The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heath Ledger, actor, dead in NYC

Very recently, Heath Ledger starred in The Brothers Grimm, on TV, here in Singapore. He came across as a skilful and interesting actor. Today, he is dead at just 28 years old.

Whatever the cause of death is eventually established to be: suicide, or accidental overdose of sleeping pills, look the most likely - the true cause of death is his fame.

Let me explain. In an interview in November, Heath Ledger complained about being "stressed out a little too much", he noted that he had trouble sleeping (for which he was using Ambien sleeping pills, which barely worked, for an hour at a time). Indeed, at times, he was only sleeping two hours a night, for extended periods. Here was a man coming apart, unable to do the most natural of things - get a good night's sleep.

It is clear from this that he was unable to cope with the pressures of fame, or the responsibilities of his job. It was obviously too much for him. Fame killed him as assuredly as if it had shot him. Why? Well, if he had not been in the "stressful" position he was in, he would, presumably, not be unable to sleep. He would not be taking sleeping pills. He would not have taken an accidental overdose of them - or felt pressured enough to kill himself with them. In short, that which made him, also unmade him. His fame which led him to great success, also assured his end.

If someone is going to tread the path to fame, I think they should be of resilient stuff. They should be the type of person who does NOT feel the pressure; who does NOT get "stressed out". They should be calm individuals unbothered by the great responsibility of ensuring that 100 million dollar pictures succeed. Heath Ledger, it seems, was not one of those centred individuals. It would, therefore, have been a longer life, for him, had he chosen a less pressured and public life. Such a life is for the hardy - not those sensitive enough to find it impossible to sleep simply because they have a major role in a film. There are, in fact, those who would sleep easier for having such a role. It all depends on how you react to the situation.

It is a pity. He was a decent actor who brought life to each role. He had only just begun. He was, it seems, however, not strong enough a person to walk the film actor path, for long.

In his short life, he appeared in diverse roles, from his most famous role in Brokeback Mountain, to the forthcoming role as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight", as Bob Dylan in "I'm not there" (during the filming of which, he couldn't sleep), Lasse Hallstrom's "Casanova", "10 things I hate about you", "The Knight's Tale" and, of course, Terry Gilliam's "The Brother's Grimm".

Unlike many young people who die before their time, Heath Ledger will be remembered for the filmed work he left behind. That, however, does not diminish the inherent tragedy in a life cut short, a promise unfulfilled.

What he should have done is do what he had tended to do early in his career: turn down roles. He evidently needed a break from the stress. He should have retreated to somewhere quiet away from the hubbub of the film star's tumultuous world and calmed himself, and learned to do what all of us find so natural: get some sleep.

When "Dark Knight" comes out, I am going to make a point of seeing his last performance.

Good night, Heath Ledger: sleep well.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and six months, and Tiarnan, twenty-three months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:57 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...


"Fame killed him as assuredly as if it had shot him."

I don't believe fame killed him any more than sweets are responsible for cavities. I believe the situation could have been augmented with know how.

One of the problems I notice with young people and it doesn't matter whether they are actors, writers or even leading personalities who are just shoved to the lime light is the ones who survive are the ones who know when to say enough is enough and they opt out or put themselves in a situation whereby they regain control of their life, instead of it being the other way round.

This is just a sad case of a man who simply couldn't hack it and didn't know when to pull the eject cord.

Tragic but hardly the last case that the world will see.

4:14 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...


Well, sweets feed the bacteria that make the acid that causes cavities (unless you brush regularly to rid yourself of acid and bacteria). So, in that sense, his fame did lead to his death - he wasn't brushing his metaphorical teeth enough.

Yes. I agree. The art of surviving the strange situation of fame - especially global fame - is to keep control, to say "no" when necessary and not to feel guilty about turning your back on "opportunities" when, quite frankly, you have had your fill of them, at that time.

Heath Ledger didn't learn these lessons - and now he never will.

Sadly, you are right again: there will be other Ledger-like cases out there.

Thanks for your comment.

4:35 PM  

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