexicon, someone we never knew but knew much of over a span of years, is suddenly gone. And while life hasn’t been significantly altered, we’ll wake up and go to our jobs and through our daily routines tomorrow, it’s changed a little. There is a twinge of sadness for someone with whom we grew up.

The references to Brokeback, Candy, I’m Not There, and certainly the upcoming Batman will be flying fast and furious, but the Heath Ledger that sticks in my mind most is Patrick Verona. 10 Things I Hate About You was a staple of sophomore year of college, given the fact that a friend watched it with such regularity that I knew all the words by heart.

What I always looked forward to experiencing time and time again from my perch on her couch was the scene on the bleachers, as Ledger danced and sang with abandon. That an instant heartthrob actor went as far as he did to give his cool guy character a goofy and endearing side won me over; the performer was willing to completely commit himself to a (sharp and still incredibly enjoyable) teen romantic comedy.

Over the course of the nine years following, I kept track of him – noted the romances, took in most of the films, envied the life in Brooklyn, cheered the birth of Matilda and felt overwhelmed with age at the same time.

His life was always just there for me, waiting on the gossip blogs or news stories. And today, his death was waiting for me, only an hour after it was discovered.

I never fancied Heath Ledger. I never swooned, never fell into a celebrity crush. He just happened to be an actor my age, whose pictures I inevitably saw and mostly enjoyed, who segued into adulthood at about the same time that I did.

And I felt an urge to mourn him when he was gone.

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