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There is a stark contrast in the life stories of two Australian  "knights", celebrity subjects of major articles in newspapers in the past month: actor Heath Ledger  and cricketer Matthew Hayden.  Both received standing ovations,  Ledger when he won  a Golden Globe in Hollywood  for his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight and was nominated for an Academy Award, and Hayden when he announced his retirement from cricket. 

Ledger's award was posthumous - he died nearly a year ago from an accidental drug overdose.    Hayden  had a lap of honour  with his  three children, Grace 6, Joshua 3, and Tom 20 months,  in a car driven  around the Gabba in Brisbane during the Twenty/20  International  against South Africa.  He was  joined at the ground by his wife Kellie. 

The media have been glowing in tributes to Ledger,   both during his life and after his death.  Ever since his performance in Brokeback Mountain, a love story  about  homosexual cowboys,  Ledger has been the darling of the  Hollywood glitterati.  In contrast, Hayden, following recent batting scores  perceived as mediocre,  was the recipient  of much criticism  by cricket writers along the lines of why-doesn't-he-retire-now.  This criticism  turned to warm  testimonials immediateley Hayden  announced his decision to retire.  The journalists had succeeded in 'bowling' the man
But were the media really kind to Ledger - or to  young actors  who  might see him as a role model -  in endorsing his lifestyle or the  cultural permissiveness which contributed to his death?  In a culture where  recreational drug use is  in  fashion, tragic deaths like Heath's should be a  warning. 

His depression following the break-up of his relationship with  girl-friend Michelle Williams is  one example of the fact that not even  Hollywood celebrities are exempt from broken hearts.  Heath  was devoted to Michelle and their two-year-old daughter, Matilda, but he and Michelle had  arguments about his drug use.  So much for the "harm minimisation" policies  on drugs of addiction  promoted by liberals instead of  the  zero tolerance of illicit drugs with court ordered   detoxification and rehabilitation favoured by conservatives. 

Dr. Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America  suggests another  significant factor in Heath's depression could have been his parents' divorce.  "A wake-up call from the culture is Heath's statement that he felt like he had lived out of a suitcase ever since his parents divorced when he was 10 years old. In spite of children's supposed resilience, divorce leaves predictable negative outcomes and father-absence leaves a vacuum that is virtually impossible to fill. Heath talked openly about his difficulty in dealing with his parents' divorce; he felt close to both his parents and blamed himself. He said that getting into acting helped him deal with his dark emotions after his parents' divorce".  So much for "no-fault" divorce.....

Ledger's friends reported that before his  death he had become a virtual recluse - he hardly slept and was reliant on sleeping pills.    He  told a friend  he felt his life was spinning out of control.

For Matthew Hayden the decision to retire was obviously emotional but had many positives.  He told his daughter, Grace, while they were in their back garden that he had had enough, and " I want to be here".  Here is with family  - and Hayden has other  contributions he wants to make to cricket, such as mentoring Aboriginal cricketers and putting on the agenda the social issues  of players being away  from their families for long periods.  Hayden knew the stress of being separated from  family. 

 Family is the key  to the difference in the outcomes of the lives of Heath Ledger and Matthew Hayden.  Hayden's children  have a father and  not-to-be-underrated simple joys like his company while  gardening,  fishing and growing-up.   Ledger's daughter can read about him and look at his awards but she won't have his companionship.

As Fr. Thomas Euteneuer,President of Human Life International wrote: "A thumbnail sketch of his [Ledger's] adult life might look something like this: Hollywood glitter, money and status, cohabitating with a girlfriend, a child out of wedlock, an activist for an immoral lifestyle, drug overdose and then death at a very young age. It’s a real tragedy ... the
culture of hedonism and death....."

Is Hollywood so hollow that no one suggested to Heath Ledger that he shape-up as a parent?  For all the adulation he received  and the awards celebrating his talent, his daughter won't have a childhood enriched by the presence of her father.

Babette Francis is  Vice President of the Drug Advisory Council of  Australia (DACA).




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