January 23rd, 2008
12:26 PM ET

Sundance in shock over Heath Ledger

From CNN Entertainment Producer Matt Carey:

A terrible pall has been cast over the Sundance Film Festival by the shocking death of Heath Ledger. The festival is just days away from handing out its awards, but the normally celebratory mood has been replaced by a feeling of sadness and almost dread. Everyone around here looks like they’ve been kicked in the stomach.

A lot of stars with films at the festival had a personal connection to Ledger - no one more so than his ex-fiancee Michelle Williams, whose Sundance film is "Incendiary." She never came to Park City to promote it. But Naomi Watts, who was romantically involved with him at one point and co-starred with Ledger in "Ned Kelly," was in town when the news hit. She later canceled all of her interviews to promote her film, "Funny Games."

Some stars here have been gracious enough to share their feelings about Ledger as an actor and a person. Lukas Haas, who told us he had met Ledger several times, described him as a "very sweet" person. Jacqueline Bissett (who, like Haas, stars in the Sundance film "Death in Love") said she met Ledger in Venice, Italy, where he premiered his film "Casanova." She called him an actor of tremendous talent and potential.

Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci ("Blind Date") also paid tribute to him as a performer. Tucci said he was especially impressed by Ledger’s work in "Brokeback Mountain," which earned Ledger his only Oscar nomination.

The Sundance Film Festival hasn’t been pleased with reporters asking questions about Ledger. When we came to the premiere of "Death in Love" Tuesday evening, a Sundance press officer threatened to revoke our credentials if we asked any questions about the late actor. She said we were there only to ask questions about the film. I find that akin to someone in the White House telling the press corps what they can and can’t ask the President. I don't think it serves us as a society to restrict what the media can ask in public settings.

It's difficult to ask stars for their thoughts on such an occasion and yet I can't help thinking, who better to characterize an actor's contributions than a fellow actor? In times of tragedy people take comfort from hearing what others are feeling and thinking on the matter, and it's really in that spirit that I ask - not out of a salacious desire to pry.

None of this is meant to imply that members of the media should ask questions in anything but a sensitive and respectful manner. And I respect any star's right to decline to answer a question, be it about Heath Ledger or any other issue. But to prevent us from asking is a form of prior restraint.

- Matt Carey 

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soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. Andy

    Andrew Lee and Dave Turner are right on the mark. I totally agree with their statements.

    I would also like to add...entertaining the populace is not an easy task. Actors the likes of Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart don't come along every day. It takes hard work and dedication. And to see it in someone so young and talented is rare indeed. And when that someone is lost to the world at such a young age is a tremendous blow. It is nothing short of a tragedy. Maybe if the media would report on the work of the entertainers instead of their personal lives such tragedies could be avoided.

    Lost to the world: Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Anissa Jones, Daniel Smith, Bridgette Andersen, Freddie Prinze, Christopher Pettiet, Brad Renfro, Jonathan Brandis, David Strickland.

    February 10, 2008 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Anna Bianchi

    Goodbye sweet "Casanova"... you won my heart with your genuine smile and your wonderful talent. I think you'll be remembered just like this, anything people can say or do, they could never change what you were for us.

    February 5, 2008 at 3:24 am | Report abuse |
  3. J. Ashby

    Certainly you have a right to ask the question. And just as certainly, they have a right to revoke your credentials. You, as the reporter, must decide if the "public's right to know" makes the risk worthwhile. Given the fact that this story has already been sensationalized beyond belief, I doubt the risk was necessary.

    February 2, 2008 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Rhonda Haley

    I liked the article,good show man.

    February 2, 2008 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Appleleena


    You should look in the mirror and be ashamed of yourself not only for your actions but for the fact that you won't even admit they were wrong. What happened to your compassion, not just as a reporter, but as a human being?

    You article and arrogance didn't make me angry, it mad me sad.

    February 1, 2008 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Talia

    I, too, am a reporter but I would never have even thought of questioning people about Heath Ledger right then and there. While I believe in the liberty of the press and a reporter's right to ask questions, I must admit there are limits. It's got nothing to do wtih "restraint"; it's merely respect and common sense. You should also know and accept that in this business, these things are bound to happen.
    Unfortunately, entertainment journalism has become more about getting the scoop and sensationlization (even of a young man's death. The fact that he's a famous actor is secondary) rather than the reporting.
    At this rate, I feel somewhat sorry for future journalists. This is not what our job is about. It's about talking about these artists' works.
    You know, there are many, many people out there who'd love to attend Sundance, Cannes, Grammy Awards, etc. I feel privileged and if they ask me to refrain from asking insensitive questions, I will.

    Heath, RIP. Your daughter will be proud of your legacy.

    January 24, 2008 at 5:57 am | Report abuse |
  7. Audra

    Real journalists do not report on movie/celebrity information; that is the realm of gossip columnists and movie reviewers.

    The purpose of "real journalists" and "freedom of the press" involves the right of the public to know the unvarnished truth from unbiased sources about our government. This has nothing to do with prying into people's feelings about a celebrity's death. Real journalists are respectable and sometimes heroic in their efforts to expose the truth, but their reputations are compromised by being lumped into the same group as these celebrity gossip hacks.
    Matt Carey: You don't have a leg to stand on; and you are NOT a journalist, so step down off your high horse.

    We may have a right to know the facts surrounding Mr. Ledger's death, but that's where it ends. Of course those who knew and loved him are devestated by his passing; why do you have to make them talk about it? Are you hoping they will loose their composure? Their private grief is none of your dang business. It's silly to stick a microphone in their faces and make them talk about it unless they volunteer to be interviewed about that specifically. For all you know, the celebrities requested that the Sundance press officer make that statement.

    Mr. Ledger was a respected actor who must be admired for his dedication to his work.

    Jim: If people with "real jobs" approched their jobs with the dedication and professionalism that Mr. Ledger did, they should have no problem "making enough money to buy food." Rambling speculation about unsubstantiated rumors on the cause of his death only makes you look like as big a fool as the reporters who publish before the facts are in.

    My heart aches for his young daughter, who, I hope in years to come, will be inspired by his example.

    January 23, 2008 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dianna Camacho

    It is very unfortunate that news reports about this extremely talented,kind-hearted,lovely young man's untimely death are focused around a possible suicide or depression. The prescription drug bottles found at his home are in many,many homes today due to the fact that they are highly prescribed,especially for people that travel a lot and have frequent work schedule changes. The reporting of the alleged 20 dollar bill found rolled up in his home doesn't mean that it was actually his or used by him in the manner which is being implied. I'm sure Heath had a lot of friends/colleagues/girlfriends visit him at his home. I'm sick of implications being reported without actual facts!!! This man doesn't deserve this.

    January 23, 2008 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Airdorn

    You reporters are vultures. Plain and simple.

    That you veil the panting desire to spread 'he-said, she-said' gossip as some kind of noble effort only makes what you do more disgusting.

    Kodos to the press agent who threatened to kick you out of the festival.

    January 23, 2008 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jennifer

    I am very saddened over the death of Heath Ledger. He was one of my alltime favorite actors. I can only imagine what Michelle is going through or any of his family or friends for that matter. He will be missed greatly by many. It is such a shame.

    January 23, 2008 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ron D

    /The Sundance Film Festival hasn’t been pleased with reporters asking questions about Ledger. When we came to the premiere of “Death in Love” Tuesday evening, a Sundance press officer threatened to revoke our credentials if we asked any questions about the late actor. She said we were there only to ask questions about the film. I find that akin to someone in the White House telling the press corps what they can and can’t ask the President. I don’t think it serves us as a society to restrict what the media can ask in public settings./

    I think it serves society well that an independant non-government organization can use its free speech to tell a gossip and speculation merchant that if they ask any questions of impropriety that they will be escorted to the door. I think the major news organizations salivate over celebrity deaths and love the circus they create with the coverage.

    January 23, 2008 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Michelle

    It's tragic to hear such amazing talent all of a sudden gone. Heath Ledger was to the world's point of view, an amazing person, both inside and out, an incredible actor, an unselfish young man who had nothing but a great future ahead of him. Accidental or not, I'm sure God had a reason for him to exist. His positive influence on the whole world shows on our grievance and prayers for him and his family in mourning. May he rest in peace, we'll surely miss him.

    January 23, 2008 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. lola lloyd

    maybe this will start a new era in a concept formerly known as journalism.

    January 23, 2008 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |

    I was moved to hear the world lost such an important and powerful actor. As an audience we were just being exposed to the talent and courage Heath Ledger displayed in his performances. Heath Ledger will be missed, my prayers go out to his family.

    January 23, 2008 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JG

    Am I the only one who finds that folks in the media are the only ones completely out of touch with what is a real Government restriction and what only gets in the way of their own personal agendas to fabricate whatever news will sell their paper or draw "hits" on their website?

    Please don't take us all for fools. You certainly have the right to ask whatever questions you want, but the Film Festival has the right to restrict what questions you can ask while at their venue. Don't like it – don't go, and then attempt to contact those people in the entertainment business through your own means.

    January 23, 2008 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Matt Romero

    oh...wow Todd got alot of crap for this one...well both Todd and Matt Carey should get it...why did CNN have two entertainment producers post this? Did Todd do Mr. Carey dirty work?

    January 23, 2008 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Kevin

    To Matt Romero, I wasn't replying to you...I agree with you. I was talking about Matt Carey, the person that wrote the above article. Please note that the article is written by Matt Carey and NOT Todd Leopold.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Katherine

    As an aspiring journalist, I agree that it is wrong for the media to be censored and told what to say and ask.
    However, I agree with Sundance officials in this case and believe that it was tasteless and tactless that you would ask people who know him, whether intimately or not, just after news of his death. He was a great and talented actor and man, and it is inappropriate to badger others for comments regarding such a tragic and personal matter. It is sick for paparazzi and other media vultures to descend on close friends the way that they did. Please cut your sanctimonious and self-absorbed whining, it is disrespectful, crude and pathetic and gives a bad reputation to the media in general. A young and talented man died - this is not a showcase for the media or an appropriate time to chastise officials for doing what you did not, which is respect the death of someone well-known and beloved.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Dennis

    Yes, we all clicked on the link. Alas, I gave CNN too much credit, I was expecting an account of a planned memorial service perhaps attended by the sundance community or maybe how some of the film-makers (not celebs) reacted. Instead we get this whiny, self-entitled idiot's account of how he wasn't able to ask his precious question.

    What happened to CNN? Nowadays when you click on their home page it almost reads like a London tabloid:

    "Ipod sets man on fire!"
    "Texas town wants to be UFO capital!!"

    So sad.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Honieh

    Heath Ledger was a phenomenal actor. When I first heard of his death I was at work a few blocks away. We are all sad today, and most especially have our thoughts and prayers for his young daughter Matilda as well as Michelle Williams. May he rest in peace.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Adrian

    Your analogy to a White House correspondent not being able to ask a question about the President is spurious and completely wrong. Unless the film you were watching WAS ABOUT HEATH or contained his performance where is the connection between him and the movie being shown and promoted at the film festival????? The President is what the White House is all about. Was the film you were watching starring Heath Ledger???? No. You crack reports who dropped the ball ironically when it came to reporting on President Bush and the White House need to get your priorities straight. You should ask questions about Bush, you should mind your maners when it comes to the late great Heath Ledger.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Uncle Ben

    "a form of prior restraint"

    Yes it is, because the press rarely show any restraint of their own. Regardless of the "spirit" in which questions are asked, they are all inappropriate at this time. Perhaps later someone will be open to answering your questions, but let his friends and colleagues alone for now. A press badge does not give you carte blanche, but rather give it and the people you have access to some respect.

    "With great power, comes great responsibility."

    January 23, 2008 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Pat Huntington NY

    First, let me express how saddened I am over Heath's sudden death. Many will morn him, and feel his loss, but his death is particularly hard on the gay community...his portrayal of Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain was ground breaking and touched many.

    Second, the cause of death is not that important, unless it is linked to his suspected use of Ambien. Another poster reported the dangers of taking this prescription sleep aid. I have my own story. I experienced sleep walking, sleep eating [woke up next morning to an empty frig that was full the night before], delusional talking, and a depressed outlook. There are many possible dangerous side effects listed for the prescription, and since it is has been reported that Heath had serious, very serious sleeping problems because of his recent work on the new Batman Movie, it is not entirely inconceivable that his death is connected to an over use [note not over dose] of Ambien. I started taking multiple doses of the largest prescribed milligrams doses [i.e. two to three of the 12.5 mg pills] towards the end of my use of this dangerous drug. I can only imagine how many he was up to towards the end.

    R I P my friend.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Susan

    I cannot believe you equate being an entertainment reporter with reporting on what's going on in the White House. Get some perspective dude.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  25. CR

    There is a time and place for sensitive questions. No one is restraining the media...how would you feel if you had just been through, or heard something tragic? How about doing your job and asking about the event you are covering and AFTER you have done your job.....ask politely if the person wants to comment on the tragic situation. I don't blame Naomi Watts for canceling her interviews since the media acts like a bunch of pariahs when something like this happens. Oh, hey Naomi....how do you feel about your ex that just passed away not even twenty four hours ago....what do you MEAN you don't want to talk about it?...gee, maybe she's upset...hmmmm. Treat everyone like a human being for goodness sake and give them the same respect you would want from people.

    Media restraint....I am appauled that you would expect sympathy from readers for that.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Heather

    Anyone in mourning, over anyone or anything, deserves to have their silence or wish to communicate respected. No matter who requires, desires or requests a statement of any kind. May God bless and keep him.
    On the other hand, I agree that not being able to ask the President anything we want is total BS. He is an elected official and I am a taxpaying citizen. I feel I have every right to know what my goverment is up to. Especially one so consistently corrupt that somehow finds cause to use executive privilege to cover up their flagrant disrespect to our once magnificent country and all its citizens.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Rick Sutter

    Why is this even news? A lot of people died yesterday.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Sarah

    Yeah, I'm an attorney so I'm all for free speech, lack of chilling effect on the media, blah blah blah blah blah. That being said- maybe you wait a few days or even weeks to ask the questions, huh? Show an ounce of tact, restraint, and sensitivity towards your fellow human beings instead of just shoving a tape recorder or microphone in their faces. Some of those people lost a friend and/or a coworker. Deal with being forced to wait to ask pointless questions.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  29. gloria finamore

    the feelings of sorrow that overcame me yesterday upon hearing of the passing of such a wonderful actor and person such as Heath was are still with me.I am no teenager – just a grandmother who feels such a personal loss for reasons I cannot explain. He had such screen presence and I truly enjoyed all his movies. But the Lord has made this decision to take him home where he will never feel any pain and we will always remember him in a very special way!

    January 23, 2008 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Aaron

    The last part of your article shifts all the focus onto how they wouldn't let you ask questions (even though you already had), and not on Heath and how much he will be missed. I'm all about freedom of the press, but no actor is similar to a government official that has a duty to answer questions about their policy issue. It's more personal than that.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  31. RoxAnne

    I'm just in utter shock over the passing of Heath Ledger. I was rooting for him last year in hopes he would win the Oscar for his performance in 'Brokeback' because I really thought he deserved it. Even though he didn't win, I thought he he was on his way to becoming the next big super star actor. He was in the beginning of mastering his craft and I was excited to see where he would take it.

    I'm so sorry for his family, his daughter and the mother of his child. They must all be stunned and heart-broken. I just never imagined something like this would happen to him. I hope he is at peace.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Mike

    His performance in Brokeback Mountain was one of the great ones in this generation. I'm saddened by his passing, but mostly for his daughter and the rest of his family. May he rest in peace.

    I don't think most people would have a problem with you guys asking others what they think of his passing as you had every right to do so. I think if someone doesn't want to discuss it in front of a large group of people, however, you should respect that. That's probably what they were asking. Maybe you guys should be asking yourselves if it's newsworthy. What Lucas Haas thinks about Ledger's passing is no more relevant to us than where Britney Spears does her shopping, but you can't get enough of that, can you?

    They're there to do their job. Let them promote their work and grieve on their own time!

    January 23, 2008 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  33. CD

    Heath will be missed and we want his daughter and the rest of his family to know that our thoughts and prayers are with them in their time of need. God Bless each and every one of you. Life is so short and lets make the best we can of it. God Bless the Ledger family and fans.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  34. scott david

    Sadly, this is just another sample of the pop culture circus spinning out of
    control....inhuman, vulture-like photographers, and preening, fatuous entertainment reporters lusting after a sound bite, picking over every
    useless detail of a either a celebrity's public meltdowns or a celebrity's death.
    (And of course this CNN guy is a prize idiot who can't differentiate a Sundance
    film screening Q & A from an actual news conference)

    And as a father, I ache for that little girl, who won't grow up with her dad. My heart goes out to both her and her mom, and Heath Ledger's family.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  35. Tazzie

    My comment is about the mention of restricting the media as far as asking questions about the late actor. I have seen a few of his films and really enjoyed them. However, due of the timing, I agree with the media not being able to ask any questions about him. The man has just passed and this seems sad to say, but unfortunately, the media is drawn to things like that and it's those who are NOT respectful that ruin it for the rest including those who are.

    However, in most cases, the media's timing needs to be better. Let those who are Mr. Ledger's friends, family and fans have a time of mourning as you would wish if a loved one of yours had passed.

    I know personally, I would not want to be rushed by a bunch of people asking tens and millions of questions about someone I loved whether it be a friend or family member just after they had passed. Especially since he has a child. Would you want your child seeing nothing on tv but a bunch of media people asking questions about your childs parent?

    Also some of the questions, from those who have no respect, are quite crude in the since that they do lack respect. Would you want your child hearing those whether it be now or in the future?

    Personally I would not. One last note to the media, treat people whether they be famous or not, by following the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have done to you."

    January 23, 2008 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  36. Eric Roberts

    In many cultures, talking about a loved one who has passed on is a way to celebrate thier life as well as giving a bit of immortality by passing on the memories you have of them and why they meant so much to you. That is a very important part of the grieving process.

    While I never met him, as an actor, Heath was awesome. I first ran across him when Fox had the series "Roar". he was probably in his late teens when he stared in that and was already showing his talent and prowess as an actor. In allof his movies and shows, you could see his passion for his craft. Brokeback Mountain really blew me away with his portrayal of what must have been a very difficult role for a non-gay man. I think this role was able to bring the level of discussion of homosexuality to a more civil level. It open eye in ways that no GBLT organization could have hoped for.

    His death deeply sadened my and my heart, thoughts, and prayers go out to his little girl and his friends and family. As someone who grew up in a fatherless (for different reasons) household, I know the hardships she will go through. I hope that she will develop the strength and courage to overcome this. My blessings to little Matilda.

    As a father(my youngest daughter is also 2), I can imagine what my daughters would feel if I was no longer a part of thier lives.May whatever diety he worshipped bring him swiftly into thier arms.

    Thank you Heath for the wonderful movies and shows that you played a part in that brought some joy into the lives of many of us.

    Rev. Eric Roberts

    January 23, 2008 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  37. Joan

    it saddens me as a mother of two children (25 and 26) lets step outside the box for whatever the cause of death be gentle Mr. Media this is someones son ,brother and father. The loss for them is tremendous. Allow him to rest in peace. Deepest sympathy to his family.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  38. Laura S

    I hate to point out the obvious, but we all clicked on the link to read about Sundance festival goers in shock over Heath's death. We are complicit in this, wanting to hear Hollywood's reaction. If we are going to be appalled at how these statements were collected, then we shouldn't have clicked on the link in the first place.

    R.I.P. Heath, you seemed like a beautiful soul

    January 23, 2008 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  39. Keke

    To all that mourn (and those that could care less)

    In light of the death of such a promising young man and the allegations and/or implication surrounding his death, I tell you all not to jump to any conclusions....

    Today's reports say that he was taking prescription Ambien in order to sleep.... Do not assume that he o.d.~ed on them.

    My mother-in-law was prescribed them about a year or two ago and upon taking the medication 'as prescribed' she began a downward spiral which escalated quickly and landed us in the ER.... she experienced episodes of manic delusion (things talking to her/chasing her/on her), talking incoherently and ramblings that made no sense, attempting to walk after taking the medication in which caused her to have no balance and would lose all consciousness for short periods (we found her in her bedroom in the floor, up against the wall; then in the hall way on her side where she'd slid down the wall; in the living room doorway) all the while talking about stuff that made NO SENSE!!! All this happened in the first two nights of taking this medication. She had no idea what had taken place...or where she was…. The only person she would let around her was me. Everyone else scared her and would send her into a ranting fit if they tried to help…

    the second night we had to take her to the ER because she was out of her head and unable to control. They told us that she was either totally allergic to the medication or highly sensitive, but that she was to NEVER take it again or it could kill her! No one should ever go through something like this just to get some sleep

    This medication is dangerous and sure as hell isn't for everyone! And the Ledger family would do well to look into that possibility....

    My heart goes out to Heath if he did experience this type of reaction and he was alone, cuz my mother-in-law was in a frightening place and had us in the house to come to her aide... to experience those things under his circumstances is most heartbreaking!

    January 23, 2008 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  40. Matt Romero

    change of topic...


    January 23, 2008 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  41. Dylan

    Sorry, but to say it is such tragedy for you to not ask strangers questions about an event that is not immediately related to why you are there is pretty ridiculous. True that no one is stopping you, the media, from making the inquiry. However, have you not noticed how strange the video responses have been of those few actors that did speak on camera? Some barely knew the man, but are now pressured to speak as if they knew him and give his opinion on the matter. Perhaps some time for those to regain some composure and actually give an in depth view of their feelings would be appropriate. I don't think there is any wrong with the sundance crew to threaten to revoke your privileges. Whether they will do it is another matter and your right to continue to pursue the questions is your choice. Sundance is not the government. You not asking a few questions is not going to be a matter of national security or the right of the citizens to know of their government dealings. To equate the two seems to be blowing the situation out of proportion. How did this get on CNN?

    January 23, 2008 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  42. Matt Romero

    I think we can all agree Todd is a douchebag.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  43. mary

    I have a comment regarding this statement by Matt Carey: "I don’t think it serves us as a society to restrict what the media can ask in public settings."

    I had the impression that it was not a public setting. Aren't selected members of the media in attendance by invitation only? If so, then it is a privately-run function, and the hosts of that function have the right to determine what conduct is permitted.

    If you go out on the street, you can ask anyone whatever you wish, but as a guest at someone else's event, you should abide by their requests. The purpose of that function was to promote a movie. That purpose is not served by discussing other topics that would detract from that purpose, no matter how topical.

    I, too, am heart-broken and stunned over the tragic death of Heath Ledger and I agree with you that it does help the healing process to discuss it and hear the comments of others. But to insist that such an emotional subject be discussed at an event where time and money is invested into promoting a movie that did not involve the deceased is not reasonable or fair. The promoters of the movie are well within their rights to ask invited guests to refrain from detracting from the intended purpose of the occasion.

    January 23, 2008 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  44. adam

    Actually, it's not prior restraint at all. The First Amendment only applies to actions of the government. Furthermore, even if it did apply, the First Amendment allows some public fora to be restricted to particular subject matter. There is absolutely no reason to suggest Sundance infringed upon some journalistic right of yours.

    I understand how you feel–it's as if, as a reporter, your reputation is automatically almost as bad as a lawyer's. You are not trusted and even despised! But I think you've demonstrated that, in this instance, the mistrust was well placed.

    The cloak of a sensitive and respectful manner does not make a question appropriate. You say that people there look as if they've been kicked in the stomach. That is fine. I appreciate that report. But what exactly is the public service of asking people, "What does it feel like to get kicked in the stomach?" We all already know how that feels. When it is clear that people are reeling from a loss, and yet trying to keep themselves together enough to get their jobs done, what do you accomplish by probing for a shallow soundbite on their complex feelings?

    You, as a reporter, can bring to us a story with complexity and nuance by observing and analyzing. Instead of whining about losing your opportunity to ask politely insensitive and imbecilic questions, maybe you should spend more time pondering your own feelings about being at Sundance just after this unfortunate event. (By the way: "occasion" was a bit infelicitous.)

    January 23, 2008 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  45. Matt Romero

    Well Kevin, in response to you feeling sorry for me, I don't think I'm alone in my belief. I think there should be people expressing their thoughts about him like in another article here at CNN which I view as a nice tribute rather than Todd complaining why he couldn't ask along with hundreds of other reporters the same questions about a death that just occurred not more than a day ago.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  46. Jim

    All of you people are joke can we talk about the mars picture Ledger is old news

    January 23, 2008 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  47. DEE

    When such a young actor has died, it is normal to ask questions about him. We have lost a very talented person and I want to give my condolences to his family and especially his little 2 year daughter who will never get to know her father.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  48. joyce

    jami what a cold & callous remark for someone to make – your mother must be really proud of you.

    what a sad passing of a very great actor & from everything you read & hear a great young man & father –

    at a time like this only good things should be remembered & said about someone – they are no longer here to defend themselves & it serves no purpose for their family, friends & fans to hear unkind things –

    January 23, 2008 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  49. Carolyn

    In times of tragedy, it doesn't take a psychologist to know that friends and family and co-workers need time to grieve and most people want to do that in private. People don't need to hear what other people have to say in order to be comforted about someone's tragedy. That's rationalization on your part as a newsperson. I absolutely understand why you would be told that you are at the festival for news about the festival.

    For comforts sake in time of tragedy, leave Mr. Ledger's friends and co-workers alone to grieve. You say you would understand if they declined to answer. Oh now you wouldn't; you don't understand the festival officials request.

    And, finally, as an active citizen, I take offense that you would consider their request any comparison to the government requesting that only certain information will be discussed. That is absolutely ludicrous!! How can you compare the two?!?!? Maybe you need some time to rethink what your job really is as a news reporter.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  50. Mike S

    I too was very shocked by the news of Heath Ledger's death. To the movie industry, it is akin to how Kurt Cobain's death hit the music industry and it's fans. He was a gifted actor, watching the trailer for the next BATMAN, I was fascinated to see his work as the Joker. He had many years ahead of him and many more memorable role to portray.

    But to Billy and Amy, your attitudes on discussing death are so restrictive, they feed into the belief in our society that death is a taboo subject, making death and dying something we must turn away from, instead of being part of the process of life, even when tragic, as in Heath's case.

    Matt Carey's approach seemed very sympathetic and nuanced, seeking to respect the wishes of those who didn't want to discuss the matter. He doesn't work for TMZ (Billy, that was a misrepresentation, but I get where you are going) but CNN. When a John Kennedy is killed, are we not to speak of our feelings? For some, discussing the dead helps to celebrate their lives and accomplishments. For Sundance, the NEWS, the STORY, is that beyond all the promoting and multi-million dollar deal makings for films, a festival, a community of entertainment professionals, has been deeply saddened and moved by the loss of one of their own. And how do we know this? By people talking.

    Let death not be shameful. Let a life be celebrated.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  51. Jim

    The funny thing about all of you writing on this blog is that you care about this man who overdose and pretty much killed himself. Why do you care about a actor who couldnt sleep because of a character that he was playing was hard to do. What about people with real jobs that work hard those should be the people that have a tough time being able to sleep. Why?... because they have real problems like making enough money to buy food not playing a part that they cant get in tune with. Ledger makes me sick

    January 23, 2008 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  52. Nancy

    The death of any young person is a tragedy, regardless of fame. The media should respect the family's request for privacy. Don't worry,media. There's always something new going on with Spears,Lohan,Hilton,etc.,etc---–

    January 23, 2008 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  53. terry

    I have an idea.............Why don't you give his friends and family time to grieve and THEN ask questions? It should be about RESPECT, RESPECT, RESPECT and it is times like these that call for your respect towards people that knew and loved him. Now, go find something else to talk about and print about and leave these poor folks alone to grieve.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  54. Katrina

    I think this is such a tragedy....Billy D is a bit confused as far as people talking about thier gief for Heath. This is natural and it is good for people to talk about thier feelings, not to mention they are honoring the memory of Heath. He left us with a gift of his talent that he shared with the world. And now the world is honoring him with thier thoughts on how he impacted them. I wish him peace and I wish peace for his family. Such a loss......I will pray for his little girl and for Michelle, I know they really loved eachother.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  55. Cecilia

    As a reporter, you want to do your job. As a human being, you want to be sensitive to those who are grieving. How do you do both at the same time. I think the press person was trying to stay "on topic," (the film), as opposed to turning into a Heath-fest, which it potentially could have. I only know Heath Ledger from his movies and an article here or there, but I think he would have wanted it that way. I admired Heath Ledger's work, and it's a terrible tragedy that his daughter will grow up without him. I'm all for Freedom of Speech, but I think there are instances in which it is better to say nothing.

    RIP, Heath. Thank you for your work.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  56. Reed

    "I don’t think it serves us as a society to restrict what the media can ask ..."

    "But to prevent us from asking is a form of prior restraint"

    Lord forbid your rights as a "journalist" are somehow violated. And don't justify your actions by implying your journalism is serving society. Intruding on someone's grief and asking a bunch of idiotic questions about their feelings is not what journalism is about.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  57. Bonnie

    Why should members of the media be asking any questions of anyone right now in a time of shock and grief? So you can continue with your name-dropping to show the world and convince yourself how important and smart you are? If people are obviously sad and "look like they’ve been kicked in the stomach", perhaps you should think about leaving them alone. They need each other right now, not some nosy reporter trying to make a buck off his byline on cnn.com.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  58. Bubba the Conspiracy Theorist, Swainsboro GA

    I bet that Sundance press officer will be a Sundance usher or doorman next year. Getting bad press isn't part of the plan. And Billy Doubleposter, lacking hard info on why he died, the only story is what his peers think. Don't get touchy because a reporter reports.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  59. Brad Kimberly

    The idea of prior restraint has always irritated me. I've been a journalist and a public relations specialist. At no point would I ever say "you can't ask questions" about this or that. Now, if I didn't want my interviewees to address the subject, I would ask them to respond like this: "My heart goes out to his family, but I really don't want to get into discussing Heath Ledger. Let's talk about the film."

    Now, it's ultimately up to the interviewee to do whatever he wants. That's something he has to work out with the press officer. However, the press officer should not admonish the media for doing its job. If they don't get the answers they want from the subject, they'll move on in the interview... back on task, I would hope.

    Brad Kimberly

    January 23, 2008 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  60. Lauren

    Umm...if the journalists' approach was anything like reported here: http://popwatch.ew.com/popwatch/2008/01/sundance-buzz-4.html , I can understand why the Sundance folks are upset. No taste. At all. This goes beyond buzzkill.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  61. joann

    don't ask questions of those who died, ask questions of the living while they are alive.........

    January 23, 2008 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  62. Jami

    What shocks me is that people are shocked. In 2005 I read a posting by actor Jason Lee about a party he was at that Heath was hosting. At one point Lee realized that Heath was on the phone with a drug dealer looking for cocain. The only victim in this death is Heath's daughter because she will have to grow up without a father due to his selfish self destructiveness.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  63. Charla

    amazing man, amazing actor. God bless his soul...

    January 23, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  64. Mike

    Is this a story about the reactions of actors at Sundance, or an opinion piece on how you feel your rights were infringed upon? Perhaps the co-ordinators are as fed up as the rest of us are at how disrespectful the press are of people in general. Your article does nothing but prove that by taking the focus off of the subject and whining about your hurt feelings.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  65. Jim

    I dont feel sad over this if he was having the issues that he was having he should have seen a doctor. Its sad that he died but dying because of overdose there shouldnt be anyone upset if anything be mad for wasting a life.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  66. Dennis

    What a ridiculous analogy? Akin to being told what you can and can't ask the president? The Sundance Film Festival is not required to host questions concerning all things entertainment. They are specifically an independent film festival showcasing work from artists who have committed many hours and effort to being selected. Yes, Heath Ledger's death is very sad but just because he is a mainstream actor does not entitle you as a journalist to demand he be discussed at press events. Really, between this and the coverage of Britney Spears, I really wonder about CNN.
    "To prevent us from asking is a form of prior restraint". No, to prevent you from asking is showing a basic respect to the artists involved with SUNDANCE. Sorry you felt left out of the media frenzy surrounding Heath Ledger but if you wanted to be that badly involved you should have just come back to New York.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  67. Billy D

    Restraint? You already stated you directed questions about Ledger to actors who had only briefly met the man. Isn’t what you really want to do is be able to post the ’scoop’ on what they said about a dead actor? Your goal is to get big names to talk about another big name who died. You have no story here. A guy died and it is what it is. This does not ’serve’ the public. Nor does it help those who actually were close to the man. Luckily they are being shielded from the press by the event organizers. Let them grieve first. Now you need to get back to work at TMZ before they notice your desk is empty.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  68. Kevin

    Well Matt, after reading your little article here, I feel sorry for you. That it would even occur to you to ask someone about their opinion on this tragic loss just baffles me. Is there any humanity left in you? Have you no tact? I always thought that the press was far more respectful than the photographers that hound the actors. Now I know...you're no better. You might even be worse. Shame on you.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  69. Jordan

    Ugh, Amy....please do not have children of your own (if you don't already).

    January 23, 2008 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  70. Greg

    Amy...I can answer that.....

    Reporters are mindless scum who use any means they can to make a dollar. Stop asking questions. It is none of your f$$$ing business or anyone elses for that matter. Stop, Stop, Stop trying to justify what you do; it just shows that you know it is wrong. And some advice...if you feel that you need to justify to someone, the way in which you make the money you use to pay your bills, maybe you should not be doing it in the first place.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  71. Marge

    At first, I wanted to say it is appropriate for the Sundance officials to restrict the press from asking questions about Heath Ledger's death out of respect. Then I had to catch myself because I, like many, have been interested to read the reactions of the people who knew him. How can the public process the passing of a public figure unless someone asks the difficult questions?

    January 23, 2008 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  72. Matt Romero

    This is why the media and news channels and reporters like Mr. Leopold prove once again they are saturating society further every day with stories like 'Paris Hilton thinks Britney Spears is a good mother...'

    First of all, if they let everyone monopolize the festival with the death of a young actor the media will turn it into entertainment for everyone in a sick sick way as usual like Britney.

    Todd you do not have a 'right' to ask about the death of this actor when some respectfully do not want to discuss it. So, you wanted to ask questions about this at a screening for a totally different movie? That's why they threatened to revoke reporters badges, 'cause most of you are a bunch of slime balls trying to get a top story about a sad untimely death of a young talent.

    Then again, that's how it is in the world today, and we can't help but try to get our news about the world around us from different sources as opposed to coming here or there and have the US media talk about Paris and Anna Nicole and OJ every single day but ignore so many issues in so many countries. We're all connected and we can all benefit if we just put ourselves in each other's shoes and not live in our own pathetic bubble and being glad it didn't happen to us...until it actually does...

    Hope you see it from another point of view besides your own,
    Matt Romero

    January 23, 2008 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  73. Lisa

    Wow. Get the scoop at any cost. How tacky. I thought CNN was better than that.

    "Please don't ruin the party with the harsh light of reality"? How about "We're here for a specific purpose, so let's act like adults and attend to the task at hand so that these people can privately mourn the death of a colleague and friend"?

    January 23, 2008 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  74. Brian


    I don't believe that the spirit you describe is true with many of the reporters. I believe in free speech, but I also believe in manners.

    Maybe you have them......but the most of the people out there asking questions and snapping photos (how much will be paid for the funeral pics) aren't.

    It's that type of attitude that is directly responsible for the hours of television time devoted to Hilton, Spears, and the rest.

    Would it be real difficult to ask someone you'd like to interview if they would spend some time with you to talk about Heath Ledger's death, and the difficulty that some young celebrities face?

    If you did....I might read it.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  75. Flimflam The Mighty

    Not surprising for the media to overinflate their importance, once again being extremely insensitve to the loved ones of a dead person, claiming that actors asking you not to ask callous questions about a dead man is akin to government coverups. I wouldn't trust the media to show any sensitivity whatsoever, from past experience. Maybe if people in the media owned up to their own callousness and stopped 'protecting their own' when a reporter becomes unhinged, they might regain some respectibility and creditibility, but I doubt it.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  76. Gordon

    "She said we were there only to ask questions about the film. I find that akin to someone in the White House telling the press corps what they can and can’t ask the President."

    Because we all know movies are just as important as matters of national security. Get some perspective.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  77. Fred

    Wow – Your article seems very self serving and whiney. Poor little CNN reporter didn't get his way – I'm SO sorry you couldn't sensationalize an actors death !

    I won't ever read your articles again! and I hope you loose your job!

    January 23, 2008 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  78. Megan H

    My deepest condolences to friends and family of Heath Ledger, it's truly a tragedy which has shocked and saddened us all.

    I understand your frustration with not even being allowed to ask questions, but as a family member of someone who suddenly died in a media-covered tragedy, sometimes the last thing you want to deal with is the media (no matter how polite you are). Especially this early after the death, give family and friends some time to grieve and recollect themselves before pressing them with inquiries.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  79. Amanda

    He was an amazing actor. My heart breaks for his daughter, family & friends.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  80. Dusch Bhag

    It's just business. You need to get a quote; they need to sell a movie; I need something to pass the time on my lunch break. At the end of the day, I won't really care or remember what the article was about.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  81. Adam

    Todd, you are an idiot. Think about it for a minute-you and all the other reporters at the Sundance Film Festival are there to report on just that – the Sundace Film Festival. It's no wonder you and all of the other reports aren't being met with open arms to answer your insensitive and less than thought provoking questions of "how do you feel about all this" and "how does Heath's death affect you". Your boss probably spent a great deal of money to fly you to Salt Lake City, put you up in a nice hotel, and do your job...which is to report the Sundace Film Festival.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  82. Linda

    Just because free speech allows you to do something doesn't mean that you SHOULD do it. Ethics and morals should prevent you from asking probing questions to learn more about the recently and suddenly deceased actor. Shame on you.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  83. ray

    Heath will always remain alive in our LGBT community due to his extraordinary work in Brokeback Mountain and the tremendous amount of support he has shown to our lives. He is a man ot honor and his tragic death has shocked our entire community.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  84. MARY

    I agree 100% with Amy. Good manners should apply to everyone, but
    especially to reporters. How would you like it if people were 'nosey' when
    you died? You'd probably be so upset that you'd come back.

    Give the Ledger family some space during their time of trial and grief.
    Do to them what you'd want done to your relatives.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  85. KC

    If you are applying for press credentials from the Sundance Festival, don't you think that is a privilege that comes with certain restrictions and rules; including requests to respect an actor whose life was tragically cut short?

    January 23, 2008 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  86. Lauren

    Such a tragedy has transgressed...What is important is to honor the life that was lost and the immense potential and talent that was taken with it. Heath Ledger will always be remembered for his contributions to cinema and the stand-out person he was to everyone that knew him. Let the family and friends grieve...just because they are celebrities doesn't mean that they have to do it in front of the world. R.I.P. The world will miss you.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  87. Dave Turner

    I seriously doubt that you can compare asking actors questions while at Sundance with asking the President questions while at the White House. That's pathetic! I can understand your wanting to get feedback from actors but your comparison is absurd.

    Did you say public setting? Why did you have to have special credentials to get into a public setting? Now, if you mean they were threatening to revoke your credentials if you were asking questions while outside the Sundance setting and activities, you are right to complain. They went overboard and indeed were overly restrictive.

    BTW Amy,

    I don't agree with you. It sounds like you are treating grieving family and friends as pariah when they should be comforted. Discussing their lost one is part of that process. Just don't push them on the subject.


    January 23, 2008 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  88. Andrew Lee

    I wouldn't consider being asked not to ask questions about a friends death akin to government restrictions.

    The government has a responsibility to it's people...in other words anything they say and do while wearing the hat of "government employee" is our business and no member of the press, in my opinion, should be restricted from asking any question they deem important.

    However, actors don't fall under that category, they don't have a responsibility to the press nor to any one else.

    To say "It’s difficult to ask stars for their thoughts on such an occasion and yet I can’t help thinking, who better to characterize an actor’s contributions than a fellow actor? In times of tragedy people take comfort from hearing what others are feeling and thinking on the matter, and it’s really in that spirit that I ask — not out of a salacious desire to pry."

    That to me just sounds like some sugar coated non-sense to get a good sound bite.

    Show some class, there is a time and a place for everything. Asking questions that don't pertain to the premiere of someone's movie takes the spotlight away from that group of individuals hard work.

    I'm sure you'll get plenty of opportunity to inquire peoples reactions to Health's death. So, here's a new concept, how about the media show some form of it's own restraint so that other's don't feel like they have to do it for you.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  89. Michele

    I'm deeply saddened by the loss of such a young, talented man. My deepest sympathy and prayers are with Heath and his family.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  90. Darrell H

    When I heard about this on Tuesday I was immediately saddened to say the least. Heath was a very fine actor and person I am sure. I never met him but he seems very likable. The fact that it was an accident really hits home with me as I am presently prescribed numerous medications that I am sure could really harm me if my system backfired for a moment. I am to say the least now very aware of the effects and dangers of meds. To the friends and family of Heath I wish you peace and time to heal.

    Darrell – Santa Clara, Utah

    January 23, 2008 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  91. Marita

    I have to disagee with your view that it is a form of restraint. The film festival is about the films and to take someone's opportunity and forum for discussing their film and turn it into questions and speculation about an actors untimely death is just morbid. People certainly have feelings, private feelings, about Mr. Ledger's death and if they choose to share them it should be their choice of when and how to do so. It really is not anyone else's business. Stick to the business at hand.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  92. Anthony

    Todd, you could not be more wrong in your second from last paragraph. These are people that knew Heath Ledger personally. They all lost a friend quite suddenly. This is not Amy Winehouse or Brittany Spears where everyone is just counting the seconds till they drop dead. This was a great actor who had a lot of potential and gave no signs of what ails most of hollywood today. YOu should be ashamed of yourselves for hounding these people while they are morning for a co-worker and friend and then condemn them for not wanting to address it less that 24 hours after they got the news. You are exactly what is wrong with the media today.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  93. DKT

    "She said we were there only to ask questions about the film. I find that akin to someone in the White House telling the press corps what they can and can’t ask the President. I don’t think it serves us as a society to restrict what the media can ask in public settings."

    It's absolutely nothing of the same sort. One concerns our country, another concerns a family's personal tragedy. Ledger's family has already asked the press to be thoughtful. Watching Larry King ramble last night, it's clear not everyone is respecting that wish.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  94. bets

    It's common sense. ask those questions in other formats or venues and you won't be declined. the family released a statement requesting people to respect them at this time, and it's neither the time nor the place to be asking questions. It's only the day after. Allow people the time to digest the information- it's not right to put them in situations where they are self-promoting their films while responding to the tragedy.

    January 23, 2008 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  95. Lindsey

    I'm truly saddened by the death of Heath Ledger. He was a very talented actor and seemed to be an incredibly sweet person. This world has lost a true talent and gracious young man. My thoughts and prayers are with Michelle, Matilda, his family and anyone else who loved this man. God bless him and may he rest in peace.

    January 23, 2008 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  96. Amy

    Todd – My parents taught me to be respectful of others and not ask questions regarding the death of loved ones, co-workers, etc. Why do you think the rules of good manners does not apply to you?

    January 23, 2008 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  97. Troy Brownfield

    "But to prevent us from asking is a form of prior restraint."

    I agree completely. There is a way to ask sensitive questions respectfully, and I'm sure that was your intention. To prohibit discussion of this kind makes it look as if the Festival is saying, "Please don't ruin the party with the harsh light of reality."

    Troy Brownfield

    January 23, 2008 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  98. Billy D

    Restraint? You already stated you directed questions about Ledger to actors who had only briefly metthe man. Isn't waht you really want to do is be able to post the 'scoop' on what they said about a dead actor? The point form your end is to get big names to talk about another big name who died. You have no story here. A guy died and it is what it is. This does not 'serve' the public. Nor does it help those who actually were close to the man. Luckily they are being shielded from the press by the event organizers. Let them grieve first. Now you need to get back to work at TMZ before they notice your desk is empty.

    January 23, 2008 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  99. adam c

    Heath Ledger will remain in the minds and hearts of all the souls he touched.... may flights of angels wing him to his rest....

    January 23, 2008 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |

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